Business Processes & Procedures - Can You Spot The Difference?

One common area of confusion when mapping business processes is the difference between a process and a procedure. The 2 words, process and procedure, are often used together in different contexts. Though similar, they differ in the level of information they convey. This post explores the difference between a business process and a procedure.

What is a Business Process?

A Business Process is a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers. A business process can also be described as a high level view of a collection of tasks that result in an output. It defines “what” needs to be done and which roles are involved.

Let us use the Apply For Loan process as an example to explain the difference between a process and a procedure. This process defines the activities and roles involved in applying for loan. 

Let's say it has 3 simple steps and is represented using the model below:

  1. Fill Loan Form

  2. Approve Loan

  3. Disburse Loan


The 3 steps, though they appear self-explanatory and straightforward, will benefit from some additional detail so that process participants have a clearer view of how to go about executing each step. This is where the additional level of detail (procedure) comes in.

Business procedures are the detailed steps required to perform an activity within a process. Craig Reid of Process Ninja provides a recommendation for documenting business processes and procedures: Always pair process diagrams and procedural detail together to clearly show the step (or steps) in the process that the procedure refers to. 

A procedure defines “how” to complete a task. Procedures are often documented in operations & user manuals and provide a deeper understanding of what should happen in each step of a process. Using the Apply For Loan example, the procedure for Step 1 - Fill Loan Form is detailed as follows:

1a) Type into the address bar of your browser

1b) Navigate to the Staff Loan tab and click to open the login page

1c) Enter your User ID and password to log in

1d) Select your department

1e) Select loan type

1f) Enter loan value

1g) Accept the terms & conditions

1h) Click on submit to forward the application for approval

You will see that the above procedure has clarified Step 1 - Fill Loan Form and broken it down into a series of actions to be carried out in sequence, offering the user a clearer picture of what goes on in each step without actually going to the ETP website to see how it works. Business processes in reality, are more complex than the above example and would certainly benefit from additional clarification using procedures.

In summary,

  • While procedures focus on the completion of tasks, processes are driven by the achievement of business outcomes.
  • Procedures define the sequence of steps needed to execute a task while processes transform inputs to outputs through the use of resources. 
  • While processes comprise high-level tasks, procedures are more detailed and often answer the question, “What happens in what order and when?”. Procedures are particularly useful in supporting the definition of process steps when they are not detailed or explanatory enough.

Useful Links & Attribution

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