The influence of modularity representation and presentation medium on the understandability of business process models

Dikici, Ahmet
Many factors influence the creation of understandable business process models for an appropriate audience. Understandability of process models becomes critical particularly when a process is complex and its model is large in structure. Using modularization to represent such models hierarchically (e.g. using sub-processes) is considered to contribute to the understandability of these models. To investigate this assumption, we conducted a family of controlled experiments with participation of 115 practitioners and 140 students. Our experimental material involved 2 large-scale real-life business process models that were modeled using BPMN v2.0 (Business Process Model and Notation). Each process was modeled in 3 modularity forms: fully-flattened, flattened where activities are clustered using BPMN groups, and modularized using separately viewed BPMN sub-processes. The objective is to examine if and how different forms of modularity representation in BPMN collaboration diagrams influence the understandability of process models. In addition to the forms of modularity representation, we also looked into the presentation medium (paper vs. computer) as a factor that potentially influences model comprehension. The results of our experiments indicate that for business practitioners, to optimally understand a BPMN model in the form of a collaboration diagram, it is recommended to present the model in ‘flattened’ forms (with or without the use of groups) in the ‘paper’ format. Results of our study can be used to develop process modeling guidelines based on empirical findings. Moreover, findings of our systematic literature review will provide insights for practitioners who aim to generate understandable process models.