The Process Equation

Before spooling up on Lean tools for HR, there is one key concept that I’d like to share, and it is fundamental to operational excellence.

The process equation.

Everything we do is a process.   It is all a series of steps leading us from one condition to another.  The end result is the output of all of the steps in the process.   That’s exactly what the process equation is all about.  For anyone who hasn’t taken an algebra class in the last few years, the equation states that Y, which is the outcome of any process, is a Function of X, which represents the steps of the process.

Let’s take our earlier example of fast food pickup.  The Y in that example is the final time of the transaction.  The Xs would be each step along the way, such as ordering food, paying, waiting and checking the order.  All of the Xs combined and their interaction, or the Function of X, lead to the outcome, the Y.

This isn’t a terribly complex idea, but is fundamental to process improvement.

Why is this important?

First, it reminds us that if the inputs of our process and the steps of our process do not change, we shouldn’t realistically expect the outcome to be any different.  If you don’t make an adjustment at least one X, your Y will only change based on random chance.

Second, any output of a process can be broken down into some number of steps, which can then be examined for value added activities and waste.  Once you wrap your head around this concept, you can start examining everything you do for opportunities to improve.

How do you apply it?

The process equation is important to have as a starting point for many of the available tools.  If it is a new concept, it is a good idea to start practicing the breakdown in real time.  For example, think about breakfast.  If you had oatmeal, think about the steps that went into its production.  Open box, pour, add water, heat, garnish, eat.  Then think about the next level.  How was the box made?  What work went into harvesting and preparing the oats?

Now let’s apply that thinking to HR.  In order to hire a candidate, we post, screen, interview, check, offer, confirm and hire.  What about the other levels of each step in that process?

After a while, learning to break down any Y into its Xs will become habit, not to mention a solid foundation for process improvement.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Carty and EmployWise, emilydouglashr. emilydouglashr said: RT @LeanHR: Change the way u think… about EVERYTHING. Nothin like process improvement equations n the mornin! […]

  2. […] We start with a reminder about the process equation.  (If you missed it, you can read about it here.) […]

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