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Process Modeling Series IV: Process Hierarchy and Granularity Definition in Enterprise Process Modeling

Thumbnail image for Process Modeling Blog IV.gifBusiness Processes are defined or modeled hierarchically so as to comprehend them easily. Processes are decomposable to multiple levels of granularity till then one reach the basic atomic task which further cannot be decomposable and doesn't make any meaning. Business Process Architecture definition usually starts with hierarchical process definitions up to a certain level of decomposition (major processes) and then business processes (minor processes) are represented as a 'flow' detailing how work/task flows among business roles and gets accomplished. Major Processes are represented hierarchically so that one can understand the value streams, the subsequent process groups that are part of the value chain which are more of major processes that cannot be represented as "flows"; for example, Accounting to Reporting is a value stream which in turn contains major processes like, accounts payable, accounts receivables, intercompany processes, reporting processes etc. These major processes can once again decomposed to subsequent levels wherein one can represent them as flows detailing how the activity/task is performed by organization roles.

There are various references one can find in literature regarding process architecture hierarchy representation. Here I summarize through a comparison of process architecture hierarchy representation through literature survey:

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1.    BP Trends (Refer: Book: "Business Process Change - A Manager's Guide to Improving, Redesigning and Automating Processes" by Paul Harmon): Suggests a Value Chain perspective per se and we can strongly interpret that a 'Major Business Process' can have minimum three levels of sub-granularity depending on the process complexity nature.

2.    ARIS Hierarchy (Refer: Book: "ARIS Design Platform - Getting Started with BPM" by Rob Davis): According to ARIS approach, a process architecture typically consists of 4 to 6 levels of process models. Besides the structure of process models, the architecture representation shall also include other views of the ARIS concept (e.g., organizational diagrams, data models, objective diagrams, IT landscape model etc). There are 6 levels of representation and it is difficult to comprehend the business process hierarchy easily.

3.    Value Creation Hierarchy (Refer: Adopted from article of Geary Rummler and Alan Ramias, Performance Design Labs for BP Trends): One can clearly see here that processes decompose into sub processes and further into tasks (activities if one like to call) and then to sub-tasks (tasks if one like to call).

4.    Generic BPM hierarchy: Easy to interpret - start with Mega Processes which decompose into Major Processes. Major Processes in turn can include granularity of three levels - sub process, activity and tasks. This representation enables modelers and analysts to structure the business processes so that one can easily comprehend them.

5.    eTOM Model: (Refer: ): As per eTOM reference model, the first level - Conceptual Level (Level 0) is more like an organization view. Level 1 (Top Level) is more like Value Chain; Level 2 (Configuration Level) & Level 3 (Process Element Level) is more like Process & Sub Process level; Level 4 (Implementation Level) corresponds to activity flow wherein roles become visible - more of a flow representation.

6.    SCOR Hierarchy (Refer: ): As per SCOR hierarchy, the first three levels are higher level representation of the supply chain function and below level 3, each process element is described by classic hierarchical process decomposition into any number of levels.

7.    APQC Hierarchy (Refer: ): APQC suggests four major levels - Category, Process Group, Process and Activity. Category includes Operating Processes and Management & Support Processes - 12 in number. According to APQC PCF, activities are then specific to individual enterprise in the industry wherein they will be differentiated for gaining competitive advantage.

Based on the comparison above, it is clear that in process architecture definition, process hierarchy and granularity definition is a crucial step. But this varies from enterprise and enterprise and can also vary for function to function in the enterprise. It is important to have a definition of process architecture terms clear so that one can easily refer to them so as to avoid confusion in process hierarchy definition. Here is my attempt to define the various levels in a process hierarchy - seven levels while some of the levels can be broken down further as per the complexity of the process in representing them in a process model:

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These generic business rules help in defining the "granularity" of the process (or activity or process item) within the 7 levels of hierarchy terms defined here. Though one might not be so worried in stand alone process modeling for system development or process improvement within a function, but when modeling is done at an enterprise level, it becomes crucial to have a definition for process hierarchy and business rules for process granularity definition. Once done, this helps enormously in comprehending business processes and increases knowledge transition of processes easily!


Eswar, In the plethora of information available on the net about BPM, your blogs are insightful, to the point. They have handed over me some key concepts which will help in making sense out a heap of information and jargon.

Thanks for writing it.

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