Business Processes 1 of 6: What Are Business Processes?

People encounter business processes every day.

Consider checking out of a store.  Most stores handle the process in their own ways.  For example, shoppers in Old Navy and Winners/TJ Maxx wait in a single line until the next available register is free.  In supermarkets, customers wait in one of several open lines (hoping they chose the one that moves the fastest). At some supermarkets, one worker rings up the purchases while another bags them.  At other supermarkets, customers are expected to bag the purchases themselves.  And at still other stores, the cashier rings up purchases then places them in the bag.

Consider registering for courses at a university.  In some departments in some universities, students handle the process entirely on their own.  They sign onto a computer, choose the classes in which they want to enroll, and then pay for the courses.  In other situations, students see an administrator who enrolls them in the course, then must go to the Student Accounts department to pay for the courses before completing the enrollment.

Consider the challenge of promoting specials (that is, reductions in prices on particular products for short periods of time) in a supermarket.  It involves coordination among:

  • Headquarters staff, which determines which products to discount
  • Marketing department, which prepares the advertising for the promotion
  • Individual departments in each supermarket, which need to mark the special prices
  • Information Technology group, which needs to program the new prices into the computers
  • Cashiers, who must recognize whether the cash register is ringing the correct price or, if not, to offer the correct price to the customer and to report the error
  • Store management, who must interact with all of the other parties to address a problem in which the advertised price does not match the price charged

The term business process refers to the sequence of activities (like waiting in line and  bagging items) used to perform a recurring task within an organization (like checking out).

What distinguishes business processes from ordinary tasks is that business processes play a role in everyday business operations and usually involve more than one person. Consider again the example of checking out of a store.  They involve interactions among customers and cashiers, as well as baggers and, in the case of problems or issues arising, store managers or assistant managers.  The business process needs to explain how tasks are coordinated among all parties.

In many instances, a business process involves workers from several departments.  Consider again the example of registering for courses.  It involves an administrator from the department, an administrator in student accounts, and probably someone from the Information Technology department who supports the computer systems that provide the information that all parties need to complete the registration.

Similarly, consider again the example of advertising a special in a supermarket, which involves people in several different locations.  Such coordination cannot happen unless the process is well-defined, the roles of each participant in the process clarified, and backup procedures established should something go wrong.   Business processes explicitly define and document these interactions.

© Copyright 2012. Saul Carliner. All rights reserved.  If sharing or excerpting, should be properly cited.


About idmodelsandprocesses

Exploring, reporting, teaching, and advising on learning and communication for the workplace and consumers.
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