What's a Process?
Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Think of your regular workday. Maybe it starts something like this: Your alarm clock rings, you hit snooze, it rings again, you shut it off, stretch, and get out of bed. There! That's your first process of the day and you've achieved your process goal: Getting up. Well done.
Everything is a process. From making dinner to getting the kids ready for school to working out, when you take a series of steps to reach a desired result, you’re following a process.
Say you want to take your dog for a walk, a process that's repeated at least twice daily in my house. Here's what dog-walking looks like in my house, broken down into individual steps:
Put my shoes on
Call Griffin the Airedale
Have Griffin sit
Clip his leash to his collar
Grab two poop bags (just in case)
Open the door
Close the door
Walk around the neighborhood
So, as you can see, a "process" is just a fancy way of describing a bunch of steps, performed one after the other. And in life, as in business, we should always be tweaking these processes, figuring out shortcuts and making improvements to the way we do things. For instance, when I got my first puppy, Cleo, I didn't have an established "walk" process. I'd put the leash on Cleo first, before I was ready, so she would be going bananas with excitement, bouncing up and down, while I struggled to control her and put my shoes on at the same time. It was exhausting, and it took me a few weeks—and a great trainer—to improve this process. Shoes first, and have the pup sit and wait patiently at the door. Live and learn, right?
Unlike the processes in our personal lives, which we're generally free to tweak at will, business processes are often more prescriptive in nature. Maybe you do some things a certain way because "that's how it's always been done". I hear that one a lot. Or maybe because it was how you were trained to do it. Many companies 'fossilize' their processes in this manner. This is unfortunate because as you get better and better at doing something, you're able to find ways of improving how you do it. And incremental improvement is a big part of process improvement. Just because you're doing something a certain way today, doesn't mean you won't find a better way of doing it tomorrow.
Now that we've talked about what a process is, next we'll cover process improvement.