Unlike a lot of the IT elements that are man-made things or the result of conscious endeavor, Processes can exist and can happen irrespective of technology or human intent*.
(*Ed. unless you adopt a more philosophical attitude – does a process happen if you can’t see it and monitor it?)
A simple definition might be:
A process is a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.
This is too broad and simplistic to be of much practical use. However, during this short introductory module, I will try to explain what a process is, why and how they are important to the health and prosperity of your organisation, particularly with respect to creating and managing IT and software systems.
All organisations exist to achieve some aim or objectives, possibly enshrined in a mandate, a manifesto or a mission statement (‘Why’). Strategies might exist to determine ‘what’ is required to achieve these objectives, and Processes reside at the next level down in this notional pyramid to show ‘how’ this is done – or how it will be done in future.
The IT elementary school exists to educate and inform non-IT professionals (Mission)
…by providing bite-sized modules that explain basic IT concepts from 1st principles (a Strategy)
…to be accessed directly by learners via a website. (a Process)
Sometimes processes are intended to be specific scenarios, or they can be generic, that describes a whole family or class of related activities, with or without implementation and technology details.
Here is a sample process for the IT elementary school, called ‘Learn about IT element’ – in words and as a picture (a Process Diagram or ‘map’)
- Learner accesses the table of IT elements (or other starting point or ‘trigger’ event)
- Learner selects the required IT element
- Learner reads the material
- Optional activities:
- Access definitions in the Glossary
- Navigate to extra resources (blog or wider internet)
- Access other IT element(s)
- Provide comments on material
- Leave website. Process ends.
(Ed. this does not follow any particular notation, although many exist with more or less rigorous standards. Hopefully this is understandable without going on the course!)
The Bigger Picture
This is as a very simple process undertaken by one person carrying out a number of steps that lead to a successful outcome, which is normally explicit in the name of the process. More complex processes can have other features, such as:
- The co-ordination and involvement of multiple individuals or groups…sometimes represented as horizontal or vertical ‘swim lanes’
- Many dozens or hundreds of steps occurring over a long period of time. For example the processes required to build a car (production line), design a new computer, or deal with a complex insurance claim
- Alternate paths based on some condition or user choice (per step 4 above)
- Error conditions, i.e. unplanned alternate paths!
- Underlying business rules that inform and may drive the process, possibly used in computer automation
- The sharing of documents and more explicit information (data) or control flows between parts of the process or participants
- Measurements (metrics) that might be associated with performance, service levels, costs and resource utilisation, for example.
As the set of User interactions becomes more complicated so the necessity and value of adopting a formal approach to designing, documenting and implementing processes increases. In fact whole management disciplines and software solutions have evolved to help organisations automate suitable activities, monitor performance (Enterprise Resource Planning), modify or re-engineer processes to improve effectiveness, remove inefficiencies and bring down costs,
Continuing to explore the IT elementary school example, there may be a whole list or catalogue of processes required to create and maintain the learning materials – in this case the primary product and service being provided. For example:
- Develop ITelementaryschool.com
- Create learning material
- Publish blog content
- Subscribe to email newsletter
- Send subscriber email newsletter
There are also ad hoc processes required to maintain and enhance the materials and website, normally good candidates for a Project. The underlying technology or ‘solution domain’ is quite obvious here (the website), but may not be, hence ‘Process’ is positioned way over in the top left hand corner of the Table of IT Elements. Technology provides the tools to enable, support or improve processes, but understanding why the processes exist and what they entail should come first. Technology provides the how and the where that make the processes happen.
I hope you found this short introduction useful. Please give us some feedback on the content and level of detail, or tell us if there is anything else you would like to know. And, of course, continue to explore and enjoy discovering the table of IT elements 🙂
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.