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Columnist Jack West

Photo:  Jack West


The People in Process Management

Employees are more than just another resource.



rganizations 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 management.

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 performance.

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 effectiveness.

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 difference.

About the author

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 standards.