What is meant by activities

Processes and methods - what are we talking about right now?

Published on May 7th, 2013 by Rüdiger Kaffenberger

introduction

In a company that mainly deals with software development, it is inevitable, you have to talk about processes and methods. It was found that everyone involved had a slightly different idea of ​​what we were discussing. So a definition of the term had to be found. But it wasn't as easy as we had first thought, it wasn't enough with a few catchy sentences - to make the concept easy to understand, you have to use an example and so we came to the decision instead of our session To draw out infinitely in length to write this somewhat more detailed explanation of the terms.

The term process, in general

We come across the term process frequently in everyday life. That's why we all think we know what that means. But there is hardly any other term that has so many context-specific interpretations associated with it as with process. We know processes as they are defined in the criminal or civil court code, we speak of chemical processes, processes of social change, of operating system processes, of business processes and of development processes - the latter were the subject of our discussion. Although all of the processes mentioned and many of the processes not mentioned represent a common basic concept, they differ considerably in terms of what we expect from them and what we associate with them.

So let's first take a look at the common ground. We help ourselves Wikipedia. We read:

“A process (spelling in the 20th century process, in the 19th century often Process, somewhat less process) can be described as a course, a development or, more generally, as a system of movements. Comparable terms are also >> process <> progress <> process <> process <

The original main meaning is the process as a legal term. In the natural and social sciences today, process is a term for the directed sequence of events. In operational and organizational contexts, processes are also referred to as business processes. "Processes" are also called programs running in computer systems that i. d. R. are parts of the system software. "

Development and business processes as ISO understands them

Since we are particularly interested in development or business processes and their evaluation using process evaluation models, we will surely get a good description faster if we look up what the result of the definition of terms by the authors of the relevant standards and norms is. The highest standardization organization ISO has in ISO / IEC TR 24772: 2010 (E) defines how development and business processes are to be described in the ISO standards. A process description then consists of the following elements:

  • Title,
  • Purpose,
  • Results,
  • Activities,
  • Tasks,
  • Information elements.

The elements “purpose” and “results” show that the “target-oriented” property is also in the foreground at ISO. "Activities" and "Tasks" describe an "event". This all corresponds to the general process definition as we found it in Wikipedia. How ISO now specializes the term process, we can learn from the definitions of the elements listed:

process: A set of related and related activities that transform inputs into results.

Process purpose: The ultimate goal of executing the process and the likely outcomes of successfully implementing the process. Note: The implementation of the process should offer tangible benefits for the interested parties.

Process result: Observable result of the achievement of the process purpose.

activity: A set of related tasks in a process. The activities are a list of activities that can be used to achieve the results. Each activity can be refined as a group of related activities at a lower level.

task: A requirement, recommendation, or allowable activity that is intended to help achieve one or more outcomes of the process. The tasks are specific activities that can be performed to complete an activity. Activities that belong together are often grouped together in one activity. Note: In specifications of process models for the assessment of processes, the expression “practice” or “base practice” is often used as a synonym for task.

Information element: An identifiable body of information that is generated and stored in the context of system or software development in order to be used by people. "

For the activities and tasks, see ISO / IEC TR 24772: 2010 (E) also the following important statement:

“It should be avoided to combine time or sequence requirements with the [activities or tasks], as this restricts the use of the process description to a special life cycle model. However, if time or sequence requirements are imperative, then they must also be explicitly specified. If no time or sequence requirements are given, then the reader should not be expected to accept any. "

The term process for software emotion

At softwareinmotion we want to understand and describe processes in the way that ISO does - so for us a process is a set of tasks that serve to achieve a defined goal. The tasks consist of transforming defined inputs into defined results and generating the necessary information elements. In the process description, no time or sequence specifications should be made so that the process description is independent of the details of the product life cycle.

Methods

According to Wiktionary is a method that “How to do something to achieve a goal”.

A process description remains intentionally abstract. She defines What is to be done in order to achieve the given goal. In order to actually achieve something, it must also be defined how the goals are to be achieved. The How is represented by methods.

There is no equivalent to for describing methods ISO / IEC TR 24772: 2010 (E). But it certainly makes sense to look at ISO / IEC TR 24772: 2010 (E) to orientate and structure a description of the method in the same way. However, it is important to state in a description of the method under which conditions the method is advantageous and under which conditions it should not be used. The timing and order of the work steps of a method are also important and must be specified.

Process and method together represent an executable instruction

Only through the combination of the process description and the description of the method do we receive a really executable instruction. It is important that different methods can be used in a process to fulfill a task, depending on the situation.

The pastry preparation process

The idea and the resulting advantages of the process definition as carried out by ISO are to be illustrated with a handy example. In order to stimulate the reader's imagination, I decided to use the pastry preparation process instead of a software development process. In describing the process, I limit myself to the elements that are necessary to illustrate what has been written above.

Process description - pastry manufacturing process (shortened):

  • aim: Ready-to-eat baked goods are made from raw materials.
  • Activities and tasks:
    • Activity: Providing the ingredients
      • Task: Analyze the needs
      • Task: Get the ingredients
      • Task: storing the ingredients
    • Activity: Production of the raw pastry mass
      • Task: Select the ingredients required for the raw pastry mass
      • Task: portioning the ingredients
      • Task: Mixing the ingredients
    • Activity: Solidifying the raw pastry mass
      • Task: Preparation of the raw pastry mass for the solidification process
      • Task: Carrying out the solidification process
    • Activity: shaping the pastry
      • Task: Shape the pastry in the typical way
    • Activity: Adding ingredients that are not part of the raw pastry mixture
      • Task: Select the ingredients that are not part of the raw pastry mixture
      • Task: Applying the ingredients that are not part of the raw pastry mixture
    • Activity: Presenting the pastry
      • Task: storing the pastries
      • Task: Divide the pastry into portions that are suitable for consumption
      • Task: Present the pastry in a way that is stimulating to eat

Why time and sequence specifications must be avoided in process definitions

I have only limited myself here to the goal of the process and the necessary activities and tasks. Nevertheless, this example clearly shows why it would be harmful to specify the order of the activities in the process description: Some baked goods such as pretzels are divided into suitable portions and shaped before baking, others only after baking, for example the Biscuit roll. The same applies to the application of ingredients that are not part of the raw pastry mass. Some "toppings" such as salt or grains are applied before baking, but the decoration of the cake is only applied after baking. If these differences were already taken into account in the process description, we would be dealing with a very large number of different processes, which all have the same goal and the same quality characteristics. For the description of the processes, the evaluation of their quality and the establishment of a quality management system, a great effort would be incurred, which is not opposed to any benefit.

The role of methods

Instead of including the different options for completing a task in the process description, we pack them into method descriptions. The activity “Providing the ingredients” is intended to serve as an example here. We can think of three methods for accomplishing the task of "obtaining the ingredients": Bulk purchase, targeted purchasing, Neighborhood help.

The method Bulk purchase is useful when pastries are often made. Based on the planning for a foreseeable period of time, the ingredients are purchased in larger quantities where they can be obtained most cheaply, without explicitly going into the quantities for individual baking projects. The method for the task Analyze the needs must take into account the planning period and the storage options.

The method targeted purchasing is useful when the action is focused on a single baking project. The ingredients are purchased in the quantities explicitly required and, if possible, in one place. The Analysis of needs only refers to the recipe for the upcoming baking project and only needs to consider short-term storage.

The method Neighborhood help is mostly used for spontaneous baking projects. The ingredients are taken from the randomly available supplies and if the analysis of the needs, which is carried out on an ad-hoc basis, reveals a shortage, an attempt is made to borrow what is necessary from a neighbor. When using the method Neighborhood help is planned, the task can storage for the borrowed ingredients are "cut away" because these ingredients are processed directly.

Summary

  • A process is an abstract model that describes what needs to be done to transform inputs into results
    (Some of these results are used to document the achievement of the process goal - this is not directly apparent from the text above, as I did not go into the role of the information elements.) It is important to specify the time or sequence as far as possible to avoid. In this way, the necessary processes can be completely described and networked with one another with comparatively little effort.
  • A method is a concrete model that describes how a task can be carried out in a process.
    In a method, the steps are often subject to timing or order. It is important that the meaningful area of ​​application of the method is defined so that a method that is adapted to the problem is selected and the process goal can thus be achieved using the selected methods.

The saying goes "there are many roads leading to Rome" - one can also say "many methods lead the process to the goal".