Definition of Procedure

Definition Last Updated 17-Dec-2015 12:51

A procedure is specification for the performance and orchestration of activities to achieve a particular objective from a specified initial state, at least one of which activities is not assigned to an entity (i.e. is not a behaviour of a performer); a procedure need not refer to any performers.

Compare with process in which no activity is unassigned.

Whether an orchestration describes a procedure or process is therefore determined by the rule, If every activity in an orchestration is assigned to a performer, the orchestration is a process, otherwise it is a procedure.

Application of the process-procedure distinction allows processes to be audited for completeness.

Other Definitions

See the main Procedure article for commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of some of these alternative definitions.

The Best Management Practice portfolio glossary1Best Management Practice portfolio glossary, Version 1, October 2012 (may require acceptance of terms) pdf here includes the following alternative definitions2Unfortunately, the BMP common glossary referenced does not cite specific sources..

Generic: A series of steps taken to achieve something.

ITIL: A document containing steps that specify how to achieve an activity. Procedures are defined as part of processes.

PPM: A series of actions for a particular aspect of project management established specifically for the project – for example, a risk management procedure.

Scope

Procedure is a defined term of Enterprise Architecture. Procedure is a defined term of Business Architecture.

Discussion

Article Last Updated 17-Dec-2015 12:51

BMP

A series of steps taken to achieve something.

The BMP generic definition is not easily distinguished from the BMP definition of Process, which is “A structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective.” given that BMP defines activity as “A function, mission, action or collection of actions.”

ITIL

A document containing steps that specify how to achieve an activity. Procedures are defined as part of processes.

The ITIL definition is confuses activity with outcome; the ITIL definition of process does not refer to procedures.

General

A procedure describes what must be done and in what order to achieve a particular outcome, which is therefore the objective of the procedure. Note that unlike process, procedure need not refer to those who are to perform the specified activities.

The “what vs. how” debate is complicated in English because one could ask both “What do I have to do to achieve…” and “How do I achieve…”, expecting the same answer. Nonetheless, “What” should refer to the individual, atomic (i.e. indivisible) steps and “how” should refer to how those steps are organised, sequenced or choreographed. Note that atomicity is not absolute and only applies at the presented level of detail: a procedural step may have internal structure (i.e. be divisible) but if it is not shown or described at some level, it is atomic at that level. “How” doesn’t make sense without steps to refer to and knowing “what” on its own won’t reliably achieve the desired result – this is why the “hat” and “how” questions are effectively the same.

Procedure vs. Process

Section Last Updated 17-Dec-2015 12:51

Compare the following procedure and process for making an omelette.

A procedure outlines a sequence of steps and says what should be done without reference to who performs individual steps; the process introduces the performers, who may be defined in terms of roles or individuals according to context.

This is part of a procedure for making an omelette,

Step 1: Open fridge

Step 2: Collect 1 dozen eggs

Step 3: Collect mixing bowl >=1L capacity

Step 4: Break eggs into bowl

Step 5: Beat eggs…

This is part of the omelette making process that implements the omelette-making procedure in the context of a small non-domestic kitchen with two staff roles, the Cook and the Kitchen Assistant.

Step 1: Kitchen Assistant opens fridge

Step 2: Kitchen Assistant collects 1 dozen eggs

Step 3: Kitchen Assistant collects mixing bowl >=1L capacity

Step 4: Kitchen Assistant gives bowl & eggs to Cook

Step 5: Cook breaks eggs into bowl

Step 6: Cook beats eggs…

Notice that Step 4 in the process is a new step that deals with a change in performer, which can only occur when performers have been specified. A process is therefore necessarily more detailed insofar as it must deal with changes of performer. The orchestration of a process therefore includes management of roles and individuals.

ISO Alignment

Note that according to ISO, process is whatever actually happens and procedure is the documented description of a process. One can ask (in ISO terms) what the process for something is without there necessarily being a procedure for it, but if the question is answered (i.e. other than by pointing at the process in progress) a procedure will have been created (though it may not be formal.)

Summary

  • A procedure is an orchestrated set of activities
  • Every procedural step has an initial state and a final state
  • Every procedural step therefore realises a capability, however small or limited in scope
  • Unlike processes, procedures need not specify who performs the individual activities (who the performers are)

Related Entries

Notes   [ + ]

1.Best Management Practice portfolio glossary, Version 1, October 2012 (may require acceptance of terms) pdf here
2.Unfortunately, the BMP common glossary referenced does not cite specific sources.

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