What is a Process?

If you speak to a small business owner about their capability to manage a grocery store, you will constantly find that they feel that they have a shortage of time. It is not uncommon for them to erroneously omit certain activities. This negligence in turn causes bad customer service or increased costs to customers. On the other hand there are global organizations such as Unilever and McDonalds who are successfully able to replicate their operations at every place they go and maintain the same premium standards of customer service each day.

The difference between these two types of operations, which have staggeringly different scales of business and even more diverse efficiency, is the fact that one of them is people driven while the other is process driven. To understand what the power of processes is and how it can be harnessed by a business, let’s define the term process.

Definition of a Process

Wikipedia defines process as A business process or business method is a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers.

At first instance this may seem like too much jargon to understand at one shot, but the fact is that it is really simple. To understand processes better, understand the meaning of some keywords in the above definition.

The first keyword to understand is activities or tasks. Work is always done through tasks. Let’s say you need to get a soda from your refrigerator. There are many small tasks involved such as getting up from your sofa, walking to the refrigerator, opening the refrigerator, identifying the soda, picking it up, closing the refrigerator and going back to your sofa. Each step described above is called a task in BPM language.

The next important thing to understand is that these tasks are related. The output from one is the input for another. You cannot pick up the soda before you open the refrigerator! Hence sequence is of prime importance. The wrong sequence can not only cause inconvenience and chaos, it can send your cost spiraling upwards. Also a bottleneck somewhere in the process can disrupt all activities succeeding it.

Now, we know that a process is a set of related activities (broken down to the smallest level) which transforms inputs into outputs. The process should always be written down explicitly, leaving no room for assumptions and/or ambiguity. If an employee operating the process has choices regarding the way they can perform work, the process is not well defined.

How Do Processes Help ?

Now, one may say that creating a process is not that difficult. In fact it also seems unnecessary to some. They feel going to such details is unnecessary. However this is not true. A good process is independent of people. It is a series of steps which when followed diligently give the same result, irrespective of who performs them. It is like a recipe for conducting business operations. A manager can therefore find out the best practice to achieve a certain business goal and then create a process wherein it is replicated throughout the organization.

It is these well laid processes that enable Unilever and McDonalds to deliver quality service worldwide. A process is the real unsung hero behind McDonald’s seamless operations, which is operated by a set of part time school going workers globally and still provides world class service globally.

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