The Most Cost Effective Process Modeling Techniques

Kathy A.  Long
Kathy A. Long Global Upstream Process Architect, Shell Oil Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Kathy A. Long

One of the most important aspects of process improvement projects is how long it takes to get results.  The importance and calculation of the ROI for a process improvement project is frequently overlooked.  The dilemma seems to be that often the individuals involved are not financial analysts and may not have a lot of experience calculating financial measures such as NPV (Net Present Value).  The other major dilemma or constraint is the actual volume of choices in what to measure.  According the APQC (American Productivity & Quality Center), there are literally hundreds of different metrics that can be collected in an attempt to measure the performance of an organization's processes.  It's important to understand what information needs to be gathered when trying to measure performance.  One other major consideration is whether the process being measured is a tangible or intangible process.  To suggest that determining the ROI on a process project is easy would be naive at best.  The objective of this article is to examine just one aspect of the ROI for a process improvement project, the documentation or modeling of an organization's processes.

There is a vast difference in the cost effectiveness of the various modeling notations and techniques applied in documenting business processes.  In order to clarify and establish the consistent use of terms in this article, the term modeling notation means the graphical techniques used to represent process knowledge — for example:  node tree, IGOE, BPMN, and workflow.  The term modeling technique refers to the level of detail and the methods used to obtain the knowledge represented by the process modeling notation — for example:  using facilitated sessions versus individual sessions, and top-down (conceptual) versus bottom-up (concrete).  The purpose of this article is to determine the most cost-effective modeling notation and modeling technique for gathering information about business processes.

Categories of Process Information

To be able to understand why there is a difference in cost-effectiveness of one notation or technique versus another, it's critical that the categories of process information are clearly understood.  Process Information can be classified into four categories: inputs, guides, outputs, and enablers.


An input is defined as something that is transformed or consumed.  The inputs are not just things that flow through process/activity but that change or undergo a transformation.  Hopefully, that transformation in some way adds value.

Transformation types include physical, locational, and informational.  Physical transformation occurs when something is changed in a literal, physical manner — for example, taking raw materials and transforming them into finished goods.  Locational transformation occurs when the physical location of something is changed — for example, moving goods in a warehouse or moving goods from one warehouse to another location.  Informational transformation occurs when the information is changed — for example, when information is created, updated, or deleted.


Guides are defined as anything that describes the when, why, or how a process or activity occurs.  Therefore, the events that determine when a process begins or when it ends are classified as guides as well as all the policies, regulations, and any standards requirements.  In addition, any reference information or data is considered to be a guide, as well as any knowledge or experience used to help determine how the process/activity should occur.

Guides include:

  • Any type of starting and completion events related to the process
  • Any type of knowledge or experience needed to perform the activities in the process
  • Business Policies
  • Business Rules
  • Procedures
  • Acceptance / Completion Criteria
  • Culture
  • Performance Targets
  • Performance Criteria
  • Receipt or Sending of things or information
  • Any type of information used as reference material during the process
  • KPIs and other metrics that control a process


Outputs are the product or result of the change that occurs to the inputs or the result of the creation of something based on the guides.


Enablers are the resources or assets required to transform an input into an output or to create outputs.

Enablers include:

  • Human Resources
  • Systems
  • Facilities
  • Tools
  • Equipment
  • Any type of reusable resource necessary

Process Modeling Notations

We will consider just four different notations for this article.  Those notations are node tree, BPMN-Lite, IGOE, and Workflow.

Figure 1.  Node Tree Decomposition or hierarchy diagram  


Figure 2.  BPMN-Lite (Business Process Modeling Notation)
also known as Swimlane or Line of Visibility diagram 


Figure 3.  IGOE Input, Guide, Output, and Enabler flow diagram  


Figure 4.  Workflow (detailed process flow diagrams, normally at the step level of a process)  

Table 1.  Comparison of Information Obtained, by Notation


























X - Information Documented
\ - Partial Information Documented

The information that is documented using the BPMN-Lite vs. Workflow is essentially the same.  The difference between these two notations is the level of detail.  Normally, a much greater level of detail is obtained when using the Workflow technique than when using BPMN-Lite simply because most workflow diagrams are documenting process information at a lower level of detail.

The node-tree notation actually documents very little detail about the specifics of a process.  Its main objective is to answer the "what" question.  The advantage is that it can be completed very quickly.  It removes all the discussions or disputes about the sequence of the process and allows a focus on getting an initial consensus first about "what" happens, which is essential when analyzing the process.

The IGOE notation captures the most complete information about the process at various levels of detail.

Process Modeling Techniques

In order to evaluate the cost effectiveness of modeling processes, we must also consider the techniques used to capture or acquire the information about the process.  In conjunction with the process notations, we need to consider two different techniques for documenting process information — individual interviews and facilitated sessions — and also two levels of detail — top-down and bottom-up.

Individual interview techniques refer to the gathering of information from one-on-one interview sessions or individual observations of the work being done.

Facilitated session techniques refer to the gathering of information about the process from groups of individuals.  Normally, these are cross-functional groups.  Occasionally, these may be groups of 8-10 from the same functional group.

Top-down refers to an approach for documenting processes starting from the architectural level and gradually breaking down the process to the appropriate level of detail.  The top-down approach is a much faster method of gathering process information since information about the process starts at the conceptual level and expands to the concrete level.

Bottom-up refers to an approach for documenting processes from the workflow level and perhaps abstracting them up one or two levels.  Bottom-up sessions generally take the greatest amount of time because of the level of detail being captured.

The time difference between top-down and bottom-up is very similar to the difference in time it takes to assemble a one-thousand-piece puzzle versus the time it takes to break apart a one-thousand-piece puzzle.


The major components to consider in calculating the cost effectiveness of one modeling notation or modeling technique versus another are time, quality, flexibility, and the number of resources required.

For example, the top-down approach is a much faster method of documenting than bottom-up; however, the completeness of the information is usually greater when documenting from the bottom up.

The exception to this idea is in the utilization of the IGOE method.  As demonstrated in the Table above, the IGOE approach provides the most complete picture of the process.  Combining the IGOE notation with the top-down approach in facilitated sessions will provide the most complete information in the shortest amount of time.

In order to maintain interest and justify allocation of resources for process projects, those projects must provide organizations with positive ROI and as short a payback period as possible.  Therefore, the more quickly the information about the process can be captured, communicated, and analyzed the more rapidly the process can be improved and positive returns on the project be realized.

# # #

Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Kathy A. Long, "The Most Cost Effective Process Modeling Techniques" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 12, No. 9, (Sep. 2011)

About our Contributor:

Kathy  A. Long
Kathy A. Long Global Upstream Process Architect, Shell Oil

Ms. Long has twenty-five plus years of experience in all aspects of BPM as well as Continuous Improvement and Lean. She is certified as a Lean Office practitioner as well as a Kaizen facilitator. She is currently in the role of Global Process Architect responsible for Upstream Process Architecture. During past two years at Shell Kathy has managed projects which implemented a new Business Management System for the upstream business as well as designed and documented the majority of core business processes. Working closely with the Global Process Owners, Leads and Architects to create quality standards and fit for purpose processes.

Read All Articles by Kathy A. Long
The BRSolutions Professional Training Suite

BRSolutions Professional Training Suite

All About Concepts, Policies, Rules, Decisions & Requirements
We want to share some insights with you that will positively rock your world. They will absolutely change the way you think and go about your work. We would like to give you high-leverage opportunities to add value to your initiatives, and give you innovative new techniques for developing great business solutions.