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Columnist Jack West

Photo:  Jack West


Taking Stock of the Bosses

A good management review is worth its weight in CEOs.




Few CEOs doubt the importance of continually improving products, processes and performance. But despite most organizations’ claims that they’re continually improving, some come and go while others survive for decades. Often an organization’s success is attributed to luck or the actions of a particularly clever CEO. But it’s more likely that successful, long-running organizations share three characteristics:

They’re continually learning and growing.

They have a way to determine the need to make basic changes in their products and management systems.

They use innovation to make those changes.


Wise leaders recognize that the long-term survival of their organizations depends upon their ability to continually:

Identify opportunities and threats, and plan changes.

Use innovation to understand strategies to meet new requirements.

Change objectives, targets and key processes to meet new needs.

Implement, maintain and improve a new quality management system to prepare the workforce for inevitable changes.


However, finding what to change to ensure a long-lived organization isn’t easy. Some organizations make it look easy; perhaps they’re among the lucky ones, or they know the secret of success. (If there is a secret, it’s a well-kept one.) It’s difficult to find the key changes that will make a system more effective and efficient if you focus only on individual products and processes. Certainly, continual work to improve products and processes is important, but it’s not the secret. The key is to find innovative changes that will positively affect the whole system. Sometimes these changes are big, but often they’re small. What matters is that they’re the critical issues for the organization’s survival. It’s difficult to pinpoint such issues unless you know a lot about the organization, and it’s almost impossible to focus sufficiently on the necessary changes if top managers aren’t engaged in the process.

So what does this business reality have to do with standards?

Management system standards such as ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 contain requirements to use the management system itself to determine the need for, and to make, changes. They also contain a crucial requirement for a management review process. It’s the job of top managers to perform the reviews and plan the changes to the system that are needed for the or--
ganization to prosper.

Management review can be seen as an activity that’s necessary to maintain the ISO certificate (a common circumstance) and executed via an agenda and a meeting that superficially addresses mandated items. Or it can be considered an opportunity for taking a hard look at how an organization is operating to meet both short- and long-term needs.

For quality professionals, it’s an opportunity to structure the management review process in a way that enables top managers to determine what must be changed and to monitor the planning and the execution of those changes to ensure that they’re effective.

The management review process must be set up so that it uncovers issues requiring immediate action to make certain that the system remains functional in the face of external or internal changes or new needs. Quality managers must recognize when external changes demand innovative internal adjustments. They must learn to put together the data and analyses that show what should be changed and why. They must also bring these issues to management reviews in ways that are easily understood. It’s a difficult task for quality managers to position issues requiring short-term change in a compelling manner to top management; to do so for issues that address long-term survival is a real challenge.

In these days of constantly changing business environments, chances are that your organization is threatened by changes in its surrounding environment. If you’re not doing so yet, now is the time to start looking for the changes you must make. Your management review process should result in changes to improve the system and ensure your organization’s sustainability. Management review meetings should always bring about some adjustment to the system—if you go two or three meetings without such an occurrence, start asking more questions! If a management review doesn’t result in change, you’re wasting your time—and much more important, your business is likely to fail.

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. From 1997 through 2005 he was 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 series of quality management standards. He remains active in TC 176 and is chair of the ASQ Standards Group