A Return to First Principles (Part 7), Process Focus

To analyze a process, I need to understand what a process is and what comprises a process.

In one sense, a process is any set of activities that collectively lead to an outcome. ISO-9001 discusses what it calls a “process approach” to quality improvement. Organizationally, a product is the result of a number of interrelated (connected or dependent) processes.

To understand what to look for in a process, you must understand the fundamental truths about any process. There are three characteristics that are true of every process:

1. There is a defined beginning and end to the process.

2. There is one current-state best way to perform the process.

3. The process can be defined by one or more desired outcomes to be obtained from the process.

So if I am looking at a process, I must identify the beginning point (i.e., Step 1). At the beginning, there will be some number of inputs (things that go into the process or are used to carry out the process). Some of the inputs may be outputs of a prior process. I must also identify the ending point. That seems obvious, but one may easily be tripped up by a lengthy process: is step 8 of this process really step 1 of the next process? If I guess wrong, will I go directly to jail and not pass Go to get my $200?

The good news is that it does not really matter! The reason for that: the characteristics that are true of any process (defined beginning and end, current best-way, and desired outcome) are also true for any step within the process.

Am I saying I can draw my process lines pretty much anywhere? The answer is Yes. In fact, each step can be considered its own process. Because whether the process is one step or 10, I can identify the desired outcome at the last step (whatever I define the last step to be), which means I can analyze how the process achieves the desired outcome. And how does a process (any process) achieve the desired outcome at its end? By achieving the desired outcome of each step within the process.

In the next post, we will discuss this further.

About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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