Is it a Process or a System?

Sunday night, I was watching a repeat of the classic Aussie sitcom Kath & Kim. Known for mixing their words, they never disappoint. Kath’s wedding invitation was hilarious: “You are invited to witnessKath and Kel denounce their love for each other and consummate their marriage on the dance floor all night long”. Now we know what they meant, but those words are SO wrong!!

Mixing the terms process and system is not quite as bad, and something I commonly do. But I thought it might be useful to understand the similarities and differences.

A process is a series of actions or steps taken to achieve an end. Think process for sending an invoice, or process for onboarding a new employee.

A system tends to be bigger than one process; it can combine several related processes. Think finance system or HR system.

It can get confusing when we think of software as a system. This is not untrue; however, a software system is an aid for managing a company system. Using the Finance or HR examples, the software will often contain the bulk of the records, and interactions with the software will control many of the processes we follow, but sometimes there will be additional processes that are outside the software.

When designing a system for an organisation we need to think of it as a process at the highest level. What are we wanting to achieve, and what high level steps need to be taken?

As a company grows and matures, we should regularly finetune and improve the processes followed, and review if our systems are delivering what is needed. You’d be surprised how often people are performing unnecessary steps in a process because that is what they were taught to do by the last person in that role.

Don’t get too hung up on terminology, but documenting core company processes is essential for success. A simple flowchart will do. And include a regular review of what steps are essential and the best way to achieve your ends.