What Is Process?

Process Defined Towards Understanding Process Improvement

process-improvement-header Graphics Image by LucidchartOpens in new window

Every organization is made up of a series of interacting activities that are carried out in order to achieve intended results through a systematic and efficient allotment and usage of resources.

A Process is a set of activities that use such resources as people, systems, tools, etc., to transform inputs into value-added outputs. It involves a sequential set of related tasks or subprocesses performed to achieve a particular business objective or to produce a specific product, service, good, or piece of information.

A process is often thought of in the context of a workflow, user instructions, or the steps required to produce something of value to an organization’s customers. Customers are both internal and external and include each person involved in the process as well as the entity that receives the final output of the process.

Examples of processes include processing orders, invoicing, shipping products, updating employee information, and producing reports.

Processes exist at all levels of an organization and include actions that the customer is able to see as well as actions that are invisible to the customer.

In general, the various activities of a business process can be performed in one of two ways:

  1. Manually by a business operator or
  2. By means of interaction or automation with a technical system or application.

Technical activities are typically a collection of substeps or instructions handled and processed by a particular system involved in the execution of activities contained within a process.

In most cases, manual and system-based tasks may be sequenced in any order, and the data and information being handled through a process passes through a series of both manual and computer tasks.

The outcome of a well-designed process is increased effectiveness (value for the customer) and increased efficiency (decreased costs for the company).

The following list outlines the general characteristics of a process:

  1. Defined: Processes have defined customers, boundaries, inputs, and outputs.
  2. Sequential: Processes consist of activities that are ordered to achieve specific results or outcomes.
  3. Valuable: Processes must add value to an organization and its customers.
  4. Customer centric: Processes are designed with an organization’s operators and customers in mind.
  5. Embedded: A process exists within an organizational or departmental structure.
  6. Cross-functional: Processes should span several functions within an organization.

Types of Processes

Business owners, managers, and staff members create processes to outline the specific activities or tasks needed to complete various functions. This process can involve the use of charts or maps to create a pictorial reference for use by process operators.

Owners and managers can break these models down to the lowest task or activity in the company. This allows companies to visualize activities in an end-to-end construct and better reduce duplication and streamline operations.

Following are three primary types of processes that can be modeled.

  1.    Managerial Processes

Managerial processes are business processes that govern the operations of an enterprise or organization. Typical managerial processes include strategic planningOpens in new window and corporate governanceOpens in new window.

  1.    Operational Processes

Also known as primary or core processes, these are business processes that form the primary objective of the enterprise and subsequently create the primary value stream. Typical operational processes include Engineering, Purchasing, Manufacturing, Marketing, and Sales. An example of a core process for a manufacturer might be to assemble parts.

  1.    Supporting Processes

These are business processes that support the core operational processes of an organization. Typical supporting processes include Finance, Information Technology, and Service Delivery departments such as Project ManagementOpens in new window and Process ImprovementOpens in new window, as well as Organizational Development and Customer/Technical Support. As an example for the manufacturing industry, a supporting process might be to recruit production staff.

Process Owner

Process owners are a critical component of Process ImprovementOpens in new window efforts. They are the named individuals responsible for the performance of a process in realizing its objectives.

Process owners are responsible for the comprehensive management of processes within the organization, including approving documents (Process Maps, Procedures, and Work Instructions), determining key performance indicators, as well as monitoring process performance and recommending improvements.

A Process Owner is the only person with the authority to make changes to a process and is the contact person for all information related to its performance.

In most cases, Process Owners are leaders within an organization but can also be individuals in nonleadership positions. Process Owners are supported by Process Improvement Organizations and ultimately inherit the solutions created by a Process Improvement project team.

A Process Owner should:

  • Be a subject matter expert of the process or the domain in which the process is classified
  • Demonstrate process-oriented thinking
  • Understand the outcomes and experience needed to achieve customer satisfaction
  • Have insight into performance issues or disconnects within the process
  • Be a well-respected professional who can positively influence process operators and project team members
    Research data for this work have been adapted from the manual:
  1. Tristan Boutros, Tim Purdie. The Process Improvement Handbook: A Blueprint for Managing Change and Increasing Organizational Performance.