What are the key differences between a process and a procedure?

Since we love talking about processes, we’ve already defined (quite thoroughly) what processes are. If you still mix things up and believe a process and a procedure are the same thing…well, even though you’re wrong, you’re not alone!

Many people make this direct correlation and end up mixing both concepts. That’s why I’m here today: to clarify, once and for all, what is a procedure and how are procedures related to processes.

To begin with, let’s define what’s a process and what’s a procedure.

What is a process?

Going back to a concept we’ve already thoroughly explored, we could easily define a process as the series of steps it takes to convert a certain input into an output.

Processes operate at a higher level, which means that they’re not limited and/or constrained to a specific function or department. Processes can depend on the integration of more than one department and are very likely to contain one procedure – or more.

Processes can even refer and interact with other processes’ procedures.

What is a procedure?

The term ‘procedure’ is largely used in almost every industry to define a series of steps taken towards achieving a consistent result (that can be the process’ outputs, but not necessarily). Other commonly used terms to refer to procedures are SOP (standard operating procedure) or a business best practice.

Procedures are normally required by internal compliance departments and can be extremely helpful for training new team members. A procedure is a great tool for retaining and recording important information.

The amount of procedures in a process is directly related to the process’ complexity – even though simple processes can be described by a single procedure, the more complex the process, more procedures it’ll have.

Let’s consider a customer registration procedure. It lists all the steps necessary for creating a new customer’s registration within your user database, such as asking for their full name, email, address, etc. This procedure in itself can represent the integrity of a customer registration process as well as be one of the procedures included in your sales process (after all, it does make sense to register a new customer before selling to him/her).

To make things clearer we can say that a process focuses on what needs to be accomplished on a higher level, describing how activities from one or more departments integrate together while a procedure is all about the specific actions (such as filling specific registration fields when registering a new customer) that gives the specific instructions on how a person – or a group of people – should do their job.

If we think about how common it is to see standard operation procedures in place, it’s safe to define a procedure as a valid documentation that can be used to teach a new person how to perform a certain function.

Procedures don’t have the same goal as processes for a simple reason: procedures are so specific, they have such a high level of detail that they don’t allow you to see the big picture, the end-to-end process.

To sum things up, we can define the main difference between a procedure and a process by making a simple analogy using different zoom levels: a process is like a zoomed out or panoramic image of a sunset, it shows the entire picture and highlights all that’s essential about your business.

Procedures, on the other hand, are a zoomed in picture of a bee on a flower petal – they add a lot of information and detail to the picture without actually worrying about the background.

Processes and procedures are, therefore, very different and directly correlated. Together they exist to help you structure your business and create execution standards for your activities at a macro and micro level.

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Isabelle Salemme

Head of Customer Support & Education @Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to write informative pieces teaching users to make the best of Pipefy. Besides being in charge of product knowledge, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover and a professional photographer.