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Process

'One or more activities that take inputs, add value, and produce outputs' is a common definition. Or if you want a more authoritative definition, Juran defined 'process' as 'A process is a systematic series of actions directed towards the achievement of a goal'.

It seems simple, but is evidently not, as evidenced by the pain that seems to appear out of the woodwork whenever the word is mentioned.

The SIPOC model stands for Supplier--Input-->Process--Output-->Customer, showing the chain of events. Processes fit together end-to-end, where I am a supplier to my customers, who supply their customers, and so on. In fact it's a bit more complex than this, with networks rather than chains. Processes also nest, and any one process can contain more processes, so the whole business can be viewed as a single process.

Processes not only have SIPOC. They also have states, storage, interpersonal effects, measurable and unknowable factors

So, "Everything we do is a process." True, but this requires a mind-set that goes beyond the simple SIPOC view. Management processes, project processes, administrative processes, all look and work in very different ways.

What makes a successful process? That it meets or exceeds the needs of its stakeholders (i.e. those who have an interest in its inputs, operation and outputs). This can be summarized with the three Es of processes are: Effectiveness, Efficiency and Enjoyability. Briefly, effectiveness means meeting customer needs, effectiveness means meeting shareholder needs. We tend to miss the third stakeholder group: employees, who want enjoyable processes. But we tend to sacrifice the enjoyability of processes to get the last measurable cent of effectiveness and, particularly, efficiency savings. If the people working in the process are not happy, then customers will, in one way or another, suffer as a result.

Also, never forget that processes as we perceive them are still models, which are very useful for understanding and communicating what goes on, but the 'map is not the territory', which means that flowcharts and other tools we use are not an exact (and sometimes are very inexact) representation of what does and should go on in reality.

It is one of the key tasks of the quality job to help people take ownership of their processes and optimize them for consistent delivery to all stakeholders.

See also:

Process Management, Joseph Juran

Toolbook chapter: Processes

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