Definition of Process

Definition Last Updated 17-Dec-2015 12:51

A process is a complete set of instructions for the orchestration of behaviours (i.e. activities carried out by specified entities), intended to achieve a particular outcome from a specified initial state, where complete means that all necessary activities are performed by specified performers (i.e. no activity is unallocated a performer).

Compare with procedure in which at least one activity is not assigned.

Whether an orchestration describes a process or a procedure is therefore determined by the rule, If all activities in an orchestration are assigned to performes, 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 Process 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 structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective.

ITIL: A structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective. A process takes one or more defined inputs and turns them into defined outputs. It may include any of the roles, responsibilities, tools and management controls required to reliably deliver the outputs. A process may define policies, standards, guidelines, activities and work instructions if they are needed.

PPM: A structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective. A process takes one or more defined inputs and turns them into defined outputs.

ISO has its own definition:

[a] set of interrelated or interacting activities which transforms inputs into outputs.3ISO 9000:2000, Quality management Systems – Fundamentals and Vocabulary. I cannot find an accessible version of this standard online, but, believing that access to standards is “of particular interest to the public” (I would have said, “in the public interest”), the government of India has made its Indian Standard identical to ISO 9000:2005 and placed it online pdf here. The definition of process is identical.

Scope

Process is a defined term of Enterprise Architecture. Process is a defined term of Business Analysis.

Discussion

Article Last Updated 17-Dec-2015 12:51

Alternative Definitions

Consider first some alternative definitions from reputable sources.

BMP

A structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective.

The BMP generic definition is not easily distinguished from the BMP definition of Procedure, which is “A series of steps taken to achieve something.”

ITIL

A structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective. A process takes one or more defined inputs and turns them into defined outputs. It may include any of the roles, responsibilities, tools and management controls required to reliably deliver the outputs. A process may define policies, standards, guidelines, activities and work instructions if they are needed.

The ITIL definition of process is sloppy: a process should not “define” policies etc., they should be developed in conjunction with the process design and referenced by the process specification. It is also not entirely consistent with ITIL’s own definition of Procedure, which is, “A document containing steps that specify how to achieve an activity. Procedures are defined as part of processes.” Procedures are not mentioned in the process definition.

ISO

The ISO definition of process correctly focuses on the transformation of states and what actually happens in the world; the specification for performing a process is called a Procedure in ISO terminology (procedures may or may not be documented).

ISO notes that process inputs are usually the outputs of other processes and acknowledges the existence of “special processes” whose outcomes “cannot be readily or economically verified”.

General Discussion

Note that all definitions (ITIL, PPM, & ISO) definitions recognise the idea of achieving an objective and that the nature of a process is transformational: a process turns inputs into outputs, and in this sense a process is just like a capability. ISO & PantologEA definitions allow for purely descriptive (i.e. non-intentional) activities to be described.

ISO & PantologEA definitions also explicitly recognise the role of the agents or performers in a process; for PantologEA, a process without assignment of roles & responsibilities (i.e. that describes only the sequence of activities or outcomes) is referred to as a procedure. Note also that whilst the ISO definition is focussed on what actually happens, the PantologEA definition addresses both what does happen and what is supposed to happen.

Given the significant variability in the meaning and use of the term process, care must be taken to avoid confusion.

Where there is a defined process for achieving a specified outcome there is a capability insofar as both address the transformation of inputs to outputs. Typically a capability is not realised until and unless appropriate resources and instructions on what to do with them are provided. Processes are therefore essential to the realisation of capabilities.

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 process is an orchestrated set of behaviours
  • Every process (or procedural) step has an initial state and a final state
  • Every process step therefore realises a capability – however small or limited in scope
  • Every process step is an action of a specified entity, i.e. its completion is the result of a behaviour

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.
3.ISO 9000:2000, Quality management Systems – Fundamentals and Vocabulary. I cannot find an accessible version of this standard online, but, believing that access to standards is “of particular interest to the public” (I would have said, “in the public interest”), the government of India has made its Indian Standard identical to ISO 9000:2005 and placed it online pdf here. The definition of process is identical.

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