What is a Process…? And how do you represent a process…?
Before we get into the details of Lean Six Sigma (LSS), it is essential to get familiar with the various terms and jargons that will keep repeating themselves in this journey. Everybody will normally be familiar with these terms, however, it is important to understand the same from the process improvement standpoint. So, I intend to start from the very basics by explaining what a process is.
The dictionary meaning of Process, as a noun, is ‘a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end’ and as a verb, is ‘to perform a series of (mechanical or chemical) operations on (something) in order to change it’. So what does that mean for us.
Lets talk about the simple task of reaching our workplace every weekday. You will have a daily routine that you follow, in usually the same order and in almost the same time. All the activities that you do or steps that you take, right from getting up, getting ready, taking your mode of transport and reaching office, collectively, is nothing but a process. If you think about it, you will also know that this process has its own input (you in your bed) at the beginning of the process and an output ( you, who is fresh, dressed and ready to start the work) at the end. Thats what a process does.
Lets take another example. Try and remember all the steps that you take when you decide to wash your car. There is a series of activities that you will do to accomplish this task. These steps turn your dirty car (Input) into a clean, polished car (Output). That means, a dirty car goes in, the process is performed on this input, and a clean car comes out. Thats called a process.
Download my latest eBook – Lean Six Sigma Acronyms
Contains 220+ LSS acronyms and abbreviations, a handy reference guide for all LSS Practitioners. And its FREE!
So, any series of steps, or activities, which are performed on some input, to give some output, which is different from the input, is nothing but a process. It can be a process of making tea or coffee, a process to service your car, a process to open your bank account or a process to convert iron ore into steel sheets.
Whenever you prepare any process improvement project documentation, you will always need to give a high level view of the process you are improving to your readers. In LSS, this is accomplished by a tool named SIPOC. SIPOC stands for Supplier, Input, Process, Output and Customer. lets see what that is.
Lets say, you need to represent the process of preparing tea for your spouse every morning. Sounds pretty simple. But lets put some thought to it. At a high level, you need tea dust or teabag, a kettle, electric water heater or a gas stove, some water, sugar and milk (in case you don’t need black tea without sugar) and a cup to serve this tea. These are your inputs. You can get these supplies either from the supermarket or next door grocery store or you might already have it at your place. Whoever gives you these inputs are your suppliers. Once you are done preparing it, you will get a hot cup of tea which you serve to your spouse. So this cup of tea is your output and the person you are serving it to, becomes the customer of this process.
Although it seems quite simple to identify your inputs, suppliers, customers and output, it is a real challenge in business situations. You need to put in a lot of thought, specially to identify who all are getting affected by your process and all of them become your customers. In this simple example, you also can have some mess in the kitchen like a used kettle and a soiled cup which your housemaid will have to wash. So she also becomes your customer who uses the output (soiled kettle and cup) from your process and you need to represent the same in your SIPOC as well. A used teabag is another output which someone needs to dispose off, right? That is one more output and the person who disposes it is also a customer for this process.
And then comes the actual steps that you take, using these supplies or inputs which converts them into the output. You add some water to the kettle, boil it for some time, add the tea powder into it, add milk and sugar as needed, filter it and then serve in a cup. The steps may vary as per individual, however, it remains the same conceptually. All this information represented in a structured format as below is your SIPOC.
You can represent any process, which converts an input from some suppliers, into an output for someone to use, using a SIPOC diagram.
Now that we understand what a process is and how it is represented using SIPOC, I will talk about what process variation is and how it impacts the customer of that process in the next post.
If you like what you read, please feel free to share this with your friends and colleagues using the sharing buttons below. Follow my blog. And do subscribe to the blog so you can be notified of new posts.