If you work in business or tech, you must know how to create a business process diagram.

Full stop.


Because at some point, you will need to create one yourself. It’s inevitable.

You might need to train new employees, automate your processes, communicate a complex process with your team, or document how your department operates.

And trying to communicate a business process without a visual is a nightmare. I have lived it.

So, if you are serious about improving your communication and business efficiency, check out the rest of this guide to level up your skill set.

Let’s roll.

What Is A Business Process Diagram?

A business process diagram visually represents the logic and steps executed in a business procedure. It is created using various symbols and elements connected using directional lines. Businesses use these diagrams to document their processes, which helps knowledge transfer, improves business process management, and facilitates digital transformation.

The Core Business Process Mapping Symbols (BPMN 2.0)

Before advancing to the nitty gritty of how to create a business process diagram, you must first understand the main BPMN elements.

Once you know what the core elements represent, you’ll be chomping at the bit to document and create visualizations of your business processes.

And the best part? There are only a few elements you need to learn.

Check them out below.

Pools and lanes

Pools and lanes are your tool for representing who is responsible for an activity within your process.

Pools are containers for the overall process. A pool can be subdivided into lanes, and each lane represents an actor that executes an activity within the process. If only one actor is involved in the process, you might only have one lane in your pool.

Lanes could represent an individual, a department within a company, a software system, or even a robot.

Collapsed pools are similar to regular pools. They represent external process participants. Collapsed pools are like a black box and illustrate the interaction between the main process and an external party. We dont know or care about the specifics of this external interaction, so collapsed pools contain high-level representations of what occurs.

How to create a business process diagram using pools and lanes


There are five main buckets of events.

  • Start events: Events that trigger the process. For example, an order has been placed by a customer.
  • Intermediate events: Intermediate events can be catching intermediate events, throwing intermediate events, or plain intermediate events. A double outline represents them, whereas start and end events only have one outline. Plain intermediate events represent a milestone.
  • Catching events: Represent an incoming message. For example, waiting for shipment information to be provided. Catching events are crucial to business process mapping since they represent a defined waiting point.
  • Throwing events: Represent an outgoing message. For example, sending an email to a customer. Throwing events are more of a nice to have and are not as critical as catching events.
  • End events: Defines the state that ends the process. For example, an order has been shipped to the customer.

Now that you know the main event buckets, you must note that each bucket has different types of events.

Some types are:

  • Plain events
  • Messaging events
  • Link events
  • Attached events
Events in business process diagrams

This is not a guide on all the events in BPMN 2.0, but if you are interested in a more in-depth explanation, I highly recommend taking this BPMN 2.0 Master Class.


Depicted as a box, an activity (also called a task) represents an action carried out by a participant. It is like a unit of work that needs to be done. An example could be “Get the items from the warehouse” or “pack shipments into the truck.”

Task and activity business process modeling


Gateways are used to add logic to your business process flow diagram. You can think of them as a decision point. They are represented by a diamond, with a symbol in the middle of the shape.

There are many types of gateways, with the main ones being:

  • Exclusive gateway: Only one path can be taken. Represents a simple yes/no question.
  • Closing gateway: These gateways have no logic and connect branches stemming from opening gateways.
  • Parallel gateway: No decision-making is involved. Both branches are executed.
  • Inclusive gateway: Any combination of branches can be taken. The closing inclusive gateway is informed of which paths are taken and the state of each token.
  • Event-based gateway: Reacts to events that occur. Each branch out of the event-based gateway is a catching event. Depending on what catching event occurs first, this is the path the token takes. The event-based gateway is closed with an exclusive gateway.

Note: Only one event can occur at a time, meaning only one branch of the event-based gateway can be taken.

Gateways when diagramming processes

Gateways are like forks in the road. Depending on the type of gateway used, the process needs to follow one or more forks. To learn more about gateways, take the entire BPMN 2.0 course.

How To Create A Business Process Diagram

Understanding the elements used in business process modeling notation (BPMN) is just the beginning.

Really, it is the easy part.

The most difficult aspect of creating process diagrams lies in gathering and analyzing the existing business processes.

You need to identify and speak to business stakeholders to learn the current steps involved in their existing processes.

Because if you dont know the process, how will you model it?

1. Define Intended Audience

When creating a business process diagram, you must define who will use it.

There are two options: business individuals or technical individuals.

If the business process maps are for business individuals, you should create a more basic flowchart containing around 15 elements. This is because the business users most likely do not have too much experience with complex process documentation and, as such, will find it difficult to understand when there are many elements.

More technical individuals, such as IT architects, systems analysts, etc., are more familiar with documenting complex processes, so you can include more elements when they are your intended audience.

Either way, you must ensure your workflow diagram is clear and easy to understand, regardless of the intended audience.

2. Identify High-Level Business Operations

This step will vary depending on whether you create business process diagrams for a business you work at or own compared to a company you are consulting for.

When creating a business process diagram for a business you are familiar with, you most likely already understand the high-level business operations.

If you are an external consultant, you must do more footwork here. Book some time with a stakeholder on the client side who can provide you with the operations involved for which you are mapping the processes.

For example, if you are mapping the processes for an auto manufacturing business’s service department, contact someone who oversees the operations and let them give you a rundown of the business units involved and their purpose.

3. Find Out What Humans Are Involved

Once you understand the business operations for which you are creating business process diagrams, it’s time to identify the key stakeholders who can provide more specific information on the processes.

At this point, you should understand who you need to talk to on the business and technical side.

The business folks will get you up to speed on the business side of the operation, and the technical team can give information on what systems are involved and how they are integrated.

You might revisit this step as you build your process diagrams and identify new individuals with information in areas where you need more details.

4. Interview Stakeholders

Schedule discovery workshops with the key stakeholders to gather information on the process you will map.

Your objective here is to have a comprehensive understanding of:

  • All the processes the stakeholder participates in or oversees
  • The steps of each of these business processes
  • The different paths of the business processes in different scenarios
  • Edge cases
  • The pain points for the current processes based on their direct execution
  • Systems and automations

Before the workshop, it is important to ask the stakeholders in advance to be prepared to demonstrate the process. When you watch a demo, you can quickly grasp the existing process.

If you have any questions during or after the demo, do not hesitate to ask them. Doing so will increase your understanding of the minor details, ensuring your workflow diagrams are as accurate as possible.

Depending on the scope of your project, you might need to set up several discovery sessions to understand all of the processes for each business unit.

If these sessions are conducted virtually, make sure you record them. This is necessary for future reference when you begin creating the process diagrams.

As always, make notes as the stakeholder walks you through their current processes.

5. Understand What Technology Is Involved

These days, most business processes involve some kind of technology. For example, in the telco industry, this could be CRM systems, ERP systems, order management systems, and online booking platforms.

You need to be aware of all the systems and technologies involved in the scope of the business process diagram you are mapping.

When consulting for another business, you will get a general overview of these systems when discussing the existing business processes. They will come up in discovery sessions and demos. This is generally more of a surface-level overview, though.

Once you have a general understanding of the systems involved, you should identify a more technical person from the client side who can discuss these systems in more detail.

Depending on your role and how detailed your diagrams will be, you might want to discuss with the client how their systems interact and how information is communicated (APIs and their request/response formats).

If the business process diagrams you are creating are part of a larger digital transformation project, then knowing this information is crucial to identifying constraints on process improvements.

Similar to how you interviewed the business stakeholders, you should interview the technical stakeholders to understand how the systems and technology play a role in the business process. Doing this helps create a more descriptive process diagram and improves your understanding of the process.

6. Document Process Steps

You should have recorded the workshops and taken notes throughout the discovery process.

This information will act as a solid foundation for organizing the steps of the business process.

Before using the process mapping software, I find creating a bulleted outline using a Word document helpful. This is a rough outline of what you captured from your discovery workshops. Making this outline in a text document is far easier than creating the process map directly from your rough notes and recordings.

Think of it as a slide deck. You don’t have to create the slide deck from scratch. More often than not, you would have a document outlining what you want to communicate, and then you transfer that information to slides so you can present and display it in a more concise format. The same holds true for business process diagramming.

So, go through all the recordings and notes and outline the process using a bulleted list.

Here is an example of how it might look for a high-level case management process:

  • Customer submits case
    • Is the case for product support or billing support?
      • Product support
        • Route to product support agent
      • Billing Support
        • Route to billing support agent
    • Agent reviews the case
    • Agent responds to the customer with a solution
      • Issue resolved?
        • Yes
          • Close case
        • No
          • Continue to work on a resolution
          • Repeat until solved

7. Create The Process Map Using Symbols

Finally, we are at the stage where you get your hands dirty with the diagramming software.

Here, you will transcribe your outline into a visual format using the business process mapping elements.

I recommend using BPMN 2.0 process mapping notation because it is the de facto standard. It is highly expressive, and anyone can learn it with some practice.

Use the different BPMN 2.0 elements to create your business process diagram. Ensure you follow the best practices (below) and keep your audience in mind.

I recommend this affordable Udemy master class if you want to learn more about how to model processes using BPMN 2.0.

8. Review With Stakeholders

Once your initial business process diagram draft is complete, review it with the stakeholders. Set up a meeting with the relevant stakeholders (dont include anyone that does not need to be there) and walk them through the diagram.

Doing this is a quick way to touch up on the finer details of your diagram and ensure you have captured the process accurately. If you have not, they will quickly point out the errors, and you can correct them. Additionally, it helps build trust and alignment with the stakeholders.

9. Further Refine Process Maps Based On Stakeholder Feedback

Based on the feedback, update your business process diagram to align with the information the stakeholders provided.

You probably won’t get your business process diagram perfect the first time around, so dont worry if you need to make revisions and updates. It is a part of the process.

And that is all! You are now equipped with the entire sequence of creating a business process diagram.

Now it’s time to get out in the wild and get your reps in. The more practice you have, the more of a natural you’ll be at executing these steps and mapping out processes. Good luck 🙂

Additional BPMN 2.0 Concepts

Once you understand the core BPMN 2.0 elements, you must comprehend a few additional concepts to advance your business process mapping skills.

The Token

The token in BPMN 2.0 is like a ball or marble that rolls through the entire process. It is generated and begins rolling at the start of the event and continues until the end of the event where it is consumed. It is used to visualize the execution of a process and is extremely helpful for observing how gateways work.


Handovers are when the execution of an activity from one participant to another. You do not need an activity to represent this. When a line crosses into another lane, this is sufficient to communicate a handover.

Plain Intermediate Event

Planin intermediate events are used to represent a milestone. Nothing really happens here, but it is a nice way to communicate that a certain milestone has been reached. Tokens roll through plain intermediate events without anything happening.


A deadlock describes a process that gets stuck forever. You need to avoid deadlocks in your process diagram. When you have a deadlock, your process diagram is technically incorrect. These can occur in several scenarios, but one example is a process with an opening exclusive gateway and a closing parallel gateway. The closing parallel gateway would wait for two tokens before proceeding to the next step; however, the opening exclusive gateway only issues one token.

Multi Merge

Multi-merge occurs when multiple tokens are issued from a parallel gateway and there is no parallel closing gateway. This causes multiple circulating tokens. You want to avoid this pitfall, but it is technically correct. Multi-merge negatively impacts the expressiveness of your business process diagram.

BPMN Best Practices

Creating business process diagrams is fairly straightforward. However, by following a few best practices, you will ensure your diagrams are expressive and easy to interpret.

Process Scoping

Process scoping ensures your business processes diagram is not too large or unclear. Therefore, you need to make your process diagrams expressive and accessible. This means your diagram is clear and meaningful and does not overwhelm the end user. To do this, limit the number of tasks to 15 for business audiences.

Accessible and expressive process diagrams have the most significant impact on end users. This means that your communication and the effectiveness of your process maps are at their highest, contributing to better business results.

Naming Conventions

Following proper naming conventions makes your diagrams consistent and easy to read.

The table below summarizes how to name each element in your business process diagram.


Naming Best Practice

Pools and lanes

Pools and lanes represent responsibilities. The name for a pool should be a nominalized verb that describes the overall process. Use general roles for the lanes, such as a department or job function.


Tasks should be actionable and clear, not a general description. Use verbs to name tasks.


Label events with a passive description. They should indicate you are dealing with a stage rather than an inactivity. For example, “An order has been submitted”.

Straight To Success

When creating branches out of your gateways, the path should go to the right when the condition is evaluated as true. When the condition is evaluated as false, the path should go down. This consistency improves the readability of your process diagrams.

Benefits Of Creating Business Process Diagrams

Creating business process diagrams offers numerous benefits for organizations and also individuals.

Here’s a list of some key advantages:

  1. Improved Clarity and Communication: Diagrams visually represent workflows, making it easier for team members to understand processes and their roles.
  2. Enhanced Process Optimization: Visualizing the steps in a process allows for easier identification of redundancies, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies, facilitating more effective optimization and streamlining.
  3. Better Compliance and Standardization: Diagrams help ensure business processes comply with industry standards and regulations by clearly outlining the necessary steps and checks.
  4. Increased Efficiency: With a clear understanding of processes, teams can execute tasks faster and more accurately, reducing the time and resources spent on training and troubleshooting.
  5. Easier Onboarding and Training: New employees can quickly learn about the organization’s workflows through clear, concise diagrams, reducing the learning curve and improving productivity.
  6. Enhanced Decision-Making: Managers and decision-makers can use process diagrams to gain insights into process flows and resource allocations, helping them make informed strategic decisions.
  7. Facilitates Continuous Improvement: Business process diagrams make it easier to review and adjust processes regularly, essential for continuous improvement and adaptability in a changing business environment.
  8. Supports Automation Efforts: Diagrams can serve as a blueprint for automating processes, identifying which steps can be automated and how they interact with other business elements.

Software For Mapping Business Processes

You will need a software tool to create BPMN diagrams.

There are several options available, but only a few stand out.

The free option I would recommend is draw.io. This tool has the entire library of BPMN 2.0 elements. Draw.io is perfect for getting started and creating some excellent business process diagrams. The only issue is that the process diagrams are not “pretty.” This can be an issue if you present the diagrams to a client or use them as official documentation your entire team will see.

If you are looking for something that provides you with more aesthetic design opportunities, Creatly is your best bet. I love this tool for making boring BPMN diagrams pop and stand out.

For my complete business process mapping software guide, check out the dedicated blog post outlining the best options.

Summing It Up

Clear communication and effective documentation are key for elevating your business operations.

Imagine simplifying complex processes into clear, visual diagrams that everyone in your company can easily understand—that’s the power of a well-executed business process diagram.

BPMN 2.0 is your gateway to enhancing these diagrams, making them informative and operationally effective.

Check out the official BPMN 2.0 course, which is packed with practical skills and expert advice to help you master this technique quickly and efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between BPMN and UML?

BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation) is specifically designed for modeling business processes, using flowchart-based diagrams that depict the steps of a business process from start to finish. On the other hand, UML (Unified Modeling Language) is a broader modeling language used in software engineering to visualize, specify, construct, and document the artifacts of a software system. While BPMN focuses on business workflows, UML encompasses a broader range of diagrams to support software development, such as class, object, activity, sequence, and more.

What is a business process in everyday life?

An example of a business process in everyday life is ordering a coffee at a café, which involves placing the order, making payment, and receiving the drink.

What is the first step in analyzing a business process?

The first step in analyzing a business process is to define and map it out. This involves identifying the start and end points, tasks or activities, and information or materials flow. Gathering input from stakeholders and using documentation or process mapping tools is essential to create a clear visual representation of the process.

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