Process management is a concept that integrates quality/performance excellence into the strategic management of organizations. It is Category 6.0 of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Process management includes (1) process design or engineering, which is the invention of new processes; (2) process definition, which requires the description of existing processes; (3) process documentation; (4) process analysis and control; and (5) process improvement.
Process design and definition include describing what must be done and how it is to be accomplished. After defining a process, it must be documented using a flowchart, a process map, or even a simple checklist. Until the process is described and documented, one cannot be assured that a process is in place. At that point, the process can be analyzed and improved.
There are many process analysis tools, including cause-and-effect diagrams, statistical process control, and trend analyses. Process improvement may result from gradual, continuous improvement or a dramatic reinvention or reengineering of the process.
Process management can trace its roots back to the early days of industrial engineering and quality management (quality control and quality engineering). The earliest focus was on streamlining factory processes to increase productivity. However, process management concepts are now used in all types of organizations to improve process baselines (safety, quality, cycle time, productivity, on-time delivery, etc.), as well as to improve financial and operational results.
In 1911, Frederick Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. Some of his ideas are the predecessors for modern industrial engineering tools and concepts that are used to reduce cycle time and/or improve productivity. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth also used time and motion studies to improve processes and to increase productivity by evaluating how much time it took to do each task within a process, and the best way to do each task (the motions involved). Their work and personal lives were publicized in the book, Cheaper by the Dozen.
One of the world's leading experts on improving the manufacturing process, Shigeo Shingo, created with Taiichi Ohno, many of the features of just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing methods, systems, and processes that constitute the Toyota Production System. Much of Shingo's work is documented in books he has written, such as A Study of the Toyota Production System From An Industrial Engineering Viewpoint (1989).
Experts in the field of quality developed many process-management concepts and tools:
Examples of simple, essential questions in process thinking are:
A process is a series of connected steps or actions with a beginning and an end that can be replicated. Organizations should be viewed as a set or hierarchy of processes that produce outputs of value to a customer, as well as a set of functions such as engineering, manufacturing, accounting, and marketing.
The most successful organizations are managed from a horizontal (process) perspective, as well as from a vertical (function) perspective. Understanding an organization from the process perspective will cause changes in the way one thinks about people and processes as depicted in Figure 1.
Examples of processes in various organizations are included in the following list. Please note that many of the processes could be found in all the various organization types.
A process involves the steps or stages by which inputs such as people, materials, methods, machines, and environment are transformed into outputs (products and services).
Because a transformation process exists to satisfy customer requirements, process owners need to understand who their customers are, what they want, and how to provide what they want. The customers of a process are the people who require the products and services that are the result of the process or one phase of the process. They are classified as: (1) external customers-people who ultimately use the products and/or services (process outputs or work results) of an organization; and (2) internal customers—the owners of the next phases in the process who must wait for the delivery of a product or service before completing work.
External and internal customers must be satisfied if organizations are to experience the highest levels of success. Individuals and teams must understand their roles as suppliers to internal and external customers if customer satisfaction is to be a reality. At the same time, individuals and teams must act as internal customers who communicate requirements to internal suppliers.
Concepts relating to customer/supplier relationships and satisfaction are as follows:
Individuals and team members should ask internal customers and suppliers, "How am I doing?" and "What did you expect compared to what I gave you?" The answer will assist in improving processes, products, services, and relationships.
Basically, customers want to be their suppliers' first priority. They want (and deserve) perfect products and services delivered on or ahead of schedule at the lowest possible cost. They expect suppliers to be in the improvement mode of operation so that the customers are assured of paying a competitive price.
Perfection is the aspiration, level-improvement is the goal. Whatever today's standard is, tomorrow's customers will require more. It is the responsibility of the supplier to remain on a journey toward perfection; to determine current baselines for important customer requirements such as safety, quality, schedule, and cost; and to determine what process and relationship improvements are necessary to improve those baselines.
One of the things that must be done when evaluating and improving processes is to establish process baselines. The baselines for quality, schedule, and cost are so interwoven that it is difficult to measure and improve one of them without considering the other. This is as it should be since customers want the highest quality products and services on or ahead of schedule and at the lowest possible price.
If you improve the quality of processes and relationships, you can expect other baselines (e.g., quality, schedule, and cost) to improve. While quality, schedule, and cost are measured as separate baselines, long-term improvement is interdependent and process focused.
Customers expect speed of delivery as well as quality. Therefore, objectives of process management are customer satisfaction and retention through the improvement of quality and cycle time. In order to satisfy and retain external customers, suppliers should:
The process owners (the people who actually do the jobs) are the most knowledgeable about the processes by which they accomplish their work. Therefore, if process evaluation and improvement becomes an integral part of daily work, safety improvement, defect prevention, and cycle-time reduction can become a reality. Process owners are those empowered to do work, improve how they do the work, and accept accountability as process owners.
An essential concept in process management is that all processes have improvement potential. If organizations only focus on current processes, current problems, and doing the things that are currently done, they may eventually encounter a variety of problems, such as:
People who know the most about processes and who are most capable of evaluating and improving them are process owners—people who are accountable for process output or results. However, feedback from customers and suppliers contributes a great deal to improvement.
Examples of data a customer could provide include (1) whether the product or service meets the customer's needs/expectations; (2) whether there are any defects or discrepancies; and (3) whether the product or service is delivered on-time or early.
Examples of data suppliers could provide are (1) whether the customer's requirements (e.g., purchase orders) were clear and understandable; and (2) whether
Improvement may be gradual and continuous (i.e., kaizen, continuous process improvement), or it may be dramatic process redesign (i.e., process reengineering). The differences between the two are depicted in Figure 2.
Both gradual, continuous improvement and process reengineering should be an integral part of process management and improvement.
The following are some of the things people can do to improve processes:
When process-improvement efforts fail, it is generally because people have a deficiency in knowledge—they do not know what actions to take. They should be trained on specific improvement methodologies, and they should be held accountable for documenting improvement results.
Improvement team members generally need a model that provides them common knowledge about what they are required to do individually and as a team, such as the Golden Pryor Improvement Checklist in Figure 3.
The concept of value implies worth; value is something that a customer would expect to pay for, such as labor to design, build, and deliver a product or service. Customers want to pay for perfect products and services delivered on or ahead of schedule at the lowest reasonable cost. They only want to pay for activities that add value to products and services, and to processes and relationships that impact the products and services.
Organizational leaders are accustomed to measuring things that are important to themselves. They also need to measure items that are important to customers. Improving process results does not require sophisticated measurements. It requires systematic identification and elimination of root causes of problems, process constraints, and activities that do not add value. It is as much continuous learning as it is continuous improvement. Improvement results from learning that is fed back and used as the basis for the next decisions.
Quality products and services are the result of quality processes that exist because of quality people who build quality relationships and streamline processes. Specific measurements must be established for individual phases of a process in addition to the final process output. The following can apply in any organization in any industry:
This essay focused on process management as it relates to existing processes, not the invention of new processes, products, and services. Process management requires process design (new processes) or definition (existing processes); process documentation; process analysis and control; and process improvement.
Essential elements in process management include: (1) Understanding process thinking, including process ownership; (2) Identifying and satisfying customers' requirements; (3) Establishing process baselines and measurement; (4) Analyzing and improving processes through the use of quality and industrial engineering concepts and tools; and (5) Understanding how to use gradual, continuous process improvement and rapid, dramatic process redesign or reengineering.
Process management is the job of every employee of every organization in every industry.
Mildred Golden Pryor
Revised by Wendy H. Mason
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