Written by Nate Josephs
Sr. Systems Engineer/Data Center Manager
Within this series of articles on policies, processes, and procedures, I’ve discussed the importance of implementing all three documents in order to minimize risk in the data center. The first article explained the differences between each document and the second one provided details on creating effective policies. In this third article, I will cover what processes are, how they differ from policies and procedures, and provide tips for creating effective processes.
As mentioned, policies are rules that define expected outcomes for activities performed. Both processes and procedures support policies by ensuring activities conform to policy rules and expectations. Processes and procedures are often used interchangeably. However, they are two separate documents each serving a different purpose. Procedures are detailed instructions explaining how to do a task and may contain a lot of text and illustrations to provide a clear explanation on how to do something. In contrast, processes are high-level steps necessary to perform a desired output and therefore contain fewer words. Processes also identify who is responsible for each step when more than one party is involved.
Less complex processes which are performed in a linear fashion with few parties involved can be a simple list of sequential steps. The following is a straight-forward process with numbered steps and who is responsible for each step in bold:
Patch Cable Decommission Process
- Data center technician documents existing cable connections and verifies patch cables to be removed
- Data center technician creates proposed cable decommission spreadsheet
- Data center technician meets with Network Team to confirm accuracy of cable decommission spreadsheet
- Data center technician and Network Team determine date/time of cable removal
- Network Team creates a Facilities Change Request per Facilities Change Process and attaches cable decommission spreadsheet
- Data center technician confirms ports are deactivated prior to removing cables
- Data center technician removes cables per Facilities Change Request’s specified date/time, attached cable decommission spreadsheet, and any special instructions
The above process is effective because it uses short sentences that are easy to follow at a glance. Similar to policies, when identifying who is responsible for each step, names of departments, or job titles should be used instead of people’s actual names. This ensures processes don’t become outdated as people change roles, or leave an organization.
As processes become more complex, creating workflow diagrams may be necessary versus a list of steps. Complexity increases when decisions need to be made depending on input, or when a process has any loops where a step starts at a specific point and ends up back at that same point before progressing further. A lot of well-known diagramming software packages include workflow templates containing symbols for start points, connectors with arrows, action items/steps, documents, decision trees, and end points. The following is a process workflow diagram example using these symbols:
Complexity also increases when multiple people or departments are involved in a process. Adding swim lanes to the diagram is a useful way to delineate who is responsible for each piece of the process.
To recap, processes layout the steps from start to finish in order to generate a desired output. They should identify who is responsible for each step when more than one party is involved. A process can simply be a list of the required steps, but may need to be a workflow if more complex. Process workflows should include symbols representing the start, tasks, decision trees, arrows, outputs, and endpoints along with swim lanes when the process workflow involves multiple parties. In the next article, I will discuss how to create effective procedures.
Be sure to check back here soon for the next installment in our series of Policies vs Processes vs Procedures .