PROCESS

ខែតុលា 8, 2012 at 5:12 ល្ងាច បញ្ចេញមតិ

The process is more important than the result

by Phil Cohen

Many of the tools of quality management are based around the concept of a ‘process’. The simplest example of a process is a manufacturing production line. Raw materials go in one end, labour and machinery are used on the line, and the finished goods come off the other end.

The key here is that the focus is not on the people operating the line (although they are important), and it’s not on the products that come off the end of the line, but on the process that produced them.

There is a nice story to illustrate this: in a US jet engine factory, a defective engine has just been produced – it has a cracked turbine blade. The engine is due for delivery today, and there are six engineers working on it to try to fix it. In their process-oriented Japanese competitor’s plant, a defective jet engine has also been produced, also with a cracked turbine blade. It’s also due for delivery today, but no-one is trying to fix it. Instead, there are six engineers trying to figure out how the blade got cracked in the first place.

This is an example of ‘process improvement’, where the focus of the organisation is not so much on production outputs as on the development and improvement of the production process. The long-term effect of this focus is to improve quality; fixing only the product does not improve quality long-term.

Non-manufacturing organisations can also be seen as collections of processes. A software development company has a software development process, with user requirements being fed in one end, and finished software coming out of the other. Clerical functions are also processes. And all processes can be improved.

People are important in process improvement, because the people operating the process are the ones who have the best ideas for its improvement. The operator (or clerk) who watches the process all day will already know how to improve it, if only they are asked in the right way.

Many managers concentrate on trying to improve the performance of a process by motivating the people operating it. There is usually a waste of time – after all, motivation does not improve output permanently, even if it improves it short-term. This is true even in the sales process – there is ample evidence that sales commissions improve motivation, but less hard evidence that motivation increases sales. A permanent improvement in sales can only be achieved by improving the process – installing sales tracking software, or buying better prospecting lists, or providing more staff training.

Seeing an organisation as a collection of processes (rather than departments) is often illuminating. Departments seem to be designed merely to keep specialists apart: the engineers in one department, the marketing people in another. But the product development process requires them to work together. Reorganising along process lines creates a product development department which has marketing and engineering specialists operating in a team.

A useful tool for looking at processes is a ‘process map’. This shows each major process in the organisation, with lines showing the flow of information or materials between them. Also on the diagram is the ‘process owner’ – the manager who is responsible for that process. And often added are the major ‘process variables’, such as rate of throughput, or rate of errors.

Both Total Quality Management (TQM) and Quality Assurance (QA) view an organisation as a collection of processes. Their emphasis is different: QA looks at formalising and documenting processes, while TQM looks at process improvement.

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