The flavor of the week seems to be arguing over the difference between Process and Procedure. While some people may say they are effectively the same, they are most definitely not.

A process is the what we do while the procedure is the how we do it.

A process is a set of interrelated activities designed to create a planned result. A process map establishes the sequence of actions to accomplish the desired outcome/output. A procedure is a set of step-by-step instructions to achieve a desired result. The difference is subtle yet critical.

When a client of mine wanted to learn the difference we chose one of their most troublesome processes. We began by mapping the process: the series of globally-standard symbols representing inputs, questions, results, outputs, etc. (These symbols are built in to all Microsoft Office products in the drawing tools [Insert > Shapes]) This allowed the client to see the process as it was. But still not to the level of detail needed to understand the basic issues.

We then had the team write work instructions (procedures) for each step in the process map. Voila! This clearly challenged the client & their team to document the process the way they actually performed the work. This is where the real understanding came.

This exercise opened the client’s eyes to a number of ways to make a series of relatively simple improvements. They did so and saw the fruits of their labor as productivity rose while problems declined.

Process or procedure? Together they work to help us do better.

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