Procedure vs Process

If one were to look from the wrong end of a telescopic magnifier it will lead to a misinterpretation of the distance to the object being observed, it’s all about detail and depth. Any decisions dependent on the outcome of the observation will also be misleading. The same can be said of the apparent confusion of the term ‘Procedure’, and the term ‘Process’, it is all about depth.

Procedure is to a task, what Process is to a (business) goal. When an actor completes a task, he earns the right to income; when a process is completed, the business earns revenue and/or survives another day! Tasks are normally executed by a single actor, whereas the execution of a process may have one or more departments involved, and in most cases include business partners.

Procedure is a way of doing something. An actor will apply a procedure to complete a task. But, not all “way of doing something” is obvious. A skilled actors execution of a task may include a considerable amount of tacit knowledge, consider domains such as insurance, healthcare etc. Except for the most simple tasks, procedural optimisation usually requires ingenuity on the part of the organisation. The dangerous solution is to replace all procedures with something akin to a checklist. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with checklists, they are an excellent disengaged way of performing tasks. And, therein lies the danger.
Only the simplest variety of tasks can be converted to checklists. In particular, tasks that require skilled decision making are usually best left to the skilled actor. The flexibility and knowledge the skilled actor brings cannot be replaced by an unskilled actor with a checklist. Of course, it would be highly negligent to not mention that AI (and/or machine learning) will make all of this redundant.

It should by now be obvious that a process is not procedure in the sense that we imposed in this article. A process is a collective of tasks (and actors), that collaborate to reach a goal. Since most (financially) interesting processes are ones that are customer inclusive, optimising these processes must increase customer satisfaction, which one hopes will lead to increased revenue. Where procedure is about detail, a process is about depth. Like looking through a fisheye lens to see more of the picture. This is also one of the reasons why piecemeal tweaking of a process doesn’t always give the expected returns. The whole process and its goal must be the perspective when an exercise of optimisation is taken up.

Conclusion

This is not an exercise in pedantry. In any discussion of the subject matter there must be an agreement on the definition and meaning of the terms. Lack of this agreement takes us to the same place of obfuscation in which ‘agile’ now finds itself.

About KM Mukku

Kick-start, build and manage teams in product development (particularly in the financial domain), and enjoy all in adaptive case management, business process design and business process improvement. Currently holding the position of CTO at coMakeIT.
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