Have you ever wondered why so many organizations have improvement approaches like Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, or PDCA underway, but never seem to make significant changes in operating performance and outcomes for customers? Or why they are always reacting to problems? Most of the time it’s because they’re trying to improve a process or system that is not stable, or in control. In other words, they want to fix a process that isn’t being managed. That’s like creating a solution for an unknown cause.

What is Process Management?

Process Management is a systematic approach for consistently achieving one or more desired outcomes. It involves identifying the activities needed to meet customer requirements and ensuring, through training and proper monitoring, that those activities are followed every time, as planned. Process stability is dictated by how consistently the process activities are followed.

How does one go about controlling a process? Following are important elements for ensuring process stability:

  1. Determine who the customers are for the process and what their requirements are.
  2. Convert the requirements into measures. Those measures will usually reflect quality, costs, and timeliness. These will be the customer-focused outcome measures, critical to their satisfaction.
  3. Set targets for the measures based on the customers’ stated requirements. This is called “the Voice of the Customer” (VOC).
  4. Examine the process to determine how it works, and if its scope can produce the measured outcomes and targets.
  5. Collect data for the measures to determine what the process is saying. This is “the Voice of the Process” (VOP).

When the VOP consistently falls short of the VOC, then the process is not capable of satisfying the customer. But, is it stable? To get a hint at the answer, we can review the data we collected. Assume you have 12 weeks of data, or 12 data points for the number of late deliveries. The average was 20 weekly late deliveries over the 12 weeks, the highest was 26 late in week #8, and the lowest was 14 late in week #4. All other weeks were between the high and the low, with half the data points above average and half below. You do not recall any unusual occurrences during those 12 weeks-it was pretty much business as usual. To understand stability, collect data for another 6 or 7 weeks to see if the process is performing within the high of 26 and the low of 14. If so, then, in the absence of calculating statistical control limits, it is probably stable, or in control. It may be performing poorly and not capable, but it is in control, given its design and how it is being managed.

Why is Process Management Important?

Process Management is the foundation for improving performance and satisfying customers. Process owners strive to ensure the VOP and the VOC are in alignment. When they are not, data collected is analyzed to determine why. We can now learn from the process and make positive change.

This will be discussed in Part 2: What is Process Improvement?

Note: To determine if a process is in statistical process control, 30 output data points are needed where it is known that the process activities were followed.