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Process, Function, Mechanism, Procedure: Which One?

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One of the greatest areas for confusion in the world of business systems modeling is the terminology used to name the activities performed by a business.

Are these activities Processes, Functions, Mechanisms or Procedures?

The answer is “all of the above”.  Does this mean that these terms are synonyms? No they are not.  All of these activities are carried out by the business but they are not all the same thing.

The trouble is that too many people who see themselves as “experts” in business systems modeling and analysis, especially those in the world of business process modeling, “know” so much that they cannot be bothered with “trivia”, such as boring fundamental definitions.

For those of us who still have open minds and are willing to learn and  grow, here are some useful definitions.

The core activities of every business, those that define WHAT a business OUGHT to be doing, are Business Functions.

When you need to know the order in which Business Functions need to be carried out in order to arrive at a specified outcome in a response to a specific trigger the you build a Business Process.  Each step in a process will be a function.  So, without functions there would be no processes!  A good reason to start by modeling the functions!

Functions can can be carried out by various means using different systems, forms, etc.  These different means are called Mechanisms. So Functions are the “What” and Mechanisms are the “How”.

As Mechanism is to Function, so Procedure is to Process, in that procedure describes the means by which Process are performed.  A single Process can be carried out by various Procedures.

Another major error in terminology is referring to a Department within a business as a Function! A Function is a core business activity and NOT a department.

The “Finance Function” is NOT the Finance Department!! Rather, it is that set of ACTIVITIES needed to be carried out in order to enable a business to comply with its financial commitments.

All true experts know that real expertise comes from knowing and practicing the basics.

This is the power of the Integrated Modeling Method, it defines the core elements simply and unambiguously and shows how power can be achieved through simplicity.

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