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What IS a Process?

Ross Wise here again…While I was working on some process improvements the other day it occurred to me that it could be very easy for people to get confused over the different elements that make up a process. So I thought I would jot a few down for everyone to help clear things up…

First we have the process itself. This is a collection of specific high level steps that can happen in either a linear or parallel fashion to achieve specific objectives or outputs. It consists of a number of elements:
  • Procedures: detailed instructions for the completion of a given process step

  • Flowchart: a diagram showing the order and connection of process steps and decisions

  • Inputs: the raw materials you use to create the process output

  • Outputs: the end product or service resulting from doing the process steps and procedures

  • Triggers: events that initiate the process

  • Roles: the assigned responsibilities given to individuals using or executing the process

  • Resources: additional tools, templates, technologies, finances, etc that will used to execute the process
Remember that the process flowchart (the document showing the order of steps and decisions) is not the only element of a process. The other elements need to be identified and documented in order to have a complete process.
The procedures also have smaller, more detailed elements:
  • Work Instructions: very detailed instructions that explain how to execute a task

  • Tasks: a piece of work assigned to a single individual
In a well designed process the high level steps should not change. They should be general enough that they would cover a variety of procedural or work instruction situations. An example from Incident Management:
  • Process Step: Log the Incident

  • Procedures: Open the Incident Tracking Tool; Open a New Incident Ticket; Enter Customer Information, etc.
The relationship between a process step and a procedure step should be one-to-many. The same one-to-many relationship goes between procedures and work instructions or tasks.
Every process also needs to have process controls in place. These are policies and strategies that help identify and manage the creation, use and improvement of a process:
  • Owner: someone who takes charge for the successful completion of a process

  • Strategy: statement of the overall purpose of a process and the reason for its use and

  • Policy: statement of the do’s and don’ts related to the use of a process existence

  • Measurements and metrics: quantifiable aspects of a process that show whether the process is achieving success and quality for the customer
The parts and pieces of a process fit together nicely into a relationship hierarchy:

Each element becomes more detailed and granular as you move down the hierarchy. In order to determine the tasks and work instructions you must know your procedures. Those are developed based on your process steps, which come from polices and strategies. I think you get the picture.
You must be careful when creating and implementing processes that you think about all the elements involved and not just stop at a flowchart. In fact before you can even get to the flowchart you must think about the elements that come before (and after!)

I hope this simple overview of the elements of a process help you while you are working to create world class process implementations…now back to improving my own processes!


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