Universal Process Notation (UPN) is a way to document business processes that can be understood by a wide range of different audiences – from business analysts and IT teams, through to end-users, management, regulators and more.
Knowing Universal Process Notation is an essential competency for careers within (and beyond) the Salesforce ecosystem, such as Business Analysts, Consultants, Sales Ops, and more.
Salesforce is developing this skill a high priority in the ecosystem, launching a Business Process Mapping course on Trailhead, available to all 11 million Trailblazers globally – I have been advocating its importance for a long time!
Here’s my take on UPN’s key principles and how you can apply them to get better engagement with your business process maps.
What is Universal Process Notation (UPN)?
Universal Process Notation (UPN) is a process mapping notation that is not proprietary to any company or software product. It’s been proven over the last 20 years to work with any organization – from those in major, highly regulated industries, right down to innovative startups, and nonprofits.
An easily understood business process map can replace a thousand words
Business process maps enable business analysts to engage end-users and validate business requirements. Process maps drive out waste, identify improvements, and form the basis of UAT and training.
The humble process map has superpowers – but only if everyone is on the same page.
UPN’s origins date back to the 1970s with IDEF0 but it has evolved to be perfect for the current day challenges of rapid business transformation, highly distributed teams and increasing regulatory compliance.
Many of the existing diagramming formats have either been very technical, or are not suitable for a world where content is viewed online by distributed teams. You may be familiar with their names: flowcharts, UML, value stream maps, BPMN, SIPOC.
Key Principles of Universal Process Notation (UPN)
The power of UPN is its simplicity. While it is easily understood by end-users, IT, management and regulators, there is more to it than you may think.
Dig deeper, and you see that notation enables you to draw rich diagrams that are unambiguous; this eliminates miscommunications that waste time and create rework.
The basic building block is the activity box, “WHAT” is done. An activity that starts with a verb, for example, validate, create, update, close, present, confirm…
The resources are the bars at the bottom of the activity box. They define who is responsible, accountable, supportive, consulted or informed (RASCI). Not that it can also show what systems are involved.
Lines & Line Text
The lines are critically important as they define the handoffs between activities.
The lines need line text. Often there is more debate about the text on the lines than the process in the activity box. For example the hand-off between “Create lead” performed by the marketing team and “Contact lead” by the sales team is a “qualified lead”, but the definition of “qualified lead” needs to be agreed between marketing and sales.
Hierarchy of Processes
Another unique aspect of UPN is that the process map is a hierarchy of process diagrams. Any activity box can have a lower level diagram, shown by the top left corner. You can, down as many levels as you want. That means each diagram can be kept to 8-10 activity boxes and that keeps them readable, even when embedded inside apps like Salesforce.
Supporting information can be attachments (shown in my example as the paperclip in the top right corner) that are:
- Development related: requirements, user stories, metadata items, config notes,
- End-user related: training, procedures, app links, or
- Regulatory: procedures, compliance statements.
5 Rules of UPN
- No more than 8-10 activity boxes are allowed on a screen,
- Drill down from an activity box to a lower level to describe the detail,
- Attach supporting information to an activity box,
- View and edit should be controlled by access rights,
- Version control and history of changes should be shown at a diagram level.
How to Use Universal Process Notation
You can draw any process from the highest level, such as an entire business operation – down to the most granular level of detail, for example, converting a lead to contact.
While UPN can cover any business area, I’ve chosen a RevOps example, “lead to revenue”:
Here is the drill-down diagram from activity box 1, and down a further level under activity box 1 ( we are down at level 3 now).
What about decision boxes and swimlanes?
If you are familiar with process mapping, you will have come across both decision boxes and swimlanes.
Here, they are hidden in plain sight. An activity box can have multiple lines going into it and out of it, which shows that the decisions are made as part of the activity. If you need more detail on how the decisions are made, then you can drill down or click on the attachment.
Remember the first process diagram. Activity box 1 has a number of inputs and outcomes. The drill-down described them in more detail but kept the complexity out of the top-level diagram. Eliminating decision boxes reduces the number of shapes on a diagram by up to 50%.
Swimlanes are a representation of responsibility – in UPN, these are the resources. The benefit of resources on activity boxes (vs swimlanes) is the diagrams can be drawn so the flow is easier to understand. Often diagrams with swimlanes are convoluted to be able to put the boxes in the correct swimlanes. Also activity boxes can have different combinations of resources which would make drawing swimlanes almost impossible.
How to Learn UPN for Salesforce
Salesforce is providing more training for Business Analysts and advocating UPN as part of that. Below you’ll find the Trailhead modules, a foundational course for the Architect certifications, and a Salesforce Business Analyst certification in development. This is great validation of the importance of business analysis and the formalizing of the role.
- Trailhead Business Process Mapping (intro)
- Business Process Mapping course (deeper dive)
- Business Process Mapping for Architects (in depth)
- Planned Salesforce Business Analyst certification
To support the training you can use Elements.cloud and create a Playground Space so you can use it to practice business analysis and business process mapping. elements.cloud/playground
Bonus: Aviation Gin
This training video is from the Business Process Mapping for Architects and it shows live process mapping with Ryan Reynolds, actor and owner of Aviation Gin. We map out the process and through the power of the UPN approach we can quickly fill in the gaps and improve everyone’s understanding of the process. In less than 15 mins we have mapped the entire end-to-end process! Thus you can see how we take an end-user’s description of what happens and turn it into a rigorous process.