The Process Elements Series – Introduction

I’ve been working at orchestrating operational processes for a number of years. I’ve designed processes for Human Resources, Finance, development teams, sales and every part of a business you can imagine. However I never stopped to take the time to think and define; what is a process? What is it’s scope and what are it’s boundaries. When does a process become something else, such as an instruction manual or as I like to refer to it a how-to?

At one point I decided to sit down and dedicate a blog post to defining this. When I started writing however, it transpired that I had quite a bit to say especially about all the elements that make up a process. Hence I’ve decided to launch another series – The Process Elements Series. In this series I will  put to paper the set of rules I picked up along the way and follow but never took the time to formalise or acknowledge.

Today’s post aims at defining a process and determining why well documented processes are important.

What is a process?

The best and most concise way I can describe it is as:

‘a set of standardised routines to facilitate a consistent outcome, providing visibility and control’.

Now let’s break it down.

A process defines a set of steps a person, team or department is to go through in order to get from state A to state B. Very much like an actual journey, there might be many routes that can get us from point A to point B, several of which are viable.

So what benefits does defining the exact route  (the process) give us? Why should we take the time to do that?

  • Everyone goes through the same checkpoints. This means that if on my journey, from point A to point B, I stop at checkpoint Y, my colleagues will know exactly what that is and can easily pick up and continue.
  • Improves customer services by having clear expectations and consistency. Let’s assume Amy and Betty both work in accounts. They both do invoicing but they go through a different process. For the purpose of this exercise, Amy’s invoicing process is faster. Excluding the argument of whether any steps are being missed or the faster process is actually more efficient, the result long term would be that of creating a bias. Clients would see a difference in the service they are getting and react accordingly. This is actually the success factor behind food chains like McDonalds and burger King. No matter which outlet and in which country, the process they follow is the same and you expect and get the same burger every time.
  • Control – Keeping  the same example, Amy is faster as she does the admin and filing in a batch at the end of the week, Betty does the same but per invoice. When their manager gets the invoicing file, he/she doesn’t know whether the picture she has is real time, or one week late.
  • Better performance measurement – you cannot have a race between 2 people who compete on 2 different tracks. You need to measure like with like.
  • Redundancy and business continuity. If a resource resigns without the opportunity of a handover period, a well documented process ensures that the new resource can easily pick up from where the ex-employee left off. Without a well documented process that was actually followed, this process would take significantly longer.

What elements should a well defined process contain?

Now that we realise the importance of a process we need to identify what elements should a process contain. The below elements will be discussed in the coming posts which shall be titled the  Process Elements Series.

To learn more about the above elements, their importance and their function, stay tuned for the Process Elements series’ next post.

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