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Many terms relating to business processes and management systems are confusing and are defined, interpreted and used in a variety of (sometimes illogical and contradictory) ways.

We have set out below our definitions and some further explanations, which we believe are suited to most managers' view of business life. They are designed to be relevant for and applicable to all types of organisation, which is not always achieved by international standards such as ISO9001.

(Business) Management System (strictly speaking, a “Management and Operational System”): The structure, processes and resources needed to establish the Organisation’s policies and objectives and to achieve those objectives.

Note a “System” is more than the sum of its parts. The interactions amongst the parts are part of the system, and a system has attributes which do not belong to individual parts.

Customer: An organisation or person that receives a product from the Organisation.

Influence: Any factor which can have an impact on how a process operates or is defined.

Management System: see (Business) Management System above.

Management System Description: A (printed or electronic) description of the Organisation’s (Business) Management System.

Note the “Management System Description” is not the “Management System”.

Output: The intended “deliverable” generated by a process or task, and in many cases defined by its objective(s).

Outcome(s): Any result of a process or task, including, but not limited to, the intended Output, and in some cases required by higher level objective(s).

Note could include (eg) environmental impact, lessons learned, enhanced or damaged reputation.

Policy: The intentions and principles which provide a framework and guidance for what the Organisation wants to achieve and how it will operate (often specific to a particular aspect of its existence and operations).

Process: A set of related tasks triggered by an event and intended to achieve an objective.

Note 1 The “trigger” event can be an action / a thought / a decision / a diary date - so a process can be reactive (responsive) or proactive.

Note 2 It normally uses resources and is subject to influences.

Note 3 There are perhaps five general types of business process:

  • Mechanistic (as in a production line) – where you want to minimise variation
  • Responsive (to a generic event such as receiving a customer enquiry) – where there is a known set of tasks to be completed but you need to be responsive to the particular circumstances of each instance of the process
  • Developmental (where you choose to initiate action to create an outcome which is different / better than the last time you did it, such as business planning) where you must do certain tasks, but the sequence may not be relevant
  • Reactive (as in treating a casualty in A&E) – where you know your objective, but may not know the tasks or their sequence in advance
  • Ongoing (as in implementing a policy or monitoring progress) – where the process affects other processes as they are implemented on an ongoing basis.

They range from the most rigorously defined and controlled on the one hand to those subject to the greatest individual interpretation and choice.
Their objectives can be to minimise variation (and increase profit, minimise cost) at one extreme through satisfying variable customer demand, “adding value” and making a positive contribution to society, to dealing with a unique situation where change is essential.

Process Management: The planning, direction and control of process performance.

Note: this requires management (and therefore an understanding) of the key elements of a process (see above).

Process Owner: An individual or role accountable for the successful performance of a process.

Product: Goods or services produced or provided by the Organisation for the benefit of another organisation or person, often for payment.

Note: a product is the “output” of the Organisation, and its processes are “the means by which the output is created”.

Project: A process with a start and end date. An instance of a process.

[OK, some projects may be a bit more involved than that, but the principles are very similar]

Resource: Anything which is needed for a process to operate.

Stakeholder: An organisation, group or person which has a beneficial interest in the successful performance of the Organisation.

Task: A discrete activity or piece of work. The smallest essential part of a job.

Trigger: An event which starts (an instance of) a process.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please e-mail: contact@mandossoftware.com


Ian Leaver of independent analyst Forward Look explains "user-centric process management" software.