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Process is a sequence of activities. Organizational (business) process is a sequence of activities which convert inputs into outputs. Interpretation:

  • sequence of activities - activities have to be performed in certain, non-random order.
  • inputs - resources (materials, data, people and their competences) that enter the process.
  • conversion - inputs are converted into outputs while performing activities in the process.
  • outputs - results of the process (converted materials, data, competences). The outputs can be intended, not intended (e.g. waste, pollution).

It is important to understand, that processes are everywhere around us, and they are not limited to the organization. There are:

  • natural processes in environment (e.g. growth of plans) and
  • artificial processes (created by human).

We can distinguish:

  • continuous processes (e.g. erosion of rocks),
  • discrete processes (having defined beginning and end).

According to this classification organizational processes are discrete (see: discussion) and artificial.

Development of process approach

Process approach is a dynamic approach to management. Its origins can be found in the classical school of management, organization of the production processes and ergonomic studies. The development of the approach can be seen in system analysis, the dynamics of Forester, the analysis and design of management processes. This dynamic approach was highlighted by Koontz, school of management process, which is part of the of universalistic mainstream. It should be noted that the dynamic approach is not an opposition to the structural approach. These approaches are complementary, allowing for a more complete description of the organization.

Scientific management

Mass production created new problems for managers. Adam Smith found that process approach to production is more effective than product approach. In his famous description of pin factory he observed that several workers performing only one task were able to produce much more products than those which performed whole product. The idea was improved by Frederick Winslow Taylor, Frank Bunker Gilbreth and other precursors of scientific management school.

The apogee of this approach could be observed in Ford production line, where each worker performed only one very simple function. That lead to improved effectiveness, but also negative social effects.

Post scientific era

Critique of scientific management lead to change in process approach. Managers understood that workers should perform tasks that are more sophisticated in order to improve motivation to work. Techniques like job rotation were implemented to prevent occupational burnout.

Continuous improvement of processes

Quality movement in Japan applied idea of continuous improvement to processes. Earlier processes were treated are relatively stable, not requiring frequent changes. In Japanese approach process is dynamic and changed when necessary. Continuous improvement of processes if performed according to Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, known also as Deming wheel. Small changes implemented to process improve its effectiveness. This works slowly but reliably.

Reengineering of processes

Reengineering was created as fast track to excellence. This approach is competitive to continuous improvement. In reengineering whole process is redesigned, newest technology is applied and often workers are changed. This should lead to creation of excellent processes. However it rarely does. The organization is so sophisticated system, that changing everything is simply too complex to manage. Reengineering projects often fail.

Types of organizational processes

Main processes

Main processes in each organization are those related to core competences. In typical production company main processes are:

Those processes can be performed in sequence creating megaprocess - a set of processes that connect organization's inputs (e.g. from suppliers) with organization's outputs (e.g. products sold to customers).

Accessory processes

Accessory processes are those necessary to keep main processes running, e.g.:

In some publications, authors claim that accessory processes are those that can be outsourced. That is old approach. Nowadays there are enterprises that outsource also main processes.

Management processes

Management processes are related with company management. Those are e.g.:

Business Process Management (BPM)

Business Process Management is a system approach to processes and their improvement. Thanks to computer technology it is now possible do describe processes, add key performance indicators to each process and even task, and monitor them live. Simulation modules are able to detect bottlenecks in processes.


Author: Slawomir Wawak