The People in Process Management
Organizations intent on conforming to ISO 9001:2000
should look carefully at some of the specific processes
that make up their quality management systems. They must
identify not only the system’s interactions but also
the resources required for operation, control, monitoring,
measurement and improvement. Too often, a process that’s
well defined and documented might run for years without
any real improvement or change. One reason this happens
is managers fail to fully appreciate the role played by
the employees who keep a process up and running.
There are eight quality management principles listed in
ISO 9004:2000’s clause 4.3, Quality management systems--Guidelines
for performance im-provements. These provided key input
during the development of ISO 9001 requirements. Each principle
influenced the requirements differently. However, the one
that’s most directly reflected in the requirements
concerns process approach. This principle states that “a
desired result is achieved more efficiently when activities
and related resources are managed as a process.” When
managed properly, the process approach can lead to quality
excellence. The key word here, of course, is “managed.”
In the past, organizations used flowcharts to understand
processes without really defining how they would be managed,
controlled, monitored, measured and improved. Flowcharts
alone can’t do these things.
Processes are the means by which things get done. They’re
behind every positive transformation and value-adding change.
They’re also the way things stay stabilized, controlled
and consistent. Process management is the first prerequisite
to reducing variation. Used correctly, it can significantly
improve quality and productivity. Thus, processes and their
management are important. Some might argue that overseeing
them is the most important thing managers can do.
Is managing processes more important than leading people?
I don’t think so. Ultimately, it’s true that
an organization is nothing but processes and associated
resources--including people. But how effective or realistic
is a boss who considers employees as just another resource?
After all, without people an organization couldn’t
create, monitor, measure, control or improve its processes.
Processes are important, but it’s people who make
them work. That being the case, it becomes critical to get
the people who are involved in a process fully engaged in
their work and involve them in process management activities
for improvement. Employees who work with specific processes
every day are best able to manage them. Involving these
people in process development is the key to successful process
Employees involved in a process can talk to customers
and identify outputs, reach agreements about how to measure
them and set targets. Likewise, they should talk to the
process suppliers to define and set targets for inputs and
decide how they should be measured.
The old saying, “Workers work in the process and
managers work on the process,” could use upgrading.
Those who work most closely with the process often do the
best job of analyzing it for duplication or nonvalue-adding
activities that can be combined or eliminated. These people
can be instrumental in reducing waste.
But if improving processes should be the job of process
operators, then what should managers do? To answer this,
let’s return to ISO 9004:2000’s clause 4.3 and
look at two more quality management principles. The leadership
principle states: “Leaders establish unity of purpose
and direction of the organization. They should create and
maintain the internal environment in which people can become
fully involved in achieving the organization’s objectives.”
Managers must ensure that their organizations allow everyone
to be fully engaged in the work and in improving overall
The involvement of people principle states: “People
at all levels are the essence of an organization and their
full involvement enables their abilities to be used for
the organization’s benefit.” Good leaders encourage
participation and innovation. They must welcome, listen
to and consider worthwhile ideas, then make certain they’re
developed into process changes that improve efficiency and
All of this takes both time and skillful management. It
requires a team approach, although many managers are more
comfortable doing the actual improvement work themselves.
They think solving problems and making improvements are
the fun parts of their jobs. But true leadership focuses
on involving everyone in process management. Managers must
learn that it’s even more fun to see team members
successfully implement real innovative changes that make
the business better. People, not processes, make all the
John E. (Jack) West is a consultant, business advisor
and author with more than 30 years of experience in a wide
variety of industries. He’s chair of the U.S. TAG
to ISO TC 176 and lead delegate for the United States to
the International Organization for Standardization committee
responsible for the ISO 9000 family of quality management