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Stop Using Process Diagrams

Replacing complex, diagram-based business process management with text-based documentation to enhance clarity, context, and accessibility, while emphasizing the separation of process requirements from design.
By Michael Jones
Published Jan 22, 2024

Revisiting Business Process Management: The Shift from Diagrams to Text

The landscape of business process management (BPM) is undergoing a significant transformation. Traditionally dominated by diagram-based approaches like UML (Unified Modeling Language) and BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation), the field is increasingly recognizing the limitations of these methods. This article explores why these traditional tools are proving inadequate and how a shift towards text-based process documentation can offer a more effective alternative.

The Limitations of Diagram-Based BPM
The Problem of Context Loss

One of the fundamental drawbacks of diagram-based BPM is the loss of context, especially regarding roles and responsibilities. In diagrams, processes are often reduced to boxes and titles, stripping away the nuances of who is responsible for each action. This lack of clarity about who does what leads to misinterpretation and confusion, hindering the effective execution of business processes.

Accessibility and Contribution Challenges

Another significant issue with diagram-based methods is their inaccessibility to those without specialized training in BPM methodologies. This exclusivity prevents valuable input from a broader range of organizational members, especially those who are not business analysts. As a result, organizations miss out on the diverse insights and expertise that could enhance their process management.

The Power of Text-Based Process Documentation
Capturing Detailed Context

Text-based documentation excels at providing detailed context, which is often lost in diagrammatic representations. It allows for a comprehensive description of processes, clarifying roles, responsibilities, and the sequence of actions in a way that is easily understandable.

Enhanced Clarity and Communication

Textual descriptions offer greater clarity and facilitate better communication among team members. Without the need for specialized diagramming knowledge, text-based processes are accessible to everyone within the organization, enabling broader participation and understanding.

Flexibility and Ease of Updating

Text documents are inherently more flexible and easier to update than diagrams. As processes evolve, textual descriptions can be quickly revised to reflect changes, ensuring that the documentation remains relevant and accurate.

Rethinking Diagram Use in BPM

Flexibility in Process Design: With a clear understanding of requirements, multiple design approaches can be considered and evaluated, allowing for more innovative and effective solutions.

While diagrams can be effective for well-known processes and in conjunction with explanatory text or verbal presentations, their utility is limited. In real-time requirement gathering and documentation, diagrams often prove cumbersome and inefficient. Their complexity escalates with more actors and process intricacies, making swimlane diagrams, for instance, less effective.

Improved Alignment with Business Objectives: Separating requirements from design ensures that processes are developed with a direct focus on business objectives, leading to more aligned and purpose-driven outcomes.

The challenge of keeping diagrams updated, especially when they need to convey the same information as text, often renders them more costly than beneficial. In scenarios where choosing between updating text or diagrams is necessary, prioritizing text is more practical due to its flexibility, ease of change, and comprehensibility without specialized training.


The shift from diagram-based to text-based BPM is more than just a change in documentation style; it represents a fundamental shift in how business processes are understood, communicated, and managed. By embracing narrative formats, businesses can ensure that their processes are not only clearly documented and easily understandable but also more closely aligned with their actual workflows and objectives. This transition offers a more inclusive, dynamic, and effective approach to BPM, essential in a business environment where clarity, agility, and broad participation are key to success.

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