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What is a process?

A process is generally about activities: An input is transformed by one or more activities to a desired output. OK – maybe you want a bit more detail than that, so let us dig into the meaning of processes a bit further with the following topics:

When we write about a process in this article we generally describe a “written process”. Not all processes need to be written down, but writing down your processes is one of the better ways to gain all benefits of processes.

Please note: A process should not be confused with a procedure.

Why do we need processes?

Processes structure activities in the correct sequence. Processes are what ensure that your business works. You have them in your business today even if they are not written down.

As you can tell, processes are important. Writing down (or mapping or visualizing) processes is also important because:

  • It provides an overview of how your business works.
  • It can help you identify which process needs optimization.
  • Processes help your different business functions cooperate and integrate.
  • When you control your processes, it makes it easier to manage quality and performance in your business.

When is a process needed?

A process is needed for pretty much everything. Every time you have an activity or task in your business, it is a process or part of a process. However, you do not always need to write down your processes.

A written process might be need if:

  • Timing: Does the process need to be executed at a particular time or as part of a larger process?
  • Complexity: Do you consider the activity complex when considering the amount of training your employees have in the task?
  • Length: Is the activity lengthy or are there interruptions/pauses when the activity or related activities are performed?
  • Number: Do many employees perform the activity together? Collaboration on tasks is a great reason to write down the process.
  • Variation: Do different employees perform the activity differently (small or large variations)?
  • Criticality: Is the activity critical for your business, a product or the internal workflows?
  • Safety: Could people be hurt or property be damaged if the activity is not performed correctly?

If any (or all) of the above are true for your activity, then you may benefit from a written process.

The criteria are similar to the criteria we have defined for when to write down your procedures. Therefore, it may be helpful to have a look at our Procedure Quiz. This quiz will tell you if you need written procedures. It can also be used to indicate if you need written processes.

Components of a process

A documented (written) process can be created in many ways. Some business write their processes in manuals. Others use flowcharts to visualize their processes and show the relationship between different processes.

A few things are relatively common for all processes:

  • A process starts with an input. This is the external requirement – for example: A customer wants a tire for their car.
  • Next, is the activity. This is where “business” gets done in the process. In our example with the car tire, the overall activity would be production of a car tire. Naturally, this activity can be broken down into sub-processes.
  • Finally, we have the output. This is the result of the process. It should match or be consistent with the input (the need or requirement).

Conclusion

Processes are everywhere. It is simply impossible to avoid them. Business can do better when they optimize their processes and, hopefully, write them down in one form or another.

Processes are simple creatures but do not let that deceive you: Processes can take a lot of skill and effort to get just right.

If you need help with your processes or procedures, please reach out or check out our self-study courses.


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