Process Design and Definition: A Key to Productivity and Growth


My recent reader survey turned up a somewhat surprising result that many readers wanted to read more about Process design, analysis, measurement, and improvement as well as technical subjects in this area.  I'm starting out at the beginner level with this article.  It is basic methods for my Industrial & Manufacturing oriented readers but you may find value in it none-the-less.

Additionally, to live true to the "Integrated Strategic Solutions" I offer, I will describe how my future articles relate to a larger overall of solutions I offer and write about.

Process design is a foundational element of the Organizational Strategies --> Program Strategies --> Operational Strategies --> Process Design and Improvements structure.  When properly aligned, these 4 categories of an organization produce valuable results.

Process design is a fundamental component of being productive as an organization but even as individuals.  "What gets measured gets improved" and "If you can't describe what you're doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing" are attributed to the great Management Thinker, Peter Drucker.  While I'm not 100% on board with those statements, they summarize a great deal about why designing or defining your processes are critical to your bottom line success.

I make a distinction between design and definition for a reason.  Design implies you're either designing something from scratch or you're re-designing a process you already have documented.  Defining a process means you are currently doing something repetitive in nature, using resources in a coordinated way, requiring inputs of some kinds and producing outputs/outcomes for use or benefit of someone.  Cooking the Thanksgiving Turkey can be defined as a process as well as the production of a Boeing 767 aircraft (I would know, I've worked on just that!).

The SIPOC - Basics of Process Design and Definition

This tool can be used as one of the most basic ways to look at your processes but can be valuable when used as a launching board for improving your processes.  

When to use it: when you need to design or define your process.  A process is a set of coordinated activities and resources that are repeated on a regular basis, requiring a variety of inputs, and producing one or a small set of outputs or outcomes. More basically: do you repeat it regularly? Does it require a non-trivial amount of thinking, acting and coordinating? Does it change the form, fit, or function of a set of materials to produce something new as an output? If the answer is yes to the above, then you ought to start defining it as a process on the road to improving it, and ultimately helping to decrease your costs in time, money, or effort.

SIPOC stands for: Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers

Suppliers: these are the entities, organizations, people, or places where the process receive its inputs.

Inputs: anything required as resources to produce the outputs of the process. Often they consist of information, materials, equipment, labor, etc.. You can make a sub-category here between equipment and raw materials/consumables and information if you'd prefer.

Process: the set of coordinated actions required to produce a desired output.  This can be as simple as a sequential number of steps or as complicated as a multi-route workflow required to produce a desired result.

Outputs: the customer required output or outcome of the process.  Outputs are most often tangible, physical objects of some kind while outcomes are more service oriented and mean "a desired end state or result from a transition or change after completion of a service".

Customer: the receiving party, end user, or downstream process.  The customer requirements ultimately define what quality is required to produce a profitable product as well as all other kinds of requirements.  It's my observation that many people forget this and over or under produce to customer requirements.  Eventually this sort of misalignment can result in reduced sales, unhappy customers, or over expenditures of resources.

Putting It All Together: defining a process can be easy if it's not too complicated.  You can use an Excel Spreadsheet or simply headers in a Word document for each of the categories of the SIPOC.  Alternatively, search Google for SIPOC and you'll find a ton of useful templates to choose from.  While it may seem daunting or a low value activity, getting used to defining your work as a process in this holistic way will result in more productive use of your time and resources.  Use it to remove redundant or unnecessary steps, identify quality related issues, as a training device for new hires, as a document to transfer to a new business buyer or incoming manager, and more.  Contact Me for help.

Process design is a fundamental element of an effective and efficient organization. However, without having an integrated, strategic framework for your organization, you may be spending time on a process that's unnecessary or at a minimum, ill defined. I highly recommend, if you don't have a strategic framework in which to align your critical processes, that you spend concerted time and effort to craft one.  Basically, don't spend time making the wrong process REALLY efficient.  Contact Me for your Strategic Transitions work or designing & aligning your Operational Strategies and the underlying processes that support it.

PS -  I value reader feedback on what kinds of topics are interesting and valuable.  Please take less than 1 minute for this 1 question survey and let me know what topics I should write about for the future!  Thank you to those that have already filled it out!