Processes and procedures can be confusing and many commit the mistake of using them interchangeably.  A process provides a high-level view of the different tasks needed to get things done while a procedure is lower level and adds details to the elements that go into the activity flow.

Also, processes are driven by the organisation’s objectives and the achievement of their desired outcomes, while procedures focus more on the completion of specific tasks as defined within the business process. 

What is a Process?

A process refers to a series of related activities or tasks which are necessary to convert inputs into outputs. Processes work at a higher level, in that it can cross many departments and many functions, and may contain one or more procedures.

Characteristics of a process

The characteristics of a process include; scope or the start and end points of the process; purpose or the overall objective; the steps and the order in which they are performed; the operators or individuals that will perform the steps; the specific outcome of the process; and the customer or the recipient of process outcome which could be the end-user or another process. 

Types of processes

Manufacturing companies, for example, employ several business processes such as:

  • Procurement process – refers to the purchasing of goods such as raw materials, spare parts, cleaning equipment, tools and other materials.
  • Production process – the processing of raw materials to produce goods that can be sold to customers.
  • In/Out Inventory – this process refers to the handling and control of entry and exit of raw materials and goods.
  • Sales and Marketing – relates to the process of generating revenue which involves promoting, selling and distributing products or services.
  • Administration –  refers to the process of organising of personnel, and management of information and resources.
  • Accounting and Finance – the process of ensuring the company’s finances are managed/monitored which involves activities such as recording and reporting all transactions that have a financial impact on the company. 

Mapping a Process

Start with a blank piece of paper and start mapping out your business flow. You’ll very quickly work out how your processes are grouped and how they relate to each other. Any business that offers products and services will have process flows that can be mapped out. 

When mapping a process you draw a box for each step and connect them with arrows to show the flow.  There are suggestions for how to map a process which we won’t go into here, but logic and consistency are key. 

What is a Procedure?

A procedure relates to a series of steps which when taken sequentially, achieve a consistent output. Other terms used to define procedures are Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) or business best practice.

A procedure is an accepted way of completing a task in a logical order. A procedure describes the who, what, where, when, and why by means of establishing structure. These can also be seen as policies or protocols that are referenced as part of a process. Procedures help teams move along in a concise and streamlined way.

How to get from A to B

While a process may be described as an outline or map showing how to get from point A to point B, a procedure is a set of driving instructions for each turn to reach a specific destination. So, depending on the complexity, a process may contain one or several procedures. 

Getting from Point A to Point B may not be straight-forward, so expect when looking at procedures to allow for points where you may need to retrace, revise, backtrack and potentially abandon that route. Abandoning may be very specific to a milestone where you can identify if you can still achieve the aim of the process or not. These are very important particularly if there is a financial or time factor involved in continuing where the end result may not be achieved. 

Communicate standards and practices

Establishing processes and procedures help provide a way to communicate the organisation’s standards and practices. With processes and procedures in place, people in the organisation need not guess what needs to be done and how things should be done, thus helping minimise errors and ensure efficiency and consistency in the quality of output.

Communication channels should suit the team – whether this is verbal or written. If anyone from the team doesn’t understand the process, or the procedure causes conflict then it needs to be reassessed so it is understood and there is no conflict. A lot of the time a process stage or a procedure breaks down is lack of buy-in or an understanding of why. Don’t make assumptions on behalf of your team – involve them.  

Business operating model

Processes and procedures form part of the business operating model and thus play crucial roles in the organisation’s success. Developing a good system with well-defined processes and procedures goes a long way in ensuring the growth and sustainability of an organisation.

By understanding the differences between processes and procedures it will greatly help a business better map out and structure their best practice operations for the team to effectively and efficiently manage tasks.