You’ve got to have a clear idea of where your business is headed, and what you plan to do with it in every given case. You need to be able to make decisions — which are difficult, of course, but necessary for the continuation and growth of any business venture. By that, I mean it’s imperative you learn about your business processes, and you should learn every little thing about them. It’s important to understand the way that your business process works from an internal perspective. Luckily, BPMN, or business process model and notation, makes that possible.
It’s even more of a benefit to your goals in understanding and execution that you find out what gateways are — and learn how to use each properly.
What Are Gateways?
Gateways are a certain kind of step within a process. At a gateway, some predefined rule about the process defines an action taken during the process. Whether it’s diverging into new paths, recombining separate ones, or even setting up specific triggers along the way based on an event, gateways are based on answering a question — and depending on the answer, the path of the process might change in a small or drastic way.
In other words, gateways are the places in a process where a decision is made, and in every case, these decision points will be one of four different types.
The exclusive gateway is actually one of the most common in use, especially when you’re first learning how gateways work. Exclusive gateways (shown as a diamond with an “X” in the middle) deal with a specific and concrete question, whose answers have to be mutually exclusive. In answering such a question, any process will be divided: when choosing Answer A based on the information given, the path diverges from an exclusive gateway into one of two permanently separate paths, leading ultimately to separate outcomes.
Exclusive gateways can be incredibly helpful for narrowing down a specific decision, such as in a triage — or to even represent when a decision would be made by an application of Boolean logic. These are useful whether you’re trying to ensure only one of several outcomes takes place in your process in a true-to-life way (like how a payment can be received by credit card or cash, but not both), or you simply need to force a hard but necessary choice into the workflow for your business itself based on the facts. Exclusive gateways, especially data-based gateways, are well poised for this kind of use, because information should always be a requisite for business decision-making.
If the exclusive gateway can be considered the “either-or” relationship for decision points in a process, then the inclusive gateway (represented as a diamond with a circle in it) is definitely the “and/or” relationship — its presence indicates that a process has a number of ways it could go, and that these are not mutually exclusive in the case of execution. Most BPMN gateways create a specific outcome, but the complexity allowed thanks to the inclusive gateway means that sometimes a process will become capable of producing multiple path variants, with only probability as a means of calculating exactly how many outcomes could eventually happen.
The inclusive gateway doesn’t just indicate that many choices can be made, though; it also indicates the fact that all things must be considered before decision making can occur. Just because it’s possible to take one, several, or all of the paths in a process doesn’t mean that should happen — and so evaluation must take place and data must be considered, just like with exclusive gateways. Inclusive gateways can be used in the case of, say, an upsell in a service — with more than one path being active in a process if the order placed indicates the requirement of more than one outcome. Because of this, inclusive gateways are also incredibly important for looking at every possible scenario in a business process.
Here’s the odd one out: parallel gateways, unlike the other types, don’t require an evaluation of information or even a trigger from an event; instead, the parallel gateways (seen as diamonds with plus signs in the middle) indicate the divergence and/or convergence of paths that pertain to mutually inclusive tasks. In other words, parallel gateways are an indication that multiple activities will invariably take place at the same time — like if your business offers to perform duties of the main service offered in addition to some complementary services.
Parallel gateways have been designed for a use that’s far more particular than the other types of gateways. While the paths diverge or converge (or both), the outcome of parallel paths is always the same, barring any other gateways that complicate the matter. This consistency makes parallel gateways specifically important for use in industries where the outcome has to be consistent — like construction — and multifaceted by default, like cybersecurity.
The final type of gateway, event-triggered gateways, is a type that has myriad representations throughout the list of BPMN gateways in BPMN 2.0. Whether it’s as a small envelope (message), as a clock (timer), or any other of various symbols, these appear in the circles that showcase events, and these appear in tandem with the “event-triggered gateway” sign to indicate that a specific event has triggered the decision-making process and the change in direction that may occur.
The use of event gateways means various possibilities, as you’re not just checking information to act, but instead using the passage of time, the receiving of a message, or even specific reached conditions to define the outcomes. No matter what business process you have, it’s likely that an event can be a trigger to create a different outcome, so it’s best to consider this as a possibility in those cases — indicating them on your diagram wherever makes the most sense.
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