What is business process - Six Sigma

Definition of a Process

A business process, simply defined, is any activity, or set of activities designed to change one or more inputs – which may be physical or information - into one or more outputs. It is desirable, although not universally true, that a process should in some way add value to the inputs so that the output is worth more than the combined value of the inputs and the processing. Figure shows this in diagrammatic form.

A process

Based on this definition, a process can refer to a physical manufacturing process or to a virtual or service operation where the output is not a physical product a doctor’s advice, or the transfer of funds between bank accounts for example.

Production as a System

Deming’s (1990) model shows business as a process(figure).

Production as a system (Deming, 1990)

Initially chaotic, but simply reflects the myriad of activities that go on within a production environment. The low is as follows:

  • Consumer research drives an initial design.
  • This is lowed down to suppliers who pass material into the organisation.
  • The material is verified to design and passed into production.
  • Processes, machines, methods etc. are monitored as the material lows through the production process.
  • On successful completion goods low into the distribution chain to consumers, whose feedback is sought to drive design changes as appropriate, and the cycle begins again.

Processes and Scientific Investigation

This concept is hardly revolutionary now and, indeed, the wording of the model may look rather dated. However, the recognition that outputs of a process are clearly driven by inputs was the vital first step on the road to managing processes rather than outcomes. It may also be worthy of note that, even today, many management approaches spend more time focusing on the outcome than the means to achieve them (MBO and performance appraisal are perhaps chief amongst these).

Deming made some supplementary points on viewing production as a system. He noted that ‘the system must have an aim’ (defined by the customer of the process). An obvious comment, but it is amazing how often we lose sight of the end goal of the process in the endless debates over precedent and practicality which attend most manufacturing processes. Deming also noted that in the increasingly competitive production environment of recent years it is necessary to improve the system ‘constantly and forever’.

Perhaps the most insightful of this comments is that:“Every organisation is perfectly designed to achieve the results that they do” (Deming, 1990)

This encapsulates the fact that processes drive results, and that if you wish to change the results you need to change the processes. Process design and management are thus seen as key to performing on all business measures. This demands a purposeful and planned approach to defining and reining the system with which we attempt to achieve our aims.


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