The Anatomy of a Process – Part 2: Being a Process

The Anatomy of a Process – Part 2: Being a Process

The following is Part 2 (Being a Process). In Part 1(The Make-up of a Process), I covered how appropriate methodologies and approaches to Business Process Management (BPM) enables organizations to become more effective and efficient by defining, analyzing and designing their processes.

My overall intent in this writing this series is to encourage the use of common sense and practical approaches to implementing BPM. I believe using these strategies may provide a path forward that’s less intimidating to getting process work done.

Also, I’m adding a slightly differing perspective to my view and examples. This was provided by my colleague, someone I have great respect for, and true process professional with considerable experience – Tom Kimball.

You can view his feedback at: “What a Process Is” – Comments by Tom Kimball


“A process is a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result.”

–From Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In business and in our personal lives we use processes to accomplish tasks and get work done. Processes bring order and structure to what we do. However, processes are quite often not understood and exist subliminally without definition. To be operating optimally, it is critical to clearly understand what a process is.

To illustrate what a process is, I often use the example of barbecuing a hamburger. Most people don’t think of this as a process. Subliminally, it is the act of cooking a meal. However, whether it is being done on July 4th, on Memorial Day, or even when it is done for a family meal, it really is the “Barbecue Hamburger Process”.

Let’s break this process down into the critical elements of the IDEF0 Methodology that were described in Part 1 – The Make-up of a Process. In this case, the Process itself is the act of barbecuing the hamburger. The additional elements that were described in terms of ICOMs, are as follows:

  • I (Inputs) – beef patties, buns, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, condiments, etc.
  • C (Controls) – a cookbook or family recipe
  • O (Output – the hamburger with all its fixings
  • M (Mechanisms) – the grill, cooking utensils, dishes, and even the cook

BBQ Burger Process

In the context of SIPOC, the Supplier would be the butcher, grocer and various makers of the ingredients. The Inputs are the patty, buns, ingredients, etc. The Process is barbecuing the hamburger. Output is the cooked hamburger. Customer is the consumer of the cooked burger.

Regardless of the method that we use to define the process, it is critical that we know what process we are defining. This area is often ambiguous and difficult to grasp — what is a process, really? A process is a sequence of actions done by a person or group. It is “what” people do, as opposed to “how” they do it. In the example of the Barbecuing Hamburger process, this is a clearly an activity that can be done by an individual or group — it’s what that individual, group, team, functional area does.

This activity can be done in several different ways. For example, someone can cook the hamburger to be well-done, while another rare; one can cook the onions on the grill, while another prepares them raw; and a person may include mayo, while another prefers mustard. These are all examples of phases or stages in the process versus the actual process itself. The phases indicate the time sequence for doing the process. It is very important to know both process and phases in process work. However, it is also very important to recognize the distinction between them.

The above example provides a scenario of a process that is being done by individuals. Let’s apply the same example to a group or restaurant (i.e., a company). For the “Barbecuing Hamburger Process” the elements are all the same. The inputs, outputs, controls, and mechanisms are the same as above. However, the scale of each element changes, the cook is a professional and the consumers are customers. The greatest difference for companies is the formalization and standardization that are critical to process efficiency. It is essential for a restaurant to cook the hamburger the same way every time. If perfected, it allows them to attract customers and retain them because they are happy with the product.

To do this, their processes have to be standardized so that every cook (i.e., process owner) does them the same way over and over again for a thousand times, unless and until they are improved.

So what is the importance of defining processes? The importance and challenge is complex. There are a myriad of processes and sub-processes that are intertwined in every organization. Unless you can define, analyze, and simulate to improve them, taken as a whole, the processes can be functioning sub-optimally. A company that allows their processes to function sub-optimally is not focused on quality or the customer. At each step along the way, processes that feed into others create outputs at the back end that then becomes inputs on the front end of the receiving process. Ultimately, this result becomes the output to the customer. The sequence of putting all processes together can be described as the company’s value chain from customer to cash. It literally begins with a customer’s order or request, and ends with the payment of cash for the fulfillment of that order or request.

To provide the highest value at the lowest cost (i.e., customer optimized value), the entire value chain must be optimized. To do this, there must be an understanding of the processes, so that they can be designed for the most efficient workflow or throughput. This means that each process has to be individually optimized, as well as standardized, so that they become the company’s standard way to operate.

How do you do this? I start with these three phases:

  1. Conducting a health check or an inventory of all the critical processes. You need to address some questions in order to understand the company’s process maturity, such as:

    • What are they – what are the processes that are critical to the customer’s cash value chain?
    • Who does them – are the process owners/stakeholders in sync with the company’s goals, objectives, and strategies?
    • Are they properly defined – are they documented and standardized across the organization?
  2. Being introspective with the processes.

    • Establish the company’s direction.
    • Consider the perspective or the voice of the customer.
    • Drive to operational success by being focused on process efficiencies.
  3. Aligning the processes to the business’ goals, objectives, and strategies.

    • Begin with defining processes and utilizing methodologies that allow for effective analysis and process improvement.
    • Utilize effective approaches that involve the use of tools, techniques, and experience to extract and automate the process definition and design work.
    • Choose an appropriate methodology and approach to design, optimize, and continuously improve the operational processes.

In my final blog in this series – Part 3 – “You Need Process Improvement If,” I will uncover why a company needs process improvements and a focus on business process management methodologies. Here’s an excerpt:

A company needs process improvements when there is a realization that to be ‘the best it can be’, the company must be committed to being Lean in every aspect of business operations. This commitment includes optimizing resources (people), value streams (process), and systems (technology).

I hope that you enjoyed Part II and will join me again for the conclusion of this series. In the meantime, follow our company by finding additional information at, and follow me personally on Twitter at: @nnobie and on LinkedIn.

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