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Step 1: Process Definition

by

Arthur M. Schneiderman

Whenever two or more people try to discuss a process, they need to first develop a common language for that discussion.  Fortunately, we have such a language in the form of flowcharts and their associated standard operating procedures (SOP's).  Once an organization chooses its own particular dialect for this "language of the process" it is prepared to explicitly define the current state of how the process is executed.

Who does this process definition best?  Experience shows that useful documentation can only be generated by the people who actually execute the process.  It is through their particular use of language that the procedures take on real meaning.  For example, I visited one west coast manufacturing facility where the vast majority of line workers were Vietnamese immigrants who did not speak English; but, guess what language was used in the SOP's!  By contrast, I've visited several Japanese facilities where the process documentation was hand written by the operators and placed in loose-leaf binders.  I didn't understand a single word, but I could tell by the dog-eared, well worn pages, as well as the marginal notes that these were living, useful documents.  Documentation written in the language of the operator becomes a invaluable training tool for new operators, in contrast to the notorious military training and instruction manuals of old.

Note that whether changes occur through incremental improvement or process redesign, we continually return to Step 1 to assure that the documentation always reflects the current state of the process.  This is the key step in converting intangible (stored in volatile human memory) into tangible (documented) knowledge.

This foundation step is formalized in the requirements of ISO9000 certification which requires that the processes be documented and that they be executed in accordance with that documentation.  This is an essential starting point for process management.  However, ISO9000 does not currently go beyond this step.  It does not require that the current process meet or exceed the requirements of all of the stakeholders.  That is the purpose of the remaining six steps.

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1999-2006, Arthur M. Schneiderman  All Rights Reserved

Last modified: August 13, 2006