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Process vs Procedure: What is the Difference?

Posted by Terry Giles [Guest Post] on 02/03/17 10:10
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Triaster partner, Terry Giles, from Terry AG Consulting (previously Information Risk Analyst for Barclays Direct amongst others) has a great deal of experience with process mapping and process improvement methodologies: from LEAN to CMMI. This allows him a unique perspective on the 'process vs procedure' debate.

In this article, Terry gives his answer to the question that can keep quality professionals arguing for hours.

Now, let's hand it over to Terry:

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 Process vs Procedure: what is the difference?

A question that I have been coming across since I started working in the quality arena is “What is the difference between a process and a procedure?” Over the years, I have thought that I had found good answers, only for someone to come up with something that did not fit in with my explanation.

Process and Procedure as defined by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)

In the 2005 edition of ISO 9000 the following definitions were applied:

A process is a set of interrelated or interacting activities which transforms inputs into outputs
A procedure is specified way to carry out an activity or a process

This set of definitions helped me get an understanding that:

A process is about what we do


A procedure is about how we do something.

This is all well and good, but as you go down a hierarchy of ‘whats’ and into the ‘hows’, things can start to get a bit confused with ‘whats’ sometimes looking like ‘hows’.

process map drill down triaster 2.png

If you're not just interested in discovering the difference between a process and a procedure, but actually want to improve processes and procedures in your organisation, take a look at this Process Mapping Report which explains how to utilise process mapping for business improvement.

 My View on Process and Procedure

My take on this has evolved from looking at the definitions above to taking a process as being something that has inputs, outputs and activities and can be represented as a diagram - very much in line with the Triaster noun-verb methodology. Put a sequence of these together to describe how to achieve an objective and you have a process map.

The procedure then becomes a description of how the activity is carried out; generally in text form.

In summary, my take is that:

If it can be described in a flow chart it is most likely a process and if there is a written description of how the activities are carried out these tend to be procedures.

This is probably open to all sorts of debate, but it works for me.

To read Triaster’s Paul Elson-Vining’s take on the subject, have a look at:

Documenting information: Process map or procedure?

Processes, Policies and Procedures: What's the difference?

Process Mapping

I just mentioned representing inputs, outputs and activities in a diagram as being a process map. Process mapping allows you to model business improvement in your organisation in an easy, efficient way. Download this Process Mapping Shapes guide to learn how you can improve your processes and procedures...

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