APQC's Process Classification Framework (PCF)® Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive regarding APQC's Process Classification Framework (PCF)®. Additional FAQs can be found in The Process Classification Framework: Frequently Asked Questions.

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APQC's Process Classification Framework (PCF)® is the most used process framework in the world. It creates a common language for organizations to communicate and define work processes comprehensively and without redundancies. Organizations are using it to support benchmarking, manage content, and perform other important performance management activities.

View the video below and visit our process frameworks webpage to learn more.

APQC has a few versions of the Process Classification Framework (PCF)® . There is a cross-industry version, but we also have industry-specific versions to better suit your organization. All versions are housed in our Resource Library.

Learn about the cross-industry version.

Learn about industry-specific versions.

The latest version of the PCF is version 7.3.1. It can be found in our Resource Library in PDF and Excel format. 

Just because a new version has been released does not mean the current version of the PCF you are using will no longer be supported. APQC supports all versions of the PCF, as long as it works for you and your organization.

Yes, APQC’s cross-industry PCF is available in languages including Spanish, French, Russian, and Mandarin. Some industry-specific versions of the PCF like APQC’s Banking PCF are also available in other languages. See APQC’s Process Classification Framework (PCF)—Cross-industry and Industry-Specific Versions collection for available versions and languages.

For APQC, capabilities are much broader than processes, which are a discrete set of steps. Process frameworks like the PCF establish what those steps are, but not how they are implemented or the tools or governance around them. Processes are part of a capability in the sense that a capability includes the people, the technology, and the process or processes required to deliver it. Capabilities can be measured in terms of productivity and quality metrics. For example, the payroll process has several steps, while the payroll capability describes the ability to carry those steps out in terms of considerations like the ability to scale, the ability to handle exceptions, and the ability to avoid making an excessive amount of errors. Simply put, the PCF answers the ‘what’ as opposed to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions when it comes to processes.

The PCF itself is neither quantitative nor qualitative. APQC leverages both types of data in its research and presents both quantitative and qualitative data to its members through its Open Standards Benchmarking®. APQC looks at processes from a very granular perspective. At a process group level, it looks at considerations like costs, cycle times, and high-level transaction volumes, all of which are quantitative measures. At the same time, APQC regularly interviews and surveys experts, leaders, and process owners from best-practice organizations to ask qualitatively-driven questions about the structure and implementation of processes, including questions like: Is the process automated? If so, what kind of system are you using? Is it outsourced? What were some of the biggest obstacles in automating the process? In this way, quantitative and qualitative data both inform the broader data ecosystem that surrounds the PCF.

The closest the PCF gets to addressing the connectivity of processes is the relationship between a process parent and its children. Looking at any area of the PCF, one might see a numbered process group with one or more indented processes, as in the figure below. Beyond this level, APQC does not address the connectivity of processes within the PCF, whether by drawing lines between processes in the framework or by establishing a suggested order of operations. The intent of the PCF is strictly to define what a process is and how it is carried out. In the image below, for example, the PCF specifies the processes that are involved with delivering service to the customer but does not specify any order for those processes. Based on its own needs and priorities, an organization could define its labor services (5.1.2.2) before defining its service delivery goals (5.1.2.1).

When organizations model their processes, they often use flow charts that take APQC’s process

When organizations model their processes, they often use flow charts that take APQC’s process definitions along with their own expertise to determine process outputs, inputs, and the connections between them. A common tool that APQC has seen its members use for this purpose is a suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers (SIPOC) diagram. Organizations also typically have their own business rules that connect these processes, telling them, for example, exactly when to develop service delivery strategies. While APQC provides process definitions and scope, it is up to each organization to determine how their processes connect within the organization itself.

Yes. The PCF is a collection of all the common process elements, and each one is a building block for how organizations look at processes and assemble them. Organizations can use the PCF to build a comprehensive checklist of processes for cross-functional collaboration or to understand specific processes more deeply. For example, a business partner could take a checklist of processes to IT to help discern which systems are carrying out specific processes and find possible redundancies or processes that might need system support. In the form of a checklist, the PCF can also help users understand redundancies across business silos. By drilling down more deeply into processes with a checklist, cross-functional teams can examine the work that each function is doing to see whether the work is truly redundant or not.

The process for leveraging the PCF truly depends on the organization and the purposes for which it uses the PCF. For example, some organizations use the PCF to create process definitions or to standardize processes. In these contexts, the PCF is typically used within process workshops as a model to which teams can refer as they work to build or refine processes. For current state assessments, some organizations survey or interview their employees on specific process elements, using the PCF as a reference to help guide the conversation or search for relevant documentation. Other organizations use the PCF as a content management tool, placing training guides, process documentation, or other relevant documents in folders that match the PCF’s numbering system. The PCF can also be used for benchmarking and for developing employee performance measures. There are process measures associated with many of the PCF’s processes that break down results for top, median, and bottom performers. These process measures are a great place to start for organizations that want to benchmark their performance.

For every possible use of the PCF, from benchmarking to content management and beyond, there are just as many ways in which organizations have adopted and started using the PCF. The simplest way to get started using the PCF is to adopt it across your organization as widely as possible as the standard language and taxonomy for process work. APQC also recommends using the Seven Tenets of Process ManagementSM to help ensure that process work is being carried out as effectively as possible.

Countless organizations have adopted APQC's Process Classification Framework (PCF) for benchmarking, content management, and process improvement. Read their stories to get an idea of how the PCF could benefit your organization.

Visit our case studies page to learn more.

The PCF lends itself very well to being understood and adopted across an organization. In some organizations, the PCF can be used to build a process foundation within an organization. For example, APQC’s case study of Pratt & Whitney describes how the PCF was used to developed a process framework to structure a centralized process repository that establishes visible ownership and cross-functional alignment of processes, roles, and tools. The spread of the PCF across the organization is largely a result of the work and awareness that began in that department. Other organizations like the University of North Texas have taken a more centralized approach to building awareness around the PCF through messaging campaigns, intranet resources, and strong change management methods to promote the use of the PCF. Once they adopt the PCF, organizations often make the PCF a central part of their process training, explaining what the PCF is and how the organization is going to use it. APQC’s Resource Library has a wide range of case studies detailing the ways in which organizations have adopted and built awareness around the PCF, making it a great resource for organizations who are just getting started.

The core value-add of the PCF is its ability to create a common set of definitions and a common taxonomy for business processes. In many cases, this value is demonstrated by showing how much time it saves, both in terms of the ease with which it can be adopted and the speed with which processes can be documented. Organizations have also found the PCF to be a valuable tool for reducing processes redundancies and the complexity of processes more broadly. Mapping processes to the PCF makes it easy to identify and eliminate redundant processes, making process work faster, more efficient, and more streamlined. These benefits are sometimes hard to quantify but can expressed in terms of the return on investment in process improvements. Organizations like Elevations Credit Union, for example, have been able to show the connection between process improvements and core revenue to demonstrate the benefits of using the PCF.

Any organization can use the PCF to manage and streamline process work, regardless of the extent to which its internal framework aligns with the PCF. In this particular case, APQC would recommend creating a mapping file. Put the entire procedure in question on the left side, and the PCF process it maps to on the right. There are three things to watch for: If the procedure and the PCF process are an exact match, you can simply label the procedure with the relevant number in the PCF. If the procedure addresses more than one PCF element, you would label the procedure with a list of comma-separated PCF elements instead. Lastly, if multiple procedures or elements align with one PCF element, you can assign the corresponding PCF element to each one instead. Using the PCF numbers as meta-tags in this way makes it easy for organizations to organize and prioritize activities like technology improvement projects: If more than one improvement project matches a specific number in the PCF, they can all be merged into one larger project.

APQC’s Resource Library is a great place to find best practices associated with the process elements found in the PCF, including industry-specific versions. Best practice research and associated data and measures in the Resource Library are linked to the five-digit process ID number assigned to each process. The Resource Library also contains a wealth of case studies, articles, white papers, interviews, and other research products with concrete examples of how top-performing organizations design, carry out, or transform their processes.