A lot of my work is spent designing and implementing ITIL processes. The one common denominator with all customers I work with is a lack of understanding that processes have various levels and that there is a substantial difference between a process and a procedure (or work instruction). Even if the stakeholder/s understand that processes and procedures should have levels it is seldom that he/she/they are able to keep steps in flowcharts at the same level.
The difference between a Process, Procedure and Work Instruction is explained below however to understand the differences we need to understand that there are various levels of a Process and these levels should be evident in flowcharts. Almost all the successful Quality Management frameworks such as Six Sigma, Lean, ISO 9000, ISO 9001 recommend adopting levels in process diagramming.
It is common that organizations write and diagram processes at four levels. Some use fewer levels and some more but I have found that four levels generally suffice. Levels are very important as, if flowcharts are to be a success (i.e. people understand them with little difficulty), they need to have as few steps as possible and all steps need to be addressed towards the same objective. What is meant by the same objective is that the viewer of the flowchart must be looking to gain similar value from the process or procedure. As an example of levels, it would cause absolute confusion if a process diagram had the aim of explaining how the various business units fit together in a sale of goods and then a few of the steps include the forms to be completed by a courier (see the diagram to the right for an example of levels).
Defining Process, Procedures And Work Instructions
In its most simple form a Process is what needs to be done whereas a Procedure is how something must be performed. The term ‘Work Instruction’ is often used interchangeably with ‘Procedure’ (some organizations use ‘Work Instruction’ to imply a Level 3 Process only; see the diagram below for an illustration of a Level 3 Process). Here are a few formal definitions (‘Work Instruction’ is not defined as many frameworks assume that the terms ‘Work Instruction’ and ‘Procedure’ are used interchangeably):
- A structured set of Activities designed to accomplish a specific Objective. A Process takes one or more defined inputs and turns them into defined outputs. A Process may include any of the Roles, responsibilities, tools and management Controls required to reliably deliver the outputs. A Process may define Policies, Standards, Guidelines, Activities, and Work Instructions if they are needed. (ITIL v3)
- Describes “what happens” within the organization to build products that conform to the standards in accordance with the policies of the organization. (Carnegie Mellon)
- A set of interrelated work activities characterized by a set of specific inputs and value added tasks that make up a procedure for a set of specific outputs. (American Society for Quality)
- A Document containing steps that specify how to achieve an Activity. Procedures are defined as part of Processes. (ITIL v3)
- Describes “how-to” or step-by-step instructions that implement the process. (Carnegie Mellon)
- The steps in a process and how these steps are to be performed for the process to fulfil a customer’s requirements; usually documented. (American Society for Quality)
An example of how levels are used in flowcharts is given below. Whereas Procedures and Work Instructions are similar, processes are normally described at a higher-level. Good flowcharts are easy to follow and have a similar objective and audience.