By definition, a business process is:
a collection of activities which takes input and creates output of value to the customer.
In a business process something is done. Often the customer initiates the process by providing some input, e.g. an order. Then some activities take place in different functional units, e.g. the order is handled in the sales department, the ordered product is designed in the engineering department and then the product is made in production. Between the activities material and information is transferred. For example, work orders and semi-made parts are transferred between different production activities. The information and material can also flow between the activities and stores, e.g. order may be stored in a sales database. Finally something is delivered to the customer to fulfill his or her needs.
People take part in every business process. They can be actors or owners. An actor is a person who does certain activities and an owner is a person who is responsible for certain activities or transferring information or material between activities. Actor is one type of resources used in the process. The resources can be used to do the activities or to transfer the flows. In addition to actors - the personnel resources - the used resources can be materials, machinery, stock, property, etc.
A process can also include checkpoints indicating some control or synchronization that is needed in the process. The dynamics of the process can be described by setting processing times for activities and flows and adding dynamic rules to the process elements.
Something very typical to a business process is that it takes the customer's viewpoint. Usually the customer is involved in both ends of the process. Sometimes it is useful to include the customer activities in the process to better understand the whole process and customer needs. Business processes are cross-functional. During the process, effort and co-operation is needed from different functions or departments. The interfaces between functions are often problematic due to the traditional functional thinking. These interfaces are shown as barriers through which the process must flow in picture. Also the time aspect is present in business processes. The material or information inputs and outputs between the activities create time dependencies between them, e.g. production activities cannot start before the drawings of the product are delivered from the engineering department. Another source of more hidden dependencies is using shared resources in different activities, which significantly impacts the performance of a business process.
Typical Business Processes
Typical business processes are:
get order = get orders and manage customers
fulfill order = produce and deliver goods or services
develop product = design a new product
support product = service customers and handle support requests
The processes mentioned above are typical key processes for a company. Successfully functioning key processes are vital to the survival of the company. A business process can also be a lower level process, such as document management to assist the order process. Business processes are not limited to production; office and administrative processes are very suitable to be viewed in a process oriented way. Extending production processes to include the whole chain starting from the customer and ending with the customer or administrative processes are usually the most fruitful targets from process development.