"What a Process Is" – Comments by Tom Kimball

"What a Process Is" – Comments by Tom Kimball

View the original blog post: The Anatomy of a Process Part 2 – Being a Process



I have reviewed your blog with some trepidation over the content’s “display.” As a practitioner of structured documentation (aka, “Information Mapping”) for the past 24 years, I must respectfully disagree with your definition of “process.”

While working for Northrop Aircraft, our group was tasked by the Pentagon to apply the concepts and principles of “Continuous Process Improvement” to all of our contract activities.

When I transferred to Washington state, and began working as a contractor for The Boeing Company, I was required to learn and practice the concepts, principles, guidelines, and best practices of Information Mapping. I went from there to the IM company to teach IM to Fortune 500 companies all over the USA.

Of course, your own experience and learning leads you to communicate the way that you do, with your particular “audience” in mind.
You may have your own reasons within KEDARit for being “consistent” with existing policies, principles, and guidelines. You may choose to disregard the following information accordingly.

My purpose in presenting another perspective here is to encourage your support of the many years of corporate documentation “best practices” while you continue to support IT “best practices” by writing your blogs.

Applying concepts of structured documentation

Using structured documentation eliminates most of the difficulty and ambiguity of communicating the difference between “procedure” and “process.”

Best Practice A

Information Mapping (IM) uses “procedure” or “action” to indicate a series of observable steps by which one person is directed to perform a simple task the same way every time.

The “structured” part is displaying the series of directed steps in a Step-Action table. Notice that the language used in each step is deliberately “direct” or “command” voice… “[You] do this here.”

Here’s a screenshot of a Step-Action Table:

Action Follow these steps to barbecue a hamburger.

  1. Assemble the ingredients listed in your recipe.
  2. Start the charcoal briquets in your barbecue.
  3. Ask guests how they prefer their hamburgers: rare, medium, well.
  4. Et cetera

Best Practice B

Information Mapping (IM) uses “process” to indicate a sequence of stages or phases in a collaborative activity.

A process is a sequence of Supplier-Customer interactions, each of which “adds value” before the Supplier hands off the result to the next Customer in the next phase. An expert individual often performs all the phases or stages of a process, but usually several agents work together to achieve the final result.

The “structured” part is displaying the sequence of timed phases/stages in a table with headers that suggest the “timing” of each phase/stage.
IM does not use “step” when displaying a process. This word is restricted to displaying a procedural action.

Here are two screenshots of structured information about a process.

The first table is suitable for communicating with either an individual or group. The second table is suitable for communicating with a collaborative group. [Again, the numbers refer to phases or stages, not steps.]

Process This table describes what happens when…

When … , then …

Process This table displays what happens when [who] does [what].

When Who Does What

Another helpful cue to distinguish between a procedural action and a process is using a distinctive title:

  • “How To BBQ a Hamburger” is a correct title for a procedural action that one person performs. [“how to” suggests a procedure.]
  • “Barbecuing a Hamburger” is a correct title for a process that
    (usually) involves more than one person. [“-ing” verb suggests a process.]

You may wish to consider using an example that is different from Barbecue Hamburger, because rarely does more than one person perform this task. Therefore, most of your readers are apt to be confused by your referencing it as a “process” rather than a “procedure” involving a single worker.

How about Filling an Order?

This is a process involving a waiter, a customer, and a cook, each of whom plays an important Supplier-Customer role in this collaborate activity.

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