Basic Building Blocks

The Elements platform supports the UPN process mapping methodology. Its hierarchical, simple-notation approach to process mapping allows for better communication, shared understanding and better insights. This module will illustrate the basic components of an Elements UPN Diagram.

Click to open Learning Objectives

LO1-1 Being able to ask key questions during diagram creation

LO1-2 Understanding how activities can be defined in Elements diagrams.

LO1-3 Create activities that retain focus on the objective and value for the business.

The Activity Box

UPN has only 1 (one) symbol and that is the rectangle, we call it the “Activity box”. The Activity box always represents WHAT happens (to something) and is depicted as VERB-NOUN. (So, doing some action, to a thing/object, e.g. “Send email” or “Review request“).

Even more important, maybe most important, is WHY an activity needs to happen. What is the business value you want to achieve with an activity? Note that there is a difference between a business “why” and a system status.

Classify incident” activity leads to a “Classified incident” outcome (=system status). But does not answer as to WHY you need to classify an incident (to understand the incident type and what the next steps are, for example).  In UPN we first want to know the business objective and value; additionally, you can add statuses on the flowline.

Then you also need to understand what triggers the activity, WHEN does an activity actually start? It is a common practice that an outcome of one activity becomes a trigger for another. For example, ‘Evaluate case‘ with the outcome ‘Issue found to be affecting many clients‘ may be a trigger to ‘Inform account owners of issue affecting their clients‘. 

You also need to add WHO executes the activity and, optionally, in what context. This can include information on WITH WHAT the activity is executed (systems). You will need to specify and add ‘resources’ to your diagrams to document this information. Check this support article to learn more about adding and managing resources for your diagrams.

Last, but not least, when the WHAT needs more explanation, you can capture HOW activity is performed with either a child diagram (also called a ‘drilldown’) or by adding documentation on the box with additional details. You can drill down from an activity box and create children diagram again and again when needed. You can also add as much additional documents and links to any activity box as you need. 

Getting this conceptual mapping right is fundamental to all your UPN process diagrams.

Illustrative Example

Watch the video below, using the selling of wooden shoes as an example, to outline how key questions can help you to create activities in Elements.

A Moment to Discuss Verbs

A verb is a word that describes an action or activity. And that’s exactly what processes are all about: Do something, so we get business results (outcome) that add value (to both internal and external customers).
Simply remember:
Always start with an active verb in an activity, never ever add a verb on a flow-line. An active verb means do something. So avoid “Customer validation“. Rather use “Validate customer“. A passive verb like ‘Customer validation‘ or ‘Incident management’ is more a general category or grouping mechanism than an actual process or process step. 


Tiny pitfall ahead: There are some active verbs though that need to be avoided…
There are a couple of verbs that don’t make sense. Or simply don’t add much value. The one we see most frequently is “Manage“. Do you prepare/cook your food, or ‘manage‘ your food? Bad examples: Manage IT, Manage HR, Manage Finance. The verb “manage” refers to making decisions- so specify what decisions are being made.


Other tricky verbs are sometimes ‘send’, receive’, ‘accept’, ‘reject’. While the verb may be active, the context in which it is used may describe a passive action. For instance, in a sales process a quote will have to get to the customer at some point. But having an activity where a customer ‘receives‘ a quote is pointless since the customer has no control over receiving the quote. They are passive in this operation.  The more critical bit here is that the customer reviews the quote and accepts the quote, or not! The core process would be something like: ‘Create quote‘ (by Sales) with an outcome ‘Quote sent and received by the customer‘ and then there is an activity ‘Review’ quote‘ (by Customer). The result of reviewing the quote can be ‘quote accepted’ or ‘quote rejected.’ A mistake that sometimes happens is that the activity is shown as ‘Accept quote’ rather than ‘Review quote’.

What’s next

Next, you will take a short, theory and practical quiz. Select it from the menu below.

This quiz will help you to recognise the skills and knowledge you have gained, and identify any areas you still need to explore and learn.

Remember, you can revisit these pages, or ask us for help if you get stuck. Once you pass the quiz, click “Next Module” to move on to Module 4.