Process vs. Function - Could someone explain the differences in simple terms



Could someone explain in simple terms and with examples what is the difference between the Process and the Function. For example, suppose I take sales as a function and selling as a process, how this will differ? What are the advantages of process approach over function approach if we take sales or say purchasing as Process and Function?

E Wall

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Function = Individual building block
Process = Blueprint that either shows how the individual blocks work together OR Series of activities that use individual blocks

Function Definitions:
1. the purpose or role for which an object or a person is particularly used or suited.
2. a factor or quality that is dependent upon one or more other factors or qualities.

Process Definitions:
1. a systematic sequence of actions used to produce something or achieve an end. example: the assembly-line process.
2. a continuous series of changes, functions, or operations. example: the process of growing up.
3. movement onward or forward; progression.

B Hartley

Silo(Functional) or Process Managaged


Another example of Process v Functional is looking not only at departmental level but at COMPANY LEVEL.

A FUNCTIONALLY Driven Company (often also referred to as either 'Silo Managed’ or ‘Vertical Top down’) is one where, at the extreme end, all departments are vertically defined and structured.
‘Y’ Department Director at the top, workers at the bottom with layers of Management in between and this repeated in several vertical columns for all the Company’s Departments.

A hypothetical scenario:-
Customer’s needs enters the Company at one Department and moves within the vertical confines till something is needed from a different Department --- it may well have to enter the second Department at the very bottom and work its way up. First Department thinks priority should be higher, second Department not and has to refer up to his boss. First Department gets out the Interface Agreement for work handling between the Departments and starts quoting times of action from it, Second Department realising they are not working to times in the terms of the agreement starts to blush then sees a tiny irrelevant error in the work of first Department --- Smiles and says “gotcha” as stamps the paperwork as ‘Rejected’ and sends it back in the internal post to the first Department.

A PROCESS Led or Managed Company stands to operate far quicker, effectively and efficiently.
The Customer Process path to say make a ‘widget’ is horizontal across the Company ‘Departments’ the Key ‘Widget’ Process will have a leader or Manager responsible for the Widget Process. The Widget Process may involve staff in several ‘Departmental disciplines’ e.g. Purchasing, Logistics, Machine Shop with staff under Staff Managers, but its driven and managed horizontally across by the Widget Process Manager. No interface agreements as effectively, though several different functional groups are involved, its one seamless Widget Process and all involved Staff are clear what is expected of them The Widget Process has appropriate metrics to measure it by and for all involved to relate to.

Of course many Companies operate between the two extremes.

A Process Led or Managed Company will use one of several forms of Process Mapping --- Marc on the ‘Cove has some good stuff on Process Mapping in one of his Guides if you are interested.

Does this explanation help?

Best Regards Brian


Thanks Brian, for your excellent explanation.

Presently, I am working on ISO 9001-2000 transition in my company. Like most firms, ours also comprises Sales, Purchasing, Quality, production departments etc.. As ISO 9001 emphasizes on process approach, I want to explain to our senior management how process approach is different or superior to functional approach, we follow. My idea is to discuss with a simple example. For instance, if we take Sale as a function and a process, how the activity will differ. What benefits we will get? I would appreciate any inputs in this regard.



B Hartley

Jit ,
Hi again --- I was waiting seeing if anyone else was going to advise on this one, as to give a ‘good’ answer is extremely difficult. I know little of your current Sales Division:-

For example, lets take a Sales Division in its possible ‘maximum size’ by sub- functions, that is encompassing Marketing; Account and even Programme Management; Telephone Sales; External Sales Force; Bid Managers/Technical; Bid Team Costing; and Sales Order Admin.
The Division looks Functionally Structured and Managed and functionally may work well together but their links to/from other parts of the Company might be too narrow, knowledge retaining rather than sharing, going in at the wrong level to either be passed up or down to the right place. “We have our Procedures and follow them the rest of the company have theirs but do not always” stance. Information is not shared, mistakes are made through lack of knowledge, value not added at the correct time etc.

On the other hand its possible that though it may appear or seem a ‘Functional Operation’, underneath it might be operating in a near ‘Process based approach’. When the value needs adding to ‘the job to be done’, without perhaps instructions or procedures, the people themselves from their own initiative ‘team up together’ with equally motivated people in other Divisions to get the job done. In effect joining up to make a near Seamless Process(s)

Yourself or others reading this may identify with Companies where some of these functions have always been, or have moved, to within another Division, e.g. Bid Team Costing in a Finance Department working closely with both Sales, Business Unit and a company Financial Controller. Account and/or Programme Management moved to the Business Unit ‘delivering’ the goods or services.

Equally moving to a Process Based Approach could lead to strong arguments for reshaping Divisions to suit the Processes to better serve Customers etc.

So here is a quick list of suggestions viewed from a current ISO 9001 : 1994 environment (appreciate not all may be applicable and some you may have done).

1) Establish Sales current internal procedures and if they are followed? Are procedures more insular or do they extensively encompass other Departments? If they are Insular do staff naturally, as mentioned above, Team up with other Departments?

2) What are the most major problems facing the Sales Director, Sales Staff at all levels? Note both outward an inward facing problems.

3) What problems do those that have to work with or interface with Sales perceive are caused by Sales?

4) Does Sales consider other departments when changing Sales procedures or does it merely update the ‘interface agreements’ to compensate if problems arise? How are they consulted re other Divisions planned changes?

5) What measures do Sales have in place to monitor performance ---is it in real time or retrospectively applied at period end?

The skill is then to see how many identified problems could be resolved or reduced by integrating Sales seamlessly into shared processes with other Departments with Sales staff at the right level directly involved without having to go up or down.

If you can do this you can sell some real benefits to Management. Shorten pipelines, run events where possible more in parallel rather than serial through increased communications and knowledge sharing.

If you peruse ISO 9000/9001/9004 you will read of some of the Management Theoretical benefits of ‘Process Based’ and Systems Approach ----- Yeah, Yeah etc, but if you can talk the Benefits in terms of Business problems that can be resolved or minimised your Directors may more readily afford you time and listen.

Sorry about the length of this--- it’s hard to get across in written words.

Good Luck

Brian Hartley


E Wall writes:

Function = Individual building block
Process = Blueprint that either shows how the individual blocks work together OR Series of activities that use individual blocks

Function Definitions:
1. the purpose or role for which an object or a person is particularly used or suited.
2. a factor or quality that is dependent upon one or more other factors or qualities.

So, should we establish quality objectives for all functions (individuals) , see cl. 5.4.1?


Process =inputs+outputs+mechanisms/controls+resources.

Anton Ovsianko

One more simplistic version:

Function is responsibility to fulfill particular actions in particular processes.

A process is...

"...a systematic sequence of actions used to produce something or achieve an end. example: the assembly-line process". [Quote from E Wall's post above]

Process often involves several persons or entities. A particular function is usually delegated to an individual, department or entity... or to a group of entities, no matter how exactly they should perform this fuction, share their job etc.

As soon as we describe sequence of operations to perform a function, the function can be viewed as a process or a bouquet of processes.
And again, as soon as we commit to particular type of actions performed in many similar cases, we are responsible for a function.


Markating planning is a FUNCTION
Working out a marketing plan may be considered in terms of a PROCESS





Anton has raised an interesting question most applicable to ISO9001:2000

1. Consider functions like Sales, Engineering, Production by and large the majority of activities are well within the functional boundaries and head of function assumes as process owner. Here there appears a very thin difference between function and process view.

2. On the other hand consider the following processes:-

a) Customer need assessment process
b) Procurement process
c) Resource management process
d) Standards research process
e) Customer communication process
f) Internal communication process
g) Regulatory research process
h) Planning process
i) Training process
j) Continual improvement process
k) Process for the formulation of policy and targets
l) Non-conformance management process
m) New product introduction process

These processes do not fit into a conventional "Functional" boundary. We can easily see the inputs and output that constitute these processes. Many a times the activities encompass more than one function - the departmental barriers as a result of function approach (silo attitude) hinders effectiveness of these processes. Many of these processes do happen in most of the organization. But since organization has not identified these processes, the process ownership, the control mechanism and triggers to generate improvement based on facts and data from the processes are lacking .The activities do happen out of extensive follow up in an inconsistent and ineffective manner giving lot of room for chance i.e. the needed processes are not designed to meet internal and external customers but happens by chance movement of information from one function to other.

In a process approach, we need to do the following as per cl.4.1.

a) Identify the key processes which has substantial impact on customer satisfaction/business.
b) Determine the sequence and interaction of these processes.
c) Determine the criteria and methods needed to ensure that both the operations and control of these processes are effective (…efficient also?)
d) Ensure the availability of resources and information necessary to support the operations and monitoring of these processes
e) Monitor, measure and analyse these processes
f) Implement actions necessary to achieve planned results and continual improvement of these processes.

The requirements a, b…..f are not generally done in this way in a function approach.

Take for example procurement process:

1. In a functional scheme, we may have some of these departments (as the case be for example)

· Engineering dept - which makes specification indent
· Indenting department - raises indent
· Purchase - floats enquiry - release order - follow up - getting the item
· Quality Control - doing Quality Control
· Stores - receipt of material / accounting
· Finance - payment related
· Information technology

We can see the activities are done in many departments and no effective way to ensure proper sequence and interaction of these processes and no holistic measures available in a silo situation (function approach).

Consider measures such as:-

Q- Overall quality index of bought out items
C- Overall cost reduction of procured product
D- Overall Cycle time reduction in procurement process

In conventional functional approach, these are requested from Purchase department, who in turn blame other connected departments for delay ultimately nobody owns the total system.

Now consider the design of a procurement process, keeping functional/matrix organization in place , we need to identify:-

· Various inputs
· Desired outputs
· Control procedures
· Resource need/provision
· Measurement points
· Measures for output (product)
· Measures for process effectiveness/efficiency
· Triggers for continual improvement
· Assign process ownership
· And go thru all other points of cl 4.1 a,b…f

Then we design a procurement process. It being part of Product realization process 7.1 identify those requirements which may be performed by sub-processes (eg: vendor selection process) Identify the competence requirements of personnel required for these process and take appropriate action to fill the gaps.

Run PDCA cycle for process improvement.

Looking forward to the response of list members.


Fuction vs Process
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