A beginner business leader’s guide to process design

Reading articles about the must-have skills of business leaders, a brand-new member of a management team might assume that business leadership is no more complicated than keeping team members on task.
Process design
However, in truth, high-level, effective business leaders are responsible for developing and assigning those tasks to their team members, which is an enormously complicated responsibility. If leaders overlook any component of the processes required to get goods or services into the hands of paying customers, their organization could suffer from expensive inefficiencies that could result in business failure.

Thus, it is imperative that business leaders understand the intricacies of process design. Online courses in leadership can offer beginner leaders the essential information they need to function well in any business management position, but for leaders who hope to rise to the highest levels of their organization, knowing about process design sooner can have strategic benefits.

What Is Process Design?

At the very heart of operations management, process design is the art and science of creating and improving systems that convert inputs into outputs. There are many different types of process design, but the three that most managers will employ include:

Process Mapping

Almost any business leader can use process mapping to understand and improve processes in almost any business scenario. As the name suggests, process mapping involves visually laying out the steps involved in a process, through flowcharts or other process design tools, to help leaders track, analyze, share and improve those steps.

Serial and Parallel Process Design

Serial process design allows leaders to illustrate and examine tasks that occur one after the other, in a sequential format, whereas parallel process design allows leaders to display interrelated tasks that are most often completed simultaneously. An organization likely has both serial and parallel processes for leaders to build and evaluate.

Process Improvement

Leaders should constantly work to improve established systems and processes. Process improvement can help leaders identify inefficiencies, weak points, bottlenecks, redundancies and other issues that might inflate costs, slow tasks or otherwise cause damage to the organization.

Factors Involved in Process Design

Every organization is different, which means that no two systems will look or function exactly alike. Still, designing and improving processes tends to involve evaluation of the same types of factors involved in determining efficiency. Those factors include:

Product variety. Does an organization produce a highly standardized product, or is there a diverse line of products with high customizability?

Output volume. Does the organization support the production of large volumes of products or a small volume of products?

Technology. Have leaders implemented specialized technology to complete tasks? Is the technology used especially capital-intensive?

Employee skill. Does staff need to be highly skilled to navigate processes effectively?

Product lifespan. How long does the organization expect each process to last?

Categories and Types of Processes

Businesses usually fall into one of two categories when it comes to the types of processes involved in bringing products to market: make-to-stock and make-to-order. In the make-to-stock category, goods are produced in anticipation of consumer demand. Businesses will complete processes to generate larger amounts of products, which are placed in storage awaiting customer orders. Make-to-order companies wait to manufacture products until customer orders are received. Sometimes, style is called build-to-order or a pull-type system, as work is pulled through processes by customer demand.

Of course, not all organizations are working to produce the same type of output. There are different types of processes that require different methods in process design. Some of the most common process types include:

Projects, or one-time events that tend to have a high degree of customization, use a substantial number of resources and involve a complex set of activities. Examples of projects are construction of buildings, implementation of new tech systems or writing a book.

Job shops, or intermittent production of products with unique characteristics as determined by customers. Usually, workers in job shops are highly skilled craftspeople, and the volume of output is low. Examples of job shops are small bakeries or custom guitar makers.

Batches, or groups of identical products produced on a regular basis. Batch processes involve steps that are completed from start to finish intermittently. There tends to be less variety in batch processing, but workers still tend to be experienced in the steps and equipment. An example of batching is clothing manufacturing.

Repetitive, or highly standardized production that results in highly standardized products. Employees usually do not need much skill because the steps are simple and uniform; in fact, many tasks involved in repetitive processes are automated by machines. Examples of repetitive processes include assembly lines in automobile manufacturing or cafeteria lines.

Continuous, or the unceasing production of non-discrete products, like oil, sugar or steel. In continuous processes, there are not separate workstations but rather a single, highly complex piece of equipment that allows the product to flow from one step to the next.

There is much for beginner business leaders to learn about the world of process design, but this introduction should help leaders recognize the importance and complexity of organized systems in the workplace.