What is a Process?

Learn all about processes—What, Why, How

Ken avatar
Written by Ken
Updated over a week ago

A process is simply a sequence of steps by which something is accomplished.

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You might think that processes are something new to you, but you’ve been dealing with them all your life. Almost everything you do is a sequence of steps that you follow to get it done—brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, getting dressed—they are all processes! So the word may be new to you, but the concept certainly isn’t!

A process may be physical and obvious, or it may be invisible. For example, most manufacturing processes are physical, while many administrative functions are hidden and invisible. We’re interested in processes because all work is a process (or many of them), and if we want to improve our work results, we often can do so by understanding and improving our processes.

Once we see all work is a process, it’s usually fairly easy to identify the details. A process is a series of interrelated actions that produce an intended result. These actions may be very small steps, like “address the envelope,” or they may be groups of steps treated as one, like “wash the car.” If we know the steps well, we can treat groups of them as a single step. However, when learning (or teaching others), it’s often a good idea to break them down into smaller, easy to understand steps. Then, once taught to others, processes are capable of being repeated.

Processes aren’t results, such as an application or prescription. They aren’t people or job descriptions, such as the operations analyst or mailroom coordinator. Lastly, processes aren’t departments, such as the finance or HR departments. They may be part of a process, but they aren’t a process.

Why is identifying processes important?

Most problems are rooted in the process, so you should understand the process and see where the problems are happening and what may be causing them.

Processes can be documented, which allows them to become standardized, or in other words, the “way you do things officially.” Once documented, a process can be studied, improved and taught to others.

Processes are your links to solving problems. Once a problem has been identified, your first step toward solving the problem is to understand the current process producing the results. We often describe how well a process is working (or not) by measuring something about it, such as:

  • The amount of output

  • The rate output is created

  • The quality of the output

  • The yield (what percent is good or usable)

Once we have a measure, we can begin to explore how to improve the process to make the value of that measure better. You can’t improve what you don’t measure!

Sometimes people say they don’t have a process, but they actually do. If the work is being done, it’s being done somehow, and that’s a process! Sometimes many different people do the same work in different ways, making it seem like there is no process. When that happens, we don’t have a standard or “official” process.

What are some types of processes?

Every day you encounter hundreds of processes because the way everyone does their work is a process.

Physical processes generally produce something you can touch and use. Most steps in a physical process can be seen by anyone observing the process.

Transactional processes are information-intensive and are usually data or documents. Many steps in a transactional process aren’t readily visible and are hidden inside computers or people’s minds.

Once you become accustomed to thinking of processes, you’ll see that nearly everything that happens is a process. So let’s take a closer look at physical and transactional processes.

What is a Physical Process?

In a physical process, you can see much of what is happening as work flows from start to finish. There may be some hidden steps, such as when work is happening inside an enclosed machine, but most of the process is visible.

Some examples of everyday physical processes include:

  • Assembling a toaster

  • Cleaning a room

  • Getting your oil changed

  • Mowing your lawn

  • Soldering a circuit board

What is a Transactional Process?

In a transactional process, much of the work is invisible or done by people working with computers. Some parts may be visible, such as paper coming out of a printer, but much of the process is hidden.

Some examples of everyday transactional processes include:

  • Filing your income tax return

  • Onboarding a new employee

  • Ordering a product online

  • Processing a loan application

  • Taking a customer’s order

How do we document a process?

It’s essential to document a process to share the description and reach an expected level of understanding. This is done with a Process Map.

Documenting the process is key to creating a standard or official process that everyone can learn, so we all work consistently.

Kure guides you through each step in your process optimization journey by asking simple questions and providing guidance along the way. Powered by our Process Optimization Path® (artificial intelligence), Kure will help you and your teams collaborate to complete process improvement projects together.

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