How posting about BPMN and UML resulted in an education

Image Source: Flickr by Petr Kosina

All I did was post a diagram on LinkedIn – I didn’t realise that I was going to learn so much

The Question

I’ve been trying to get my head around business and data modelling.

Two acronyms started appearing … UML, and BPMN.

I understood that they were both Very Important. Certain sources promoted BPMN, while others maintained that UML was actually better…

Unfortunately, I couldn’t work out why.

An Answer…

I started hunting for an answer. On the website of BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) there was an article (by Simon Perry) that made a comparison of the two – “Process modelling comparison“.


 At last – something that explained it for me… UML was superior.

If this article was valuable to me, it would be valuable for others… I posted the matrix to several BA groups on LinkedIn.


I was surprised when someone made a commen (I wasn’t expecting it).

James Shield in the UK pointed out the following:

This would have been a lot more useful if it stuck to comparing BPMN with its UML equivalent – Activity diagrams.

The other parts of UML mentioned (Use Case diagrams and Class diagrams) can be used to address the things that BPMN doesn’t even try to address, just as they were used to address what Activity diagrams do not address.

Maybe things were not as black & white as I had thought. I explained that I was still new to this area, and asked for help in better understanding it.

And then… A BPMN and UML education

And then a whole of people jumped in with further explanations. All of them adding to my understanding.

Tamas Salamon (South Africa) stated that

I think if your boundary is firmly within process modelling and your stakeholders are just the business community, the choice will depend on which will deliver the message more effectively, i.e. create a better understanding.
Ultimately it is about clear, unambiguous communication of information

Rémy Fannader (France) pointed out that

the equivalent of BPM with UML are Activity diagrams for the processing of contents, and State diagrams for the control of execution. That distinction is critical when the same business logic is to be used in different business or technical contexts. It is not supported by BPM.

Remy gave me a few links to relevant articles.

James commented that

There are pluses and minuses for each. For example I like how Activity diagrams show forks and joins. But they can both do the job.

And added that

BPMN seems to be the more popular. I have used BPMN at my last three clients. I haven’t used Activity diagrams for business process maps for 10 years. For that reason alone I would use BPMN.


He then followed up with some useful advice…

– UML Class diagrams are great for data modelling;
at least as good as Entity Relationship Diagrams (ERDs).

– UML is also used for behaviour modelling
—- State Machine diagrams
—- Sequence diagrams
—- Use Case diagrams
—- Actviity diagrams,

– For business process modelling, the Activity diagram is the UML artefact of choice.

– BPMN has nothing to do with data modeliing; it’s a Notation for Business Process Modelling.

As a BA, I use/have used the following UML diagrams
– Package (to group related things together)
– Class (data modelling mainly)
– Object (to show examples)
– Activity (less so these days)
– Use Case (overview of system functionality)
– State Machine (event-driven, state-dependent behaviour)

For me, the other UML diagrams are for design, construction and deployment.

Rolf Weinmann (Germany) then added some useful insight…

I think it’s important when we use things to ask where they come from, what they want to support/do and where they are.

As written above BPMN was targeted, wants and is a “Notation for Business Process Modelling”.
UML comes from a very technical oriented area. Action diagrams/Business Use CASEs- to my knowledge , etc. have been added only at a later stage.


Having taught many BA classes, developing BA Trainings and coaching Business People and Business Analysts on various project my conclusion is…
BPMN is much closer to the business, provides a full set of good stuff to modell the business (not only processes), etc. …

UML on the other hand better allows more technical people to better understand what to do with the Business requirements (e.g. using of UseCases) and document standard IT models… (e.g. Class diagrams, etc.)

Putcha Narasimham, a very smart man from India, adds to that by saying that he agrees with James and Remy and that…

Within process modeling, I found BPMN better defined and consistent though it is too elaborate with too many symbols and interpretations.

He also supplied me with links to some further material that he had developed.


This all started with me sharing (in a slightly “don’t know what I don’t know” way) a matrix that I found .

One person made the effort to comment on that matrix, and it lead to a very interesting, and educational, conversation that involved people from six different countries….Way more than I had expected.

Want to learn more?

Below are a selection of resources that I personally feel are relevant to this blog post, and will allow you to get more in-depth knowledge. I do earn a commission if you purchase any of these, and for that I am grateful. Thank you. (Important Disclosure)

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Journalism with Data


If you browse through the posts in this blog, you’ll see that there are several that are related to “telling a story”, “using pictures to present data, and similar:

Because I want to be able to present data graphically, in a proper way, I have started an online course titled: “Doing Journalism With Data: First Steps, Skills and Tools“.

It’s a 5-module online (MOOC) introductory course  that “gives you the essential concepts, techniques and skills to effectively work with data and produce compelling data stories under tight deadlines.

Awfully exciting stuff! It’s actually being taught by 5 tutors (one for each module) from Britain, America, and France. Here are the five modules:

Module 1 – Data journalism in the newsroom
Module 2 – Finding data to support stories
Module 3 – Finding story ideas with data analysis
Module 4 – Dealing with messy data
Module 5 – Telling stories with visualisation

You can read more about the course here.

I’ve just started module 1 (along with 21,280 other students), and I’m keen to work my way through the rest of the modules.

At the end, I’ll give an idea what I thought of the course along with any real gems that I got out of it.



  • Journalism Course
  • Launching a MOOC for data journalism
  • Top 10 skills new journalists should have

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5 FREE Computer Tools for Every 21st Century Teacher

Alanna is a music teacher and ICT coordinator with “a passion for everything education related.

Recently she put together a list of 5 FREE Computer Tools for Every 21st Century Teacher.

It’s a great resource. I encourage you to visit her site and give her a word of encouragement for the great work she is doing!

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Natural vs Mechanistic Learning

What’s better – learning through a structured approach, or learning through life … ?

Natural vs Mechanistic Learning

Robert Paterson wrote a fascinating post about the difference between natural, and mechanistic, learning.

Natural learning is something done as part of life,

Mechanistic learning separates the learning from life.

With his permission, I reproduce his post here:

“Life is Learning” – Learning Design – Natural vs Machine

If we are to design the new, we have to be very careful not to use the assumptions of the old. An assemblage of the new features in a body does not make a new tool.

natural vs mechanistic learning

Recall that HMS Inflexible on the left had all the gear of a modern warship. But it was Dreadnought on the right that was the breakthrough. Why? Because Dreadnought was built on the assumption that battle would be fought at the most extreme distance possible. As a consequence, all its systems were configured around this objective, Inflexible still held to the Nelson doctrine that real men fought face to face. Dreadnought had the power to sink the entire German Navy on its own who at the time still held to the Nelson doctrine themselves.

Christopher Alexander is again very helpful in explaining the difference in assumptions behind a mechanistic view and a natural view of design.

In the traditional mechanistic design, the entire process is aimed to a known and specific end. After all, the core metaphor is a machine. In education today, that end is a credit or a passed test.

As this is a machine design where everything is separated: the teacher from the learner, math from English. Many important sources of growth are outside the box. Sport is outside. Food is outside. Home is outside. Work is outside. Learning from life itself is not counted. Only what is in school is in.

In nature, everything affects the other in an integrated and in a dynamic process. The acorn has the potential to be an oak tree just as the infant has the potential to become the adult person. All information about how to be a tree or a person is inside it. What the acorn and the baby need is the right set of linked processes to interact with so that all this potential can be released. For a tree, it needs the community of other trees and all the substrata of bacteria that links the forest under the ground. It needs the community of the animals that propagate it and defends it from enemies.

The core process for babies is the interaction with the parents and the home. For 4 million years all the tremendous achievement of humanity was generated by this process. This is where our world view is created. It is the foundation of learning. Are we safe or secure, loved or worthless, can we wait for things or not, do we have power or not. Our current view of learning separates and devalues the influence of the home. The only learning process that counts is the school. As the family crumbles so does the foundation.

The second core process was interaction with the immediate community. Today most of our communities are mere dormitories.  So there is no one to learn from naturally in the physical community. What did we learn? We learned how to behave. We learned about how we interacted with the natural world. We learned all the domestic skills. We learned our people’s story. We learned our context as a person. Now we only interact with other peers who are as lost as we are. Instead of neighbours, we have the TV! Without a community, we have no social context.

The third core process was work. Today we have separated work from community and from family. Work is a mystery to most kids. To gain a work skill we then spend lots of money later in life to pass a course. Some kids are lucky like my neighbour Logan who has been working as a carpenter with his Dad since he was 5. How will a grad from a community college compete with Logan? How will a Compu College grad compete with say Jevon who has been under the hood  since a small boy? Without a vocation, we have a declining base of skills.

The fourth process that I can see is the learning of mystery. We have lost wisdom and we have lost the interaction between the elder and the neophyte. Instead, we have told ourselves that we will never die and we shunt our elderly in waiting rooms for a death we deny. So the mystery of how we will meet our end and its revelatory power to help us live is also lost. We look to priests and to churches instead and we hope that some book will help us. Without a sense of how we fit into the universe, we have only consumerism.

We have put all official learning into the space of an institution. In the institution, everything outside does not count. But in reality, we learn in the context of the space of a community – in the context of many communities. We learn by doing and observing and most of all by conversing with others. Our mechanistic view is all about separation and hence works against learning.

Any design for a learning tool that continues the idea of separation will fail. The design that will work will the design that brings the individual back into the communities that we need to be human.

Learning itself, of course, is not a separate function from any part of our lives. This is the ultimate failure of the old system in that it has made this separation between life and learning. There is no “life long learning” at an institution, there is only life itself.

Life is learning!


Do you want to learn more…?
If you like more in this area, here are some handpicked resources from Amazon
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