What a Business Process is NOT

Since the industrial age, companies have been organized according to what is now considered to be the traditional way. The very education we receive, the job descriptions on our business cards, the career paths we choose are essentially all task-based. Therefore, the tasks we have accomplished doing our jobs gained importance, and we have come to perceive our tasks as business processes. Tasks are innate to an individual or a department and fulfilling a task requires a distinct talent or expertise. In fact, definitions such as customer service, production, logistics, finance, and so on all define what a task is, not what a business process is.

For instance, in order to complete an order for a chair there needs to be the receiving of the order by the sales department, the collection and distribution of materials by the logistics department, the assembly of the chair by production, the shipment of the chair to the customer by the transport department, the invoicing by accounting, and the handling all possible further matters by after sales support. If you define your entire business process as being one of the aforementioned tasks, things get tricky due to the general perception of tasks. Since the way we do business has been task-based for so many years, we have, as a result, designed our tasks to function independently. Therefore, we constantly build thick walls in order to control our inputs and outputs.

Tasks are vertical structures within companies, remaining within the confines of a single department. Business processes on the other hand are horizontally structured, meandering between various departments, as in the chair example, and they determine the communication among tasks.

What are Business Processes?

Essentially, business processes are a collection of “interrelated job steps that aim to achieve predetermined results as a response to an event in the delivery of a service or product to a client.”

Let’s divide this complex definition into smaller, more manageable chunks.

… interrelated job steps …

Tasks within business processes should be linked in a collection. It is not a to-do list for a task. For instance, in Human Resources departments, there are tasks such as recruitment, dismissals, training plans, and so on, however, the link among these different tasks is the fact that it is done by the same individual. These jobs get done one by another as they carry one another to the next level.

Business processes consist of job steps that once completed will accomplish a client’s goals. We call these steps “tasks” because each step is a definable part of an overall job. All tasks can be completed by an actor.

An actor may be an individual or a group of individuals with a role within an organization or a department.

…that aim to achieve predetermined results…

The underlying reason why business processes exist is the very need for generating results. This result may be a product or a service or an answer to a question. The important aspect is that the result is definable and countable. Completing an order, recruitment, customer complaint resolutions all suit to this rule of thumb. Completed orders can be defined and counted. Similarly, recruitment and customer complaint resolutions can be defined and counted. However, accounting and human resources cannot be counted as they are departments. Business process names usually tell us the results expected in the end.

… delivery of a service or product to a client ….

Clients, whether individual or a group, are interested in getting results. Clients can be external, such as the one placing an order, or an internal one, such as a department to which a new recruit has been sent.

Taking a client’s perspective when defining business processes will have tremendous ease. For instance, how important is it to know what a VAT account number is needed on an expense form for any personnel? The answer is no, as to most employees, the important aspect is getting the expense form is approved. Other details such as the given example are tasks taken by accounting department.

Identifying the clients of a business process is a critical step. When there is ambiguity in figuring out who the client is, it will best to extend the business processes.

… as a response to an event …

All business processes start with an event. It is important to trace back to the event kicking off the process. If you think of a process as a machine, then the event would be the button used to start the machine.

It may not be easy to determine what event triggers a process. For instance, let’s consider a purchasing request. Is it triggered by a department when there is, for instance, the need for a new printer? Or is it triggered by the IT department due to rising maintenance costs? In some cases, more than one single event may enable a process to begin, hence, identifying the events will make it easier, and once you identify events and results, you will be able to frame intermediate steps.

So What?

Everything in this article may already seem familiar, and frankly, obvious to you. A number of organizations are aware of the need to focus on their business processes, however, not all may be prepared to admit that there are challenges to be faced while identifying the main processes. The root cause of the problem is buried under the general perception of tasks, shared by even the most core parts of any given organization, and we are struggling to overcome this very damaging perception.

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