Processes, Processes, Everywhere Processes

by Dr. Gordon D. Booth

Every activity is a process or a collection of processes, and realizing this fact makes management actions and decisions easier and more effective. Thinking about our world in terms of processes can be very profitable even necessary for survival.

 Some processes were born with congenital problems and have never really been healthy. Some processes are old and outdated. These processes need core rejuvenation and cannot be healed with bandaids or even with a cosmetic face lift. Some processes have been attacked by disease, both acute and chronic. When a process is diseased, the nature of the malady dictates the appropriate treatment. The health of the processes in an organization determines the health of the organization itself.

A process converts inputs into outputs. It consists of materials, people, equipment, conditions, and the interrelationships among them. As these components of the process interrelate with one another, they convert the inputs into what is hoped to be the desired outputs. This does not always happen. Too often, the outputs are not the desired ones.

A simple example of a process is the preparation of soup from a can of condensed soup mix. This process consists of the can of soup, water, the pan used for heating, the stove, length of heating, and perhaps most important of all, the person attempting the preparation. All of these elements combine to form the process which aims to produce, as output, a bowl of tasty soup at a comfortable temperature for eating.

In this simple process, there are many opportunities for variation in the final output: too much or too little water, too long or too short a time of heating, failing to stir the soup, a defective stove, and a myriad of other possible situations. If this soup were to be prepared each day, the final bowl of soup (the output) can vary considerably from day to day.

If we want consistent soup each time it is prepared, we must understand the causes of variation and what action is appropriate to yield the output we desire. To achieve a level of variation that is satisfactory, we must understand the behavior of our process. We must understand the nature of the causes of variation in the process. Many costly errors have resulted from attempted fixes on processes when those doing the repairs did not understand the causes of the variation they were attempting to reduce.

In Today's competitive market, every organization, whether it is a manufacturing company, a service company, or some other type of organization must learn to see itself as a collection of processes. These processes must be dealt with appropriately or the organization will have to pay the price of poor products, misdirected efforts, frustration, poor morale, and lost customers.