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System vs Process vs Content – What’s The Difference?!

Systems and processes are KEY for efficient operations. Mostly people focus on the content, but there's so much more to it!

Personal Note from Christina

Hey, Christina here with a personal note.

I’m creating this resource so that we have a shared language when system vs process vs content are referenced.

It’s possible that this resource could leave you feeling overwhelmed if you’ve never considered your systems and processes this in depth before.

Most people are primarily aware of the content pieces. I’m a weirdo in that I see and understand the world through the lens of processes and systems.

You do NOT need to become an expert in this. That’s why you invest in learning from other people like us (Magical Teams)!

I’m going to go into depth below and share a few examples as well as the considerations I have when designing and building a system and process.

As I start to unpack all of the things that are happening and can be made more conscious in this resource doc, you might wonder, “Woah. Do I really need to think about all of these other things?! I don’t have the time for that?”

Short answer = No. You already have systems and processes. But you may or may not be aware of what they are. You’ll need to become a little more aware of them in order to change and improve them.

Do not try to be and think like me. Be and think like YOU. And, take what’s useful from below into your world.

SYSTEM vs process vs content

A system is the CONTAINER.

When choosing a system, it’s best to consider what type of container you need. The elements, features, aesthetics, and functionality that will best serve the content.

You can also consider what would work best for the people who are using the system. And how they want to use it. What they need it to do for them.

If you ever see someone ask a generalized question or make generalized recommendations on systems / tools. Do not fall into that trap! The best system for you and your needs won’t be the same for someone with different needs. Figure out what those are, then choose a system that will work.


Soup = You would not put soup onto a plate. You’d probably want a bowl of some kind. But, a deep or shallow bowl? For the person using the bowl, do they have a preference of color and texture on the outside? Will this be eaten at home or on the go? Answers to those questions will inform which container you select.

Project Management = There’s some basic principles: a place to keep tasks, set due dates, and know what needs to be done and by whom. You’ll need a tool, such as: Asana or ClickUp. Or even paper and pen or a spreadsheet. (which we don’t recommend as the main tool if you have a team!) But also, how do you organize your projects and tasks? Would it work better for your needs to have a main weekly dashboard or have projects individually separated out? If and how would you utilize features like: tags, statuses, custom fields, etc? Do you and your team have specific aesthetic and visual preferences? How much customization do you want or need? What’s your budget now and in the future? What are the priorities of functionality?

Hiring = Do you need a full-cycle ATS (Applicant Tracking System)? Or will a simple google form meet your needs? Where will you message candidates and make sure you’re following up with everyone? Are there multiple people who need to communicate about the options? If so, where will this be organized? What are the evaluation steps? Where and how will you track the details of how a candidate does at each stage?

system vs process vs CONTENT

The content is what you put IN to the container.

Usually, this is the part most people can understand, touch, and point to. It’s the tangibles, the stuff you use and work with. Between system vs process content – content is usually what you think about FIRST.


Soup = This is the actual soup part. The part you consume. When you’re hungry, you probably don’t start by thinking, “Oh, I need a bowl.” No, you’d first think, “Mmm, I’m hungry, I’ll eat some soup!” Then, you think about the best container (or system) to put it in.

Project Management = The tasks, action steps, deliverables, descriptions, due dates, milestones, projects, and details about the things that need to be done. First thought is usually, “I need to do XYZ.” Then, you may or may not have a system / process for capturing and making sure that action gets to completion. The content in this example is what needs to be completed.

Hiring = The most obvious here is the candidates’ information – their contact info, resume, application responses, etc. Depending on your system and process, the content could also be the evaluation step metrics you use. Or, the communications between people to discuss potential candidates. Or, the notes taken from an interview. Where all of that gets put so that it’s organized is the system.

system vs PROCESS vs content

The process is the way that people USE and RELATE to the system and the content.

Among a system vs process vs content – the process is the least likely to be considered and implemented deliberately. But, it’s also extremely important if you feel things aren’t happening smoothly, efficiently, or meeting your quality standards.

These are the habits, behaviors, sequence of actions, and all the subtle and unconscious ways that we relate to the things around us.

It’s vital that the system vs process complement and work in tandem together. The setup of the system needs to support the process. And, the process needs to be clear and customized for people in the ways that they work best. Otherwise, things won’t be communicated or happen smoothly. Or, at all!

Additionally, there are a lot of ways to communicate and uphold a process. Checklists, SOPs, templates, recurring tasks, decision-making trees, guardrail guides, training resources, video walkthroughs, observation and shadowing, practice and feedback, discussions, and more!

A process needs to be clear, but flexible enough to work for a variety of people. We all work differently. Please don’t force people into rigid boxes with a process of the way it HAS to be. You would be limiting their potential contributions and growth. And, it’s unlikely they will stick around because they won’t feel utilized and valued – especially if they’re growth oriented which are the folks you WANT to keep around!

If a team member hasn’t met the bar on quality, you might have a gap in your process, the training, or the way you’re delegating. Or it’s simply just not the right fit between that person and the role / your company.

In summary – there’s a lot of nuances to determine if and why a process isn’t working well.


Soup = You make a lot of choices about your process for eating soup, but it’s likely you’re on autopilot for most of them. Such as… Do you use a spoon? Chopsticks? Do you slurp? Do you tip the bowl towards your mouth at the end? Do you need a napkin? What kind of napkin? Do you eat it hot or cold? How do you heat it up? On the stove or microwave? Will the bowl get too hot for your hands? Would you want music or people around? What happens before or after eating? How do you position your body while you’re eating?

Project Management = This would include any routines, meetings, and steps people take to add the content to the system as well as make sure things get done. There’s a lot of other considerations too. Who and how do tasks get prioritized? What happens if a task gets added without a due date? Do the people understand what the expectations of them are? Are they expected to add their own tasks and set their own deadlines? What’s expected of them if they don’t meet a due date? Can they change the date? Or, do they need to reach out to someone? What if it just sits there as overdue for a week? What happens if someone stops using the system? How as a team, do you discuss and decide work capacity and ownership of tasks?

Hiring = Sometimes, there’s multiple layers of processes occurring. In this example, there’s different categories of people and they each have different processes.

  1. Candidates – There will be a process each candidate will be going through. Whether they are aware of it, or you have conveyed this process in part or full, can be a consideration to decide on. Their process could include things like: the steps to being evaluated. Questions or info they will need to answer/give. If someone doesn’t fill out all of the application questions or is late to an interview, what happens? Are they disqualified immediately, or are there extenuating circumstances? How could you make the process more fair and equitable for a diverse group of candidates?
  2. Recruitment and Hiring Manager – These are the core team members who oversee and run the hiring campaign. Their process can include: Who owns which part of the campaign? Will they do aspects together, or separately? When and where and how does the hand off between ownership happen? Where is someone at in their training? Do they need extra feedback and support? What decisions can they make on their own? When do they need to reach out for permission or input?
  3. Tangentially involved people – Beyond the core team, there might be others impacted or involved with their own processes. If you have an employee referral program, they’ll have a process for thinking about and sharing the job listing. They may or may not follow-up from there. If you have a marketing team member, there could be a process for looping them in and creating content or sharing the opportunities. If you have a specific expert that you’ll bring in for specialized interviews, it will go more smoothly if it’s clear what they need to do before, during, and after those interviews.

On top of each person’s processes, there’s the overall hiring process with another set of considerations. What are the stages of the hiring campaign? What’s an appropriate timeline? Are there fixed deadlines, or on a rolling basis? What happens if there’s obstacles that push timelines? What will be the ways to evaluate candidates? Qualitative and quantitative. What will be the final decision making process? Who will be involved in deciding and who will have the final say?

As you can see from these examples, processes are complex. By thinking about them thoroughly, the goal is that they will be simple, clear, and empowering for people. There’s a lot of ways they can influence obstacles or optimizations for greater efficiency, clarity, ease, and results.


System vs process vs content... in summary...

Content = soup
System = bowl
Process = the way you eat the soup and use and clean the bowl

Project Management:
Content = I want something to get done by someone
System = the spreadsheet or tool that info gets added
Process = who adds it, who marks it complete, what happens if it’s not complete by the due date, the training or support to make sure it gets done well

Content = candidates and their info
System = where that info is kept, organized, and discussed
Process = who is involved, how they’re involved, how they work together, what the hiring stages look like, and the supporting elements to make sure the campaign is a success

Reminder: if you’re feeling any of that overwhelmed thing I mentioned, go back and re-read my personal note at the top! This is also something we love supporting people with in The Leader Lab program.