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Unstructured, Semi-Structured and Structured Processes

February 15th, 2009 by Jacob Ukelson

I was thinking about a comment from Dennis Byron where he asks (and answers) “Are there ten times as many unstructured processes in the world as structured processes just as there is ten times as much unstructured data as structured data?”

So I thought I’d try to take this analogy a bit further. Before I do that I’ll define business process using a modified wikipedia definition: “A business process or business method is a collection of related activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers.” Wikipedia actually used the term “structured activity” - but I don’t understand what that means, so I left it out. So now on to the different types of processes:

  • Unstructured processes - every instance of the process can be different from another based on the environment, the content and the skills of the people involved. These are always human processes. These processes may have a framework or guideline driving the process, but only as a recommendation.
  • Structured processes - a rigorously defined process with an end-to-end model, that takes into account all the process instance permutations. No process instance can stray from process model, Just like structured data - there is a specific data model associated with the data - and the data cannot stray from that model - and if it does, the data is invalid.
  • Semi-structured processes - these are processes in which a portion of the process is structured, and sometimes unstructured processes are invoked (during exceptions, or when the model doesn’t hold).

While thinking that through I came to conclusion that, as opposed to data, there really is no such thing as a true structured business process once you get people involved (and most business processes require people sooner or later). If you really want an end-to-end model of a business process that works - the best you can hope for is a semi-structured process.

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One Response to “Unstructured, Semi-Structured and Structured Processes”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Jacob, totally agree. Having tried process modeling a fair number of times, and tried instantiating those models in software and/or business rules, I find there are always exception conditions not thought of or the process exceeds normal operating conditions in some fashion. Having said that, after a period of time, as more logic is added or rules refined, one can get very close to a full structured process! It’s always a process of refinement….

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