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by Denise E. Robitaille

Last month we presented the first article in a series about developing and enhancing ISO 9001:2000’s revised requirements. We started by examining some lesser-known measures of customer satisfaction. This month we look at the process most important to achieving customer satisfaction: management review. This article considers the review process as a dynamic series of activities that are constantly changing in response to performance indicators and customer expectations.

--Denise E. Robitaille
Series Editor

Transforming the management review process from a passive reporting function to a strategic planning opportunity is arguably the most powerful contribution the new revision of ISO 9001 has made to the business community. These requirements in the standard’s 1994 version were encapsulated in one sentence, with a second line stipulating the need for a record of the review. Each organization was left to determine what was implied by the broad, nonspecific text. It was assumed that organizations’ review processes would naturally manifest the intent of the requirements. In this way, managers would have the facts they needed to justify tough decisions.

Unfortunately, the previously scant verbiage didn’t help managers comprehend the link between the standard’s “management review” and analyzing pertinent performance indicators. Instead, managers perceived the review as a mandated paper exercise consuming valuable time that could be better used interpreting the significance of data relating to real business issues. The review simply didn’t cover what mattered to executives. Consequently, any potential value from the process was lost.

The great divide

Two types of meetings emerged from the confusion. The first was the ISO 9001 management review, characterized by a boring rehash of the results of quality processes such as internal audits, corrective actions, disposition of nonconforming materials, an occasional summary of key indicators, and a list of revised documents and procedures. During this meeting, everyone would nod gravely, make a few comments and then return to the real work. The minutes of management review were duly typed up and filed in accordance with the record-retention procedure and were available for immediate retrieval when the registrar showed up for the semiannual surveillance audit. Everyone rested easier knowing that the standard’s requirement for management review had been fulfilled.

Meanwhile, a separate and completely unrelated series of meetings was convened to discuss how the company was going to address issues such as the delayed release of a new product, training for contract employees, appeasing customers who had repeat complaints about missed deliveries, finding a new supplier for a group of critical components and how to eke out another 12 months from an aging piece of production machinery. These, after all, were the issues that warranted top management’s attention. The ISO 9001 review was relegated to the back burner--where it really belonged; much more pressing matters were at hand.

The tendency to maintain a complete division between these two reviews pervaded most businesses registered to the standard. Regardless of the organization’s nature or size, complexity of its product offerings or any number of other variables, the dual-meeting trend prevailed.

In short, top management didn’t recognize the relationship between quality management system indicators and the bottom line.

Establishing review metrics

Within the framework of the process approach, the management review process is a major artery in which data and decisions flow consistently and effortlessly up and down the organizational body.

ISO 9001:2000 and its companion, ISO 9004:2000, are replete with requirements and suggestions that provide substantially more guidance in implementing a productive management review process. Very simply, they do a better job than the preceding revision of describing the process so as to increase management’s understanding of its intent and benefits.

The first step in making the management review process meaningful is to shatter the perception that it’s a passive activity--an obituary for actions already achieved. Management review is a dynamic, ever-evolving set of activities that can transform policy into action. It does this by distilling the facts that provide the inputs into the processes used to fulfill customers’ requirements.

Management review begins long before the meeting. It begins, in fact, with the previous review. (For consistency throughout this article, I’ll refer to the review in a meeting context. However, the review format doesn’t require an actual meeting; formatting options are numerous and varied.)

At this juncture, you can begin to develop practices that will sustain and improve your management review process. Your registrar has determined that you’ve implemented this process in compliance with ISO 9001:2000. Now, as you begin your second or third cycle of reviews, you can begin to reap the benefits of this enhanced requirement. With each successive review, you should refine your skills in data gathering, analysis, assessment, decision making and follow-through.

ISO 9001:2000 provides a more detailed list of organizational features to include in the review than the 1994 version did. However, it’s still generic enough to ensure that an organization selects the indicators that most truly reflect its status as well as its quality management systems.

The quality policy and objectives established by top management serve as primary indicators of what must be reviewed. These, in turn, should determine what you select to monitor and measure. Therefore, executive management--not the ISO 9001 management representative or quality manager--is ultimately responsible for input to the review process.

If, for example, you have an organizational objective to achieve 100 percent on-time delivery, then you must know what your current on-time delivery record is. Once this is known, questions arise as to what activities create the greatest detriment to delivery and what metrics will most efficiently and consistently provide data about achieving the goal. Conversely, they may also help you discover what obstacles and challenges must be addressed if you haven’t made any progress toward the goal.

Appropriate metrics must be established and their significance interpreted. Using the on-time delivery example, a database might indicate the day an order was entered, the agreed-upon shipping date, any revised shipping dates and the actual day the material went out. The company must then ascertain what measure it will use for delivery performance. Will it be the originally promised date or the renegotiated concession it received from the customer?

In some volatile markets, wherein customers have frequent production fluctuations resulting in scheduling changes, the way in which you measure your capacity to meet on-time requirements is often an elusive and daunting undertaking. The conversation at the management meeting quickly digresses into a series of protests about how the numbers don’t really reflect the instances when XYZ Co. calls and shortens its delivery date by two weeks. Thus, regardless of the indicator being measured, it’s important to establish what the numbers truly reflect.

Assessing relevant processes

Once you’ve established reliable metrics for on-time delivery, you can look at the processes that affect the metric and decide what you’ll monitor and measure. Section 8 of ISO 9001:2000 provides useful information for this part of your process. Built into the clauses are requirements for analyzing the precise information you need to make sound decisions.

Clause 8.4 requires you to monitor and analyze the following:

Customer satisfaction

Conformity to product requirements

Characteristics and trends of processes and products, including opportunities for preventive action

Suppliers

You’ve already measured one aspect of customer satisfaction by analyzing your on-time delivery records. Analyzing data in the other three categories will give you information about which processes and organizational features negatively affect delivery. Do records show that you’re rejecting a lot of material at final inspection, resulting in time-consuming rework of nonconforming products? Do you have aging equipment that’s frequently down for repair? Has the spike in the use of temporary employees in a particular department outpaced your ability to train them adequately? Have there been repetitive occurrences of substandard material delivered by a key supplier? You can’t ascertain the magnitude of the effect any of these processes have on the stated objective if you’re not monitoring and measuring them.

The features you measure should provide you with the information you need to make decisions about where, and to what extent, you’ll allocate your limited resources. The various process owners are responsible for gathering the raw data and presenting them to you in a format that’s helpful in making those decisions.

In many organizations, committing to fact-based decision making has led to a proliferation of data gathering. Unfortunately, without considering what you measure and how you do so, you end up with a lot of numbers that don’t really mean anything. Spend some time selecting the best indicators, and then ensure consistency in the monitoring, measurement and analysis of the data that’s produced. Apply the Pareto principle to your decision. If a particular feature or attribute has minimal influence on the stated objective, why waste precious time measuring it? Concentrate on the significant few. If you don’t know what’s significant, then you must do an assessment and find out.

Clause 5.6.2 defines the inputs into management review. Most have already been mentioned. There are also requirements to review the results of internal audits--another valuable tool for regularly assessing the status of your organization. Additionally, one of the most underutilized tools contributing to this process’s effectiveness is the requirement to review and follow up on action items from previous reviews. This ensures the continuity and relevance of performance measures as indicators of achieving organizational objectives. It also spawns the next iteration of the cycle, allowing for adjustments to measurable goals and redeployment of personnel and resources.

Planning the review

Planning and preparation are as critical to management review as they are to any other process in the organization. Along with the need to gather data is the requirement to ensure that individuals have the resources to produce the requisite analysis. Resources might include:

Training on tools such as SPC, spreadsheets and databases

Time to analyze data

Familiarity with the requisite format for presenting data

Providing these resources offers the added benefit of communicating the value management places on the contribution these process owners can make. Let them know that what they do matters.

Once all the process owners understand what they must provide, it’s possible to begin planning the review.

Frequency should be determined early on. A semiannual review schedule doesn’t tie up managers with many extra meetings. But frequency also contributes to the review’s reputation as an important function. Unfortunately, infrequent meetings minimize the opportunity for the interactions that form the cornerstone of the review. If you meet only once or twice a year, then you lose the chance to adjust measurable objectives and allocate resources in a timely manner. You’re also deprived of the ability to use the data analysis tool to respond in real time to changes in the company. Therefore, the review’s frequency should be decided not as a matter of convenience but in light of its potential effectiveness.

The setting is also important. The worth that you assign to the review is reflected in your selection of meeting place. If you meet in an area that’s cramped, poorly lit, lacking appropriate audio/visual equipment or otherwise unsuitable, participants will perceive the review in the same tawdry light.

The person responsible for organizing the review, usually the ISO 9001:2000 management representative, should be given adequate time to plan and prepare. There should be an agenda that includes reports on all significant processes, opportunities for preventive actions, follow-up from the last review, re-assessment of the policy and objectives, and newly assigned action items. The agenda should reflect the understanding that the review plays a significant part in the company’s strategic planning process. It should be conducted with the same conscious intent and commitment.

Top managers must approach this process with their sleeves rolled up, ready to do their part in fulfilling customer requirements. This is their most important contribution to customer satisfaction.

About the author

Denise E. Robitaille is a consultant, writer and trainer. She’s also a lead assessor and certified quality auditor. Much of her work involves assisting companies with implementing and maintaining ISO 9001-compliant quality management systems. She’s the author of The Corrective Action Handbook, The Preventive Action Handbook,The Management Review Handbook and The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2000 Transition, all available from Paton Press (www.patonpress.com).