Process vs Procedure: How to Document Processes and ProceduresPaul Elson-Vining
Over the years while helping customers who have taken a process based approach to their organisation's documentation, I have often been asked about what should be documented as a process and what should be documented as a procedure.
The whole process vs procedure debate can get quite tricky, so in this article I have provided examples which clearly show the difference between the two, and explore when to display information as a process map and when it should be included in a procedure.
Process vs Procedure
There is no definitive right or wrong answer to what should be documented as a process and what should be documented as a procedure, but it is really important that documentation is correctly targeted towards its audience.
It is also important to be consistent with your documentation types and this is what gives rise to the whole process vs procedure debate.
So to help you with deciding what you should document as a process and what should be included in your procedures, I have set out below ‘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.
I hope that this light hearted exercise has highlighted the key question to ask before deciding: process map or procedure: 'What will the intended user find helpful?'
People only read information they find useful, so you must ensure that the content being produced is targeted correctly to its audience – be that a detailed procedure or a more high level process map.
Generally the best way to approach documenting information is to use process maps to show what is to be done and link to the procedure or guidance note for it the user needs guidance on how it should be done.
For more on this please read the article: Process vs Procedure: What is the Difference?
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This is an updated and refreshed version of an article originally written in 2017.
Written by Paul Elson-Vining
Paul is the Managing Director of Process Envision; in a previous life he was Principal Consultant for Triaster. With over 15 years of process experience and over 25 years experience in implementing and training software systems, he has personally been involved in over a 100 Business Process Management (BPM) implementations globally. He has a Diploma in Professional Consulting from the Chartered Management Institute and is a IRCA certified Lead Auditor for 9001:2015, QMS Internal Auditor, TickIt plus practitioner, TPMA certified training practitioner, GASQ Certified GDPR Practitioner and Microsoft Certified Professional.