What is a process?

There is a simple definition which is that a business process is a series of tasks which combined produce an outcome. That outcome can be a service or a product and the process invariably takes place over time which could be hours, days, weeks or months. One way to study a process is by means of a flowchart. Progress is able to be monitored through the various stages of the process.

The tasks or work activities within a process are related. They may be able to be completed in isolation but each task has a bearing on one or more of the other tasks and without each task, the entire process is not complete.

The customer or the end recipient is clearly an important part of any process. It is for the customer that the process is being completed. The needs and wishes of the customer will define most if not all of the components of the process even including its name.

No process can begin without a trigger. This is usually an event or events which cause the process to be initiated and from there the ball begins rolling. How the process develops depends on many factors and it is the management of the process which largely determines its success.

The tasks within the process need to be clearly defined. Within each task there is a further breakdown of responsibilities and activities which are usually referred to as steps.

Just as the event or events trigger the actual process in the first place, so too the tasks within the process will trigger other tasks. This is part of the interrelated nature of the activities. In fact it must be possible to work backwards through a task and trace the origin and trigger for its creation.

For a process to succeed it is first required that someone [or more than one] understands a situation or a state needs to change. This analysis is fundamental to the creation of a process. Then comes the responsibility angle where someone [or more than one] accepts responsibility to ensure the process works and that the change or outcome being sought actually occurs.

It must be accepted that a predicted outcome is possible but equally that there may be faults or delays which occur during the process. Provision for such difficulties must be factored into the entire operation. Then there is a sequence to the events which are expected to occur and again this sequence must be known to all involved. Monitoring that sequence is likewise essential.

The fundamentals of a process include the resources – staff, finance, time and equipment – and the flexibility to adapt throughout the process. Without the fundamentals in place, the chances of the process being evaluated as good are reduced. The whole point of a process is that if it is worth doing, it must be done well.

A commonly used concept in Six Sigma* to understand a process is SIPOC.

  1. Suppliers – those parties that have something that has to go into the process, be it information or physical items
  2. Inputs – are the ingredients or the actual things that go into the process at various steps to make it work
  3. Process – the actual steps that need to be carried out to get to the end goal of the process
  4. Outputs/Outcomes – what comes out at the end.  It may be a physical item that has been built or transformed or information that has been developed, calculated, transformed or created.
  5. Customers – these are the people or groups that are the recipient or impacted by the output or outcome of the process.  Ultimately the process is for the customers needs or wants

Here is an example:

Source: SIPOC Example – © 2007 allPM.com

Every process involves agreements between people and the only path to success lies in the people supporting the agreements from start to finish. When a process is successful, the company grows in both stature and resources with a far better chance of longevity and power.

*Six Sigma – is a business management strategy that seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.

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