Process Concept

Wikipedia defines a process as “a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers.”

This is a common, if perhaps somewhat narrow, view of a process. As a simple analogy, this definition corresponds to a recipe for creating a cake. However, as all chefs and diners know, there is more to creating a fine dessert than following a good recipe. Starting with quality ingredients is crucial, as is having an with sufficient and accurate heating capability. You’ll also need a certain level of mastery of the techniques in the recipe, and a good environment in which to work (no flies!).

Process with variation

The output you deliver to the customer will depend on all of these elements, not only on the method, which after all is only the recipe.

From an improvement perspective, it is helpful to conceptualise a process as comprising the elements as shown at left, all of which are subject to variability (as signified by the squiggly lines). The process steps part is left as a dark cloud; what happens inside it is often far from clear.

The customer has certain requirements of the output, including certain tolerances for variability in the output. Failing to meet those requirements leads to loss of customers, price discounting, and costs of handling customer complaints.

If we had no variability in the inputs, it would be trivial to manage the variability in the output. The art of process management is to control the variability of the inputs.