A business process is a specific term for a process in the context of process management. To put it simply, it is a recurring service or production workflow, which is not intuitive, but implemented and managed according to some proprietary or general methodology. And as such it has at least some formal attributes — e.g. an owner, one or more managers, it is precisely described and there is a traceable record for each process instance that can be also used as a source for a regular report.
Do you feel like your head is going to explode at any moment? Trust me, real process jargon is even much worse, and is often in direct proportion to the number of MBA degree holders in the company. Besides the complicated or obsolete methodologies and tools, this is the main reason, why the beautifully simple principles of process management are not spreading that easily.
Let’s solve this by using a simple example of a business process, e.g. a New Order Execution in a furniture company. Every new order represents one instance of such a process, which is obviously important for the company and that is why it pays off to improve and manage such a process. What this fundamentally means is that there is at least a basic description of the key steps that have to be completed to prevent any significant omissions so that the order can be executed successfully both for the company and its customer. And not only that the process is exactly described, but there is also a record for every single order, which can be reviewed and edited by all respective collaborators. It is also clearly stated who is accountable for this or that particular order, just as who is responsible for the maintenance and the proper functioning of the whole process — that is usually a process owner (the company, its owner or the sales department), or a designated manager, there may be a few of them. The essential feature of such an implemented process is that it is being progressively improved and if any problem occurs (e.g. a non-paying client), it may be prevented in the future by a better process design (e.g. using a bullet-proof contract or adding a new step to check the creditworthiness of a client). Thus there is a progressive accumulation of valuable know-how and problem prevention, even if the orders are being processed by someone new after a brief training.
The software and methodology used have a major impact on the form and flexibility of business processes. The methodology might be rather formal with the application platform meeting all its requirements, agile or proprietary with an adequately flexible tool of process management, whether it is a Google spreadsheet or simple web app such as Procesoid. In rare cases, one can still encounter purely physical records of business processes (e.g. a production flowchart on a bulletin board), but these are rather marginal cases. On the contrary, a relative novelty is the partial process automation of business processes. In general, it is not possible to say which of these approaches is better because it depends entirely on what is involved in a particular process. For example car manufacturing or the refining of oil usually wouldn’t be a good candidate for an agile process management, because it represents a complex process workflow, where even the slightest error may lead to colossal problems further down the line of the process.