Over the years, while helping customers who have chosen to take a process based approach to their organisation's documentation, I have often been asked about the 'process vs procedure' problem - how to document processes and procedures. I am also asked, when documenting information, what should be documented as a process and what should be documented as a procedure?
The whole Process vs Procedure topic can get quite tricky, so I have provided two examples that clearly show the difference between the two when it comes to displaying organisational information as a process map or procedure.
Process vs Procedure
The key thing is, there is no definitive right or wrong answer – you should choose the documentation type that is most relevant to your audience and If you're not just interested in discovering the difference between a process or procedure, but actually want to improve processes and procedures in your organisation then it's important to understand the benefits of process mapping through this Process Mapping Report which explains how to utilise process mapping for business improvement.
But first, to help you to decide how to document processes and procedures and which decision is right for a given situation, I have set out the example ‘how to purchase your lunch’ expressed as both a procedure and a process.
How to Document Processes and Procedures
The scenario assumes that:
‘All employees have a designated lunch hour where they can leave the building to purchase lunch.’
How to purchase your lunch would be expressed as a procedure as follows:
The following procedure applies to all employees and contractors:
- All employees must turn left from the building and proceed to Acacia Avenue. Be aware there is heavy traffic on this road and care should be taken when proceeding.
- Proceed past Romans Way, there is a large tree on the left with overhanging branches. Take care when passing this.
- Pass the school on the right, taking into account parked cars and restricted access.
- Not all retail outlets accept credit cards, so check you have sufficient cash.
- Please note we have agreements with the ‘Just In Time’ bakery and ‘Alpha Chocco,’ who will give a 20% discount on marked prices, if you show your staff card.
- There have been issues with the ALS Bakery so think carefully before making a purchase there.
- When returning to the office, please make sure all food is consumed in the break out area.
As you can see from this example, the information given is very detailed and you need to read the whole procedure to breakout the information you need.
Only a very specific audience would find this helpful, most people would find it far too detailed and a bit patronising!
Setting out 'how to purchase your lunch’ as a process map, gives similar information but at a much higher level.
Looking at the map above, you can immediately see the best places to purchase lunch. There is also an assumption that the employee knows how long they have and that they understand the basic health and safety principles of walking along a road.
The only trouble with this process map is that it uses very specific individual symbols which, as part of a business process mapping exercise, would result in a great deal of non-uniformity across the end-to-end process maps.
Using a limited symbol set of activities and deliverables the ‘how to purchase your lunch’ process could be expressed as follows:
This sets out just the key high level information, that anyone not familiar with the process would find helpful.
This is the key question to ask before deciding: process map or procedure? What will the intended user find helpful?
People read useful information, so you must ensure that the content being produced has been targeted correctly to its audience – be that a detailed procedure or a more high level process map.
The answer, therefore, is that you probably shouldn't look at it as process vs procedure because there's no reason you can't use both in your approach to documenting information. For instance, you can use the high level process map to show what is to be done and link to the procedure or guidance note to give the user guidance on how it should be done.
For more in-depth information on how to document processes and procedures and turn your existing information into process maps that will increase organisational efficiency then please read our or take our which will help us to help you with your specific business improvement needs...
This is an updated and refreshed version of an article originally written by Paul Elson-Vining.