I’ve been in meetings where seasoned pros used “process” and “procedure” like they were the same.
But here is the deal: both are vital in the operations of a company, ensuring everything runs smoothly.
Yet, they are not the same. Knowing the distinction between them can elevate how a business operates.
In this article, I will explain the difference between a process vs procedure, their significance, and real-life examples. And by the end, you’ll be able to steer conversations about them confidently.
Let’s get to it!
A process is a set of activities designed to produce a specific output or achieve a particular goal. It represents the sequence in which these tasks or activities are carried out. Thus providing a roadmap for how things get done in an organization.
For instance, let’s examine the product development process within a company. The process usually involves these stages: ideation, design, prototyping, testing, and final production.
The simple process doesn’t show the granular details of each stage. However, it gives stakeholders a clear overview of how a product idea transitions from concept to reality.
In short, when thinking about the overarching sequence or flow of how tasks align to produce results, you’re considering a process.
A procedure is a detailed, step-by-step guide to performing a specific task. It zooms into processes, providing explicit instructions for each step within that sequence.
For example- When handling customer complaints at a retail company, there’s a task to log the complaints into the company’s system.
The procedure for that step in the process would be like this;
How to log the complaint in the company’s system.
- Open the company’s internal portal, navigate to the Customer Service section, and click the “Complaint Logging” tab.
- Enter the customer’s full name, contact number, and email address. If applicable, input the customer’s order or sale reference number.
- Describe the nature of the complaint, ensuring the capture of all pertinent details.
- Select the relevant category for the complaint, e.g., damaged goods, late delivery, etc.
- Based on the severity and urgency, tag the complaint as Low, Medium, High, or Urgent.
- Attach photos, emails, or any other supporting documentation the customer provides.
- Click on the “Save” button to log the complaint. Then, forward the complaint to the designated rep or team for further action.
As you can see, the logging of a customer’s complaint into the system is broken down into detailed steps. These steps are called procedures, and they make tasks more straightforward to do.
We’ve touched on what a business process and a procedure are, and it’s clear they are closely related. But when placed side by side, how do they stack against each other?
Let’s break down these differences to give you a clearer picture:
Level of detail
A business process encapsulates the overall flow of activities designed to achieve a desired outcome.
It focuses on the “what” and the “why” of a series of interconnected tasks.
A procedure hones in on the “how.”
It provides detailed instructions for completing specific tasks. It ensures they’re executed correctly and consistently.
Business processes encompass many functions and can span different departments in an organization.
For instance, a product development process might involve stages managed by design, production, quality control, and sales teams.
Procedures are narrower in scope. They focus on individual tasks or functions within the broader business process.
Business processes provide structure and direction. They ensure various departments and teams work towards a common goal.
They often lay the foundation for achieving key business goals
Procedures aim to maintain consistency and precision in the execution of tasks.
They cut ambiguities and ensure repetitive tasks are performed the same way every time, often aiding in quality control.
Business processes can be more flexible. They allow for adjustments or process improvements based on changing business needs, feedback, or technological advancements.
They often undergo reviews by operations managers or quality and improvement professionals to align with strategic objectives.
Procedures tend to be more rigid, as changing a step without proper evaluation could lead to errors or inefficiencies.
Any modification in procedures typically requires rigorous documentation and training.
Business processes are often visualized using process maps or flowcharts. That gives stakeholders a clear overview of the activities flow.
Procedures might be represented as checklists, work instructions, or standard operating procedures (SOPs). They can also be part of a detailed process map to give staff clarity.
Integration with tech
Business processes often guide the foundation for process automation or business process automation systems.
Procedures might be integrated into software tools, ensuring that tasks are completed in the prescribed manner.
For instance, you can enforce certain compliance procedures by implementing them in using software.
Let’s say you run a company and need to hire more talent for efficiency. Now, you need to draft a recruitment process that shows the stages of bringing them into your company.
If you were to represent these stages/processes in a process map, it would look like this:
For hiring new employees, the process includes the key stages, from job posting to onboarding. It outlines the main steps, ensuring everyone comprehends the general direction.
At a glance, the hiring process above already looks like a plan. You can show this to stakeholders who don’t need to know much about the process.
However, for the members of the hiring team, they need to know more about each stage and how to go about them. That brings us to the procedures.
When we add the procedures, the process map becomes very detailed, like this:
The procedures here specify how to post a job, review applications, conduct interviews, etc. They guide the actions of the hiring team, ensuring they are equipped to navigate each stage.
After adding the procedures, you can see that the hiring process is more explicit. The process map becomes a detailed process map. It now provides a step-by-step guide for each stage, making your job more efficient and effective.
In short, while the process describes a roadmap, the procedure acts as your step-by-step manual.
Processes and procedures are essential in any business operation. they ensure efficiency, consistency, and clarity in executing tasks.
These are reasons you need processes and procedures in your business;
- Consistency and Quality Assurance: Business processes and procedures ensure that tasks are tackled the same way consistently. That leads to dependable quality in your products and services.
- Efficiency and Productivity: Processes help you streamline your operations. They remove unnecessary bits and make sure your resources are put to good use.
- Effective Communication: Documenting processes and procedures ensures everyone is on the same page. No more jargon or misunderstandings. You can communicate your expectations clearly and keep the teamwork strong.
- Compliance and Risk Mitigation: Procedures make sure you play by the rules, whether it’s legal requirements or industry standards. Following procedures minimizes the risk of fines and legal tangles. So you can keep your focus on what you do best.
- Training and Onboarding: Having efficient processes makes new employee onboarding smoother. They provide a structured path, reducing the learning curve and helping them become productive faster.
- Data-Driven Decision-Making: When everything is documented, you have insights. You can track performance, identify bottlenecks, and make informed decisions. You’re no longer in the dark; you’re in control.
We have discussed the distinctions between processes and procedures. Now, let’s see where process mapping fits the equation and why it is essential.
Process maps offer a visual framework for understanding how tasks and activities interconnect within an organization. They document processes and, sometimes, procedures within an organization.
Here’s how process mapping factors into the larger picture:
- Documenting Processes: Process maps are invaluable for presenting business processes. They provide comprehensive visuals of processes, helping businesses streamline and optimize their operations.
- Detailed Instructions: Process maps offer detailed instructions for executing specific tasks. These visual representations break down complex procedures into manageable steps. That makes it easier for employees, particularly new ones, to understand and follow them efficiently.
- Improving Processes: Process mapping is a vital tool for improvement professionals. It allows them to identify areas for efficiency gains and helps eliminate waste within the overall process. By visualizing the process, opportunities for enhancing business operations become more apparent.
- Standard Operating Procedures: Process maps can be a foundation for creating standard operating procedures (SOPs). They provide a visual guide for how tasks should be completed consistently. That leads to consistent results and maintaining the desired quality in business operations.
- Employee Onboarding: When new employees join a company, process maps can be instrumental in their onboarding process. They introduce employees to the company’s operations and procedures. That helps them understand their assigned tasks and responsibilities.
In summary, process mapping is an essential component of business operations. It bridges the gap between the concept of a “process” and the steps outlined in a “procedure.”
And there you have it, the puzzle of processes and procedures in business operations.
Remember, it’s not just about knowing the difference. It’s about using that knowledge to make your business run smoother, smarter, and more efficiently.
And in this journey, remember to embrace process maps to unlock your business’s full potential.
Luckily, there are tons of process mapping tools to make visualizing your processes and procedures easier.
Invest in them and walk the road to success with confidence and clarity!