why a process needs a system

In my last post, I talked about what a business process is, and why it’s important to have them. However, you can’t really have one process by itself. They get lonely, and need their peers. More precisely, one process’s output is the input to another process. A system explains how they all fit together. This might be clearer if I give you an example, so let’s assume we have a toy factory. They design, build, test, and sell new toys, which means they also have to hire and mange their workers, maintain their machines keep the roof from leaking, comply with local laws (like OSHA in the US), control their intellectual property (traademark products, decide whether to sue someone who copies their designs, avoid copying anyone else’s designs), keep the office clean, decide what email program to use as the company standard, and so on. Here’s an extremely simplified diagram that shows how some of their processes fit together – each blue box is a process:

process system

You can see from this picture how one process feeds into another. You can also see a lot of other features of a process system here; for instance some of the processes I’ve shown, like “Create a New Toy” are actually made up of a whole bunch of more detailed lower-level processes. I didn’t show all of them for reasons of readability, but to create a new toy, you’d first document requirements, then create a design to meet those requirements and build a prototype. If needed, you’d write the software, and integrate it with the prototype hardware. You’d test the toy to make sure all of the requirements were satisfied, and if you were smart, you’d then let some of your target user groups try it out to make sure they liked it. (In the case of a toy, that means you’d let actual kids play with it and see if it was fun, and you’d make sure no one got hurt because of any problems with the toy.)

I drew Manufacturing as a sheaf of processes, because those vary according to the type of toy. Depending what it’s made of, you might need to form metal or mold plastic. You might choose to make or buy smaller components, like wheels for a toy car. Then you’d sand off rough edges and paint in details. For a doll, you would root in the hair and dress it in clothing; for a Lego kit there’s a whole process to combine and package the right pieces together. Some toys need documented, printed instructions. Each type of manufacturing consists a set of many smaller processes, like the design example above, but there are lots of different sets.

You can also see in the diagram that any time you have a resource, whether it’s an employee, a manufacturing machine, a vehicle or a building, you need a whole set of processes to support them. Employees must be hired, trained, given benefits. In most companies you review their performance annually and give rewards or set up improvement programs based on those results. They have to log their hours and get paid based on them. Each of those things is a process, and they’re all related. Similarly, machines need to be bought or built, maintained, inspected and calibrated; buildings and vehicles need to be bought or rented, cleaned and maintained. They may need to be inspected to make sure they pass local laws.

The graphic above is drawn from the point of view of a product being manufactured; the main line is the processes it goes through and the arrows show how it’s tangentially affected by other processes, like the hiring process that brings in the engineer who does the design work. Not all organizations produce a product, though; for a hospital, I might draw processes from the point of view of a patient. There would be processes for admissions and for providing facilities – rooms, beds with clean linen, food, wheelchairs, and so on. There would be lots of different processes for treatment and nursing care, depending on what the patient is being treated for. There would be the same sorts of processes we saw in the last example for hiring qualified doctors, nurses and other staff, making sure that they take their required continuous education courses, scheduling them so that all shifts are covered even when someone is on vacation and (hopefully) no one is working 24-hour shifts, providing them health insurance and desks and computers. Hospitals also need processes for evaluating when, for instance, a new MRI machine is required, deciding which one to buy and then maintaining it.

Everything I’ve talked about here is part of the process structure, and I hope its value is self-evident. There is also another component of the process system, which I’ve called the process environment in my book. This controls how you publish a process – it includes templates, a repository and a delivery system and maybe a process of its own (yes, a “process on how to write processes” – it can be good to have guidance for people who are inexperienced in this as in any other task). The templates govern the look and feel of a process document, so that all the ones in a company are structured in the same way. This saves time on both ends: the process creator doesn’t have to make decisions on how to organize their document, and the reader knows where to find the information he or she needs within a document. The repository is an online library or database, so that processes are stored in an organized way and the user always gets the latest version. The delivery system is usually an intranet page; it should be organized in an intuitive way so that process users can easily find the documents they need.

Of course, I used a lot more words and details to explain all of this in the book! There is a lot to think about: how to structure your processes and keep track of their relationships, whether to have a Quality manual that states your Quality Policy, commitment to quality for your customers, and explains the process structure, whether you need to comply with a standard such as ISO 9001, and lots of other considerations.

One Response to “why a process needs a system”

  1. l'empress Says:

    Even though I am no longer “in the business,” I find this fascinating. I was first introduced to manufacturing, aka The Great American Crapshoot, through a novel called THE GOAL. It led to my learning about project management and problem solving, and I really loved doing it.

Leave a Reply