What is a Process

What is a Process

The products and services delivered by any organization are the result of processes. Any business activity whether it is industrial, commercial or service-oriented can be considered as a process. Managing these processes is a key to success for any organization. A process can be defined is a set of steps designed to produce a product or service to add value to a customer. It starts with a business goal and ends with the achievement of the that goal.

When analyzing or designing processes, maximizing customer value should always be the top priority. This will help achieve the competitive advantages in terms of quality, responsiveness and low cost. The outcomes of any business process should always provide increased value to the customer (Increased effectiveness) with less cost to the company (Increased efficiency). This requires the identification of important steps that add value from the customer’s perspective, and the elimination of steps that do not add value.

Many defects arise because something in the process is done incorrectly or inefficiently. To decrease defects and improve process Sigma Level, we need to be able to address the problems that exist in the processes. We need to ensure that our processes are increasingly capable, and thus more predictable and profitable. Processes are incapable when people do not understand the role of all factors and their influence in the business.

Sigma Level – a capability index that is used to describe the performance of a process. Higher Sigma level indicates that the process is less likely to create defects (more capable).

Almost everything we do at work or home can be broken down into several process steps. Process inputs and outputs can then easily be identified. Another definition of a process is that it is a set of interrelated activities that together transform inputs into outputs. These activities are often carried out by people, machines, systems and nature.

Inputs and outputs illustration
Inputs are the things that are transformed by the process into outputs

Any output (Y) is a function of a single or multiple inputs (X’s). To study and improve any existing process, we should identify and control the key X’s that influence Y. These key X’s are sometimes referred to as Key Process Input Variables (KPIV’s). By knowing what factors are responsible for the process outcomes that can influence the variability, and by controlling these factors, our processes become more capable and more predictable.

Key Process Input Variables (KPIV’s) – are the input variables that have significant impact on the variability of the process.

Inputs are the variables, the factors, the causes, and the sources of variation which can result in defects and waste. A key principle in Six Sigma is to identify and analyze these variables. Input variables are often found in operation manuals, engineering specifications, or with operators and expert technicians. A good first step is to walk the process and observe it to identify the input and output variables. Brainstorming sessions can also be conducted to capture these variables.

Process equation
The ‘Y is a function of x’ equation lies at the heart of Six Sigma and process improvement

Processes can be categorized in many different ways. For example, processes can be either automatic or manual, continuous or discontinuous, and core or supportive. One of the common ways is to categorize them as either production or transactional processes. Production processes, involve the flow of materials in the production field. They include activities like machining, assembly and packaging.

Example of a production process
Example of a production process

While transactional processes, involve the flow of information, humans, objects, tools and money in the service field as well as in the transactional environment of the production field.

Example of a transactional process
Example of a transactional process

Further Information

What do we think of a process is not necessary what it actually is. Several techniques can be used for mapping and analyzing processes. These techniques will help exposing problems, finding performance gaps, and generating ideas for process improvement. Process maps are the simplest ways of making sense of what happens or must happen in a process.

Process mapping techniques
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