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What is a Process Instance?

Optimize your business processes by understanding and acting on the data from process instances.
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When working with process orchestration and business process management, you need to understand a few new terms related to processing. This blog will introduce some of these key glossary terms—for example, process instance.

First, what is a process?

Before you understand the term process instance, you need to understand the concept of a process in the context of business and workflow management. Process management includes designing, implementing, monitoring, and optimizing processes to improve performance.

A process, in the simplest of terms, is a set of tasks executed to accomplish a goal. These tasks may be in a sequence or performed in parallel with other activities; however, each step is necessary to accomplish the overall objective. The process may be simple or complex, consisting of only a few or a large number of tasks or activities.

In most cases, processes also have inputs, outputs, roles, variables, and rules. These are all defined in detail in our What is Business Process Modeling? Blog.

Below is an example of a business process.

A process model defining input and output

A process often captures specific data. This may be used to route the process to different branches or to transfer or access data in other systems using connectors.

What is a process instance?

Each time a process is executed, it creates an instance of the process. The term instance emphasizes that although there is a general definition for a process, each execution is a unique event with potentially different data, states, and outcomes.

For example, a process instance will have unique values for the execution of the process map, such as:

  • Start and end date and time
  • Start and duration times of each task in the process
  • Variable values like Last Name, Loan Amount, and Email Address

For example, here are two process instances using the same defined template. You will notice different information for each as well as different branches in the process flow.

Process Instance 45035599648317971

Showing unique values in a process map

For this instance, the claim number is 29326, and the accident happened on the 401 Interstate. This process instance did not have any injury, so the branch for a medical review has not been executed.

Process Instance 2251799834633434

A second iteration of a process

For this instance, the claim number is 65583. You can also see differing accident locations, VINs, and accident dates. Note that the process instance is active on two parallel branches—indicated by the two green markers—which indicates that the adjuster estimate is being executed in parallel with the medical review.

Components of a process instance

Here are some key components of a process instance to deepen your understanding:

  • Uniqueness: Each process instance operates independently and is unique even though it follows the blueprint or template for the same process definition as other process instances.
  • State management: A process instance maintains a state that reflects its current status, including which tasks have been completed, which are pending, and any results of various tasks.
  • Lifecycle: Each process instance includes stages like initiation, the execution of tasks, completion of tasks, and the entire process.
  • Multiple instances: There can be multiple instances of the same process definition running simultaneously with different sets of data.
  • Tracking and monitoring: You can track process instances individually to monitor their state, executed tasks, and more. This enables managers and other personnel to see the progress of an instance.
  • Reporting: You can use the key information about individual process instances in reporting to determine where there may be bottlenecks within the process definition and to identify any types of trends.

Using process instance data for business improvement

Using process instance data for your business can provide insights into how your processes are performing and help identify areas for improvement.

Performance monitoring

With the ability to monitor each process instance to review variable values, process path, and completed steps. With Camunda, this monitoring is provided with Operate as shown below.

Monitoring with Camunda Operate

If an error occurs in a particular process instance, you can use Operate to fix errors in the process as well by correcting variable values or retrying steps, for example.

Testing process variables using Camunda's Operate

Monitoring individual process instances helps you understand your processes better and gives you insight into possible improvements that can be made to enhance the process in the future.

Process optimization and improvement

With historical process instance data, you can identify bottlenecks within your processes where delays are occurring. For example, with Camunda Operate, you can see these bottlenecks very clearly with a heat map.

Camunda's Operate displaying a bottleneck in a heat map

With branch analysis, you can determine how effective your processes are and which steps are taken most often.

Determining process effectiveness

You can even check the duration of tasks within your process instance history to determine the effectiveness of your process.

Bar chart showing min max and duration of process tasks

With the ability to visualize and report on process instance data, you can also verify that you can meet your SLAs and cycle times.

Line graph measuring cycle times
Throughput time measuring 4 days 6 hours 46 minutes

Having access to this information allows you to review and continuously improve your processes. Knowing common points of failure or tasks that can be done more effectively can also improve your customer experience.

By effectively leveraging process instance data, businesses can enhance efficiency, improve customer satisfaction, and drive strategic growth.


It is crucial to understand process instances in order to effectively manage and optimize your business processes. Knowing this distinction allows organizations to handle individual cases efficiently while maintaining a governed and structured approach to process definition and execution.

We encourage you to design a process definition and execute it to review so you can better understand process instances. You can also review these other blog posts to strengthen your understanding.

Start the discussion at forum.camunda.io

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