Understanding this information is essential for members of your management team, and also important for the rest of your organisation to know that 'top management' is taking care of business.
If your organisation is certified to any one of the ISO management system standards (eg. Quality, Safety, Environment, Information Security, etc), then this this is an important aspect of your management system that needs to be clearly understood and the associated roles and responsibilities clearly defined and documented.
Watch the video above, or read on to learn about the responsibilities of the management team.
There's often some confusion, even apprehension, within organisations when asked about top management commitment in the context of one of the ISO management system standards.
The implementation of a management system should be a strategic decision by top management. But commitment from top managers is not always clearly understood. So what exactly is considered to be "Top Management"?
Within the ISO 9000 series of standards, "Top Management" is defined as the person or group of people who directs and controls an organisation at the highest level.
Within the Quality Management System standard, ISO 9001, the responsibilities for Top Management include the following requirements:
That's a lot of actions, objectives and 'ensuring' for Top Management to do! And, yes, the above list is just a superficial summary of the clauses from the ISO 9001 standard. In this post I'm not discussing these specific requirements, their implementation or demonstrated effectiveness. That's another article.
But if you seriously consider it, who is responsible for any strategic planning within your organisation? They are the "Top Management".
Often Top Management is the board of directors, and it is they who should consider the above requirements when reviewing and setting the company vision and objectives.
In particular, note the link between meeting customer requirements and organisational objectives. This alignment should be visible throughout the organisation. All operations and business processes should be aligned with the organisational objectives and with meeting customer requirements.
Looking at it from an even more pragmatic point of view -
replace every instance of the word "quality" in this article with the word "strategic" ...
Like many commitments, it may be easy to promise, but takes hard work and continued focus to deliver.
The term Continuous Improvement is often considered as one of those things that businesses should do – much like being customer-centric. However, many businesses struggle to really make it part of their DNA and leverage the advantages that it can bring.
Continuous Improvement is both a mindset and a methodology for bringing ongoing improvements to products and services through a process of constant reviews, evaluations, and change.
The reasons why you may implement a Continuous Improvement Process and associated methods and procedures within your organisation does overlap with customer-centricity, given that the purpose for implementing improvements is to enhance the product and service delivery that your provide to your customers / clients. Establishing a process for improvement is a part of overall business process management.
There are plenty of (often heated) discussions around “continual” improvement versus “continuous” improvement. There are almost as many arguments for one over the other as there are various sources that advocate business improvement methodologies. Ultimately, the focus should be on the improvements themselves and ensuring that an effective process is implemented for managing them. For the purposes of this article, take it as read that these terms may be used interchangeably.
Continuous improvement models are fundamental to the methodologies of Lean, Six Sigma, DMAIC, to name a few. These all have their origins within manufacturing. It is also an underlying tenet of the ISO management system standards, eg. ISO 9001 Quality Management Standard, etc.
Since service industries and service jobs rapidly overtook manufacturing industries in the late 20th century, methodologies and management standards have also focused on service environments. This is reflected in the references that are now made to both products and services within various management system standards. In reality, businesses whose primary role is to produce products, still requires services to a certain degree, if for no other purpose than to enable product distribution.
Organisations rely on their internal processes to deliver products and services to customers. Ideally, these business processes are controlled and measured in ways that are appropriate to the activities that you undertake. The purpose of such controls is twofold:
To consider that businesses remain unchanged over time is naïve. Businesses undergo internal changes, through strategic decisions and changes in resources. In addition, businesses also have external changes imposed on them such as changes in market segments, regulatory changes, and supplier changes, to name a few.
Improvements are often identified by those employees who are actively undertaking given business processes. It is their initiative and efforts in identifying opportunities and improvements over time that that provide the biggest opportunity for change. This bottom-up improvement approach is particularly effective when the employees have the authority and a sense of ownership of the processes in which they are involved. This employee engagement, passed down from top management, will depend upon company culture, but is essential for the success of a continuous improvement strategy.
When identified, improvements need to be communicated to all stakeholders, and managed, through an appropriate mechanism. (Refer "Continuous Improvement Tools", below.)
To achieve improvement, we need some point of reference to know what it is that we are improving. Often referred to as a benchmark, this can take many forms. However, it is an integral element when considering continuous improvement. For example, if you accept that the current status is “normal”, how will you measure the impact of any changes you may implement? What is a suitable measure of that change?
It is important to recognise that managing continuous improvement is not the same as identifying and fixing errors, or even handling individual customer complaints. If errors are identified as part of normal checking, and prior to the errors impacting on a customer, then fixing those errors is just part of the standard process itself. If a customer does complain about the products or services that they have received, then there will be a process of customer satisfaction that should be followed, and that may feed into the continuous improvement process.
Identifying and correcting errors as part of a given activity, and managing customer feedback, are good examples of potential inputs to continuous improvement. But fixing a single instance of either of these is not continuous improvement.
The difference is when multiple instances of a given issue or concern point to a trend that needs to be corrected, or if a single issue is significant enough to be of greater concern. These are the issues that should be identified as opportunities for improvement and initiate the continuous improvement process that prevents the recurrence of the issue.
In addition, there is always the possibility of taking a proactive approach and identifying instances when an improvement that has been implemented in one area of the business, may also provide advantages in another area.
To be effective, Continuous Improvement itself should be treated as a business process. Like all processes, it comprises of several stages:
Any process is not really formalised, or therefore implemented, until it is defined, communicated, and agreed. For this to be done effectively, it needs to be documented in some way. This applies equally to the process of Continuous Improvement. The way in which the continuous improvement process is documented will vary depending on who is responsible to oversee the process, who actually completes it, and what is most appropriate for your business. The important point is that it is documented in some form and not just verbally agreed. It should also be documented in sufficient detail to minimise various interpretations, particularly when multiple persons may need to follow it.
For any process to be effective, relevant records need to be captured using a mechanism or tool that is appropriate for your business. For a process of continuous improvement this mechanism is typically a physical or digital form, the contents of which is then collated into a single register or database where it can be managed by relevant staff, teams, departments, etc, and overseen by relevant managers and leaders. Where it is appropriate, process improvement teams may be established to manage improvement projects, identify barriers to implementation, and coordinate improvement efforts across departments.
A popular approach for managing improvements is through recording:
This structured approach is founded in the PDCA Cycle
(Plan, Do, Check, Act Cycle).
The benefits of capturing and collating relevant data associated with all process improvement initiatives, includes allowing strategic decisions (eg. regarding opportunity cost associated with resourcing) to be based on statistical analysis of actual data rather than a purely emotive decision. These may include changes to strategies or objectives. Documenting these allows traceability of such decisions. This can be particularly important where some performance may be impacted.
Where improvements result in changes to procedures, it is essential that relevant documentation, process maps, etc, are included as part of the continuous improvement process and change management. Where necessary, changes may need to be communicated to staff through team training. Again, these decisions need to be made consciously and recorded appropriately as part of the ongoing effort of improvement.
These records may be captured within a single table or spreadsheet, or equally within a customised database or continuous improvement software platform.
The level of details in these records and the extent to which these tools add value to the continual improvement process, and even the tools deployed for managing continuous improvement processes, is often reflective of the maturity of the culture of improvement that is present within the organisation.
Importantly, it is the consistency of the use of these tools that will ultimately determine whether or not continuous process improvement is effective.
Once the tools are created and the continuous improvement process documented, then staff and teams need to be informed and trained in their use. This should be followed up by checking and reinforcing that appropriate opportunities for continuous improvement are identified, recorded, and managed. Without this follow-up and reinforcement, the process cannot be considered to be implemented or effective.
Businesses are comprised of a series of activities and processes that combine to:
Combined they form the fabric of the business that is the business management system.
An established, implemented, systematic approach to the Continuous Improvement Process drives changes that lead to improvements within the overall management system and the company itself. Given that customers are the reason why organisations exist, improvements should lead to improved experiences for your customers.
While some improvements are driven by your internal team, others may be driven by factors external to your company. In each case, they should be acknowledged for what they are and managed through the same process.
Ultimately, having a defined continuous improvement process established and implemented, is essential for your company to effectively manage improvements in a structured way that aligns with your adopted continuous improvement model. This also ensures that the members of your team understand that their efforts and ideas for improvement will be appreciated and effectively managed.
Most active business leaders take an approach to improving business process flows through a structured strategy of continuous process improvement.
Historically, business process flows have been documented in written procedures using business process modelling notation, process flowcharts, and related methodologies.
The software tools available now may have been refined at corporate and enterprise levels. However, they have evolved into a new generation of products that are accessible enough to be managed in-house and scalable to any sized organisation, regardless of the types of business environments in which you operate.
Stop being a slave to inefficient, poorly defined workflows and practices. Allow your staff to focus on relationships, core competencies, and results, by leveraging the latest generation of software tools that are available today.
Staff should not be impeded by poor internal communications, poor customer communications, unclear processes, a lack of responsibility, or lack of accountability. If your business is not taking advantage of the time-saving productivity tools that are readily available today, then you can be sure that your business is slipping behind your competitors!
The days of managing business processes by training staff to complete repetitive tasks on assembly lines, has only limited application in today's service-oriented business environment. Organisations are leveraging the technology that is now available to assist in providing improved services to customers, while ensuring efficiency improvements within their operations.
Cloud-based, no-code applications and low-code applications have matured to a point where they are scalable, customisable, and intuitive; readily capable of managing and automating your business processes.
It is no longer just the "top end of town" who are using technology to improve the effectiveness of their businesses. A recent study by Deloitte found that 77% of business leaders believe that the digitisation of business processes would have the biggest impact on their organisations in the next 3 years.
Technology and software have now reached a level of maturity that ensures that it is cost effective for managing:
For businesses to be successful, they need to have clearly defined business goals that are regularly reviewed and managed in the constantly shifting economic and social landscape of today. A fundamental input to planning is having reliable data available that can be used on for analysis and decision making.
Every business relies on a variety of resources - from staff to time, from monetary investment to physical workspaces. Being able to identify at any point in time, what resources are available, and aligning them with activities to be undertaken, is an essential part of every business.
Identifying regulatory compliance and other industry obligations is crucial for all businesses. Historically it is an area that has often received much less focus, to the point of turning a blind eye. Responsible business leaders take compliance management seriously, ensuring that requirements are understood and effective controls are established. Fortunately, technology is also helping facilitate the management of compliance obligations.
All businesses know that there are constant challenges to reduce costs, increase revenue, and improve customer service. Meeting these challenges requires a structured approach that is implemented throughout the business. Software systems and associated technology has reached a point now where this is very manageable and cost effective.
All of the above are necessary for better management of business processes, communications, and workflow.
In fact, 78% of business leaders believe that employees would save 60 hours every month with process automation in place. (Ref 2020 In(Sight) Report)
The good news is that today, business process automation (BPA) and robotic process automation (RPA) have reached a point where it is not just viable for businesses to adopt, but these technologies are accessible, cost effective, and no longer require in-house programmers or contract programmers to manage and maintain.
Improving business process flow no longer means putting change requests to a software development team just to set up new form for your users, or a new report for your managers. Gone are the days of waiting days or weeks for those requests to be acknowledged or actioned by faceless programmers, who did not understand your business or operational imperatives.
All of this can now be managed by your own staff, as easily as they may, for example, add data to a spreadsheet. The added benefits are that these workflow software solutions allow your your employees to be empowered to manage their own workflows, while allowing transparency to those who need it, and ensuring that accountability is also readily assigned, communicated, and managed.
All specialty disciplines have their own lingo. Within every discipline there also exists experts with their own opinions, theories, and practices. It is interesting to note that many terms within specialties are often reduced to three-letter acronyms — otherwise known as TLAs (!).
Depending on who you ask, digital process automation (DPA) and robotic process automation (RPA) are considered the same. In other circles, DPA is considered to be more aligned with business process automation (BPA) and the approach taken to an overall digital transformation project.
We take the view that any process automation needs to be considered within the overall, end-to-end, business process management (BPM) and process workflow. Anything else is not best business practice or effective change management.
Ultimately, these acronyms and definitions are much less important than the outcomes and benefits that business process technologies of today can bring to your organisation and to your customers.
Learning how to automate your business processes should not be so onerous as to impede its implementation. In particular, automating those "low hanging fruit" activities and steps in your business process flow, should be simple enough to be established by your staff, with very little training, very quickly — it must be intuitive. Today's no-code and low-code technology makes this possible, bringing immediate benefits to any business.
When implementing any change management program, there are significant benefits to be realised through "quick wins", while still maintaining a vision on the big picture and ultimate goal(s). But that does necessitate mapping out the big picture in the first place.
Often the simplest automations come through identifying and replacing the internal paper forms or email requests that are actively in use to manage repetitive tasks. They are typically used by multiple staff, very frequently, and can often be onerous for one or more staff members to manage and/or oversee.
External customer requests may present a similar challenge that can be readily improved through simple automation. Customer satisfaction is key to ensuring that your business remains competitive. When implemented well, the automation of customer requests should add value to the customer experience while also improving the effectiveness of your customer process(es).
It is important to recognise that both customisation and automation are readily available, and easily implemented, within using today's process automation tools and software solutions.
If you undertake any of these activities, there are aspects that can readily be automated.
Doing so will dramatically improve communication, transparency, and accountability between staff involved in these activities.
However, two key elements are required for any business process management implementation project:
Leadership should be a given. Clear communication from top management, about any business process change, is essential for change to be effective.
A lack of effective leadership communication often results in employee experience being poor, which in turn presents further challenges to the effectiveness of any changes.
Involving key employees, making them part of the changes, provides the opportunity for ownership and effective implementation. For example, involving them in the exercise of business process mapping, identifying business rules, and overall business process flow, dramatically impacts on employee engagement. Again, this is an essential element for change to be effective.
The degree to which automation is implemented in your organisation, is predominantly limited by your imagination. This is great news given that you and your staff can readily implement processes improvements, without significant training. At the same time, any software automation solution must be able to easily be adaptable and change with the changing needs of your business — it must be scalable.
Most medium sized businesses do not have the luxury of employing full time Chief Information Officers (CIOs); small businesses cannot typically even consider such a resource.
When it comes to automation, it should be able to be implemented seamlessly using your existing human resources and skills, to the point of improving process effectiveness and consistency, without adding a huge overhead, but while still keeping control in-house. This also ensures that the systems implemented are appropriate and match the business needs, business activities, business process flow, and resources of your organisation.
Of course, there is always the option of utilising consultants to facilitate the planning and implementation of any automation project. In fact, the impartial nature of consultants brings many significant benefits, particularly to planning the big picture while also leveraging experience and knowledge at the detail-level.
Read more about our preferred software platform for business process automation here.
To conduct a series of internal audits for a professional services organisation in line with the requirements of the ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems standard.
The organisation had its annual surveillance audit scheduled within four months of contacting us. It's management system was said to be well documented, but planned internal audits had not been completed due to a lack of resources. Demands on staff had increased in recent months with the organisation expanding its product delivery into more markets.
We reviewed the register used to log non-conformances and improvement recommendations and noted that there were a number of outstanding issues that dated back more than six months.
We identified at least six key documented procedures and conducted internal audits on them and their associated records. Concurrent with this was a review of the Quality Manual, various policies and gaining a greater insight of the overall management system and workflow.
As with many projects, a by-product was the increased communication and collaboration among the management team and between management and other staff. In improving the level of understanding across all staff, the management team were able to rectify some misconceptions and poor practices that had crept into the workflow. It also raised awareness of how the management system underpinned their operations and the need to keep procedures and records up to date.
After completing the internal audits, we were able to provide resources for guidance and facilitation of our recommended changes. We also assisted in establishing tools for data analysis and templates for improving various record registers and schedules.
And, YES, the organisation maintained its certification, without any non-conformances, following the subsequent external audit.
How are your customers really being treated?
Every day, staff are interacting with customers.
What impression do customers take away from their experience with your staff?
Consider the following interaction between the service staff at a car dealership and a long standing customer requesting a routine car service.
Customer: "How long do you need the car for?"
Staff Member: "We should have it ready for you to pick up by 4pm."
Customer: "That's fine. Can you also look at the lock mechanism on the front passenger door. It sometimes takes a couple of goes to get it to lock."
Staff Member: "Yes, we can take a look at that for you."
Customer: "Can you also look at the brakes? There's a slight pulsing in the pedal, particularly when braking to a complete stop.
Staff Member: "Sure. We'll check it out and let you know."
Customer: "Ok. I'll see you at 4. You have my phone number if you need to contact me during the day."
(Staff member confirms correct phone number.)
Customer (to others waiting): "This is ridiculous!"
Fellow Customer: "Yes, I won't be coming back here again!"
Staff: "Your vehicle is ready."
Staff Member: "We completed the service. You need new tires. We couldn't find the problem with your brakes, but you need new pads soon, so that should fix it."
Staff Member: "The problem with the passenger door lock is that the mechanism needs to be replaced."
Customer: "Why didn't you let me know? Don't you have the tyres and brake pads in stock? What about the door lock?"
Customer: "I'm here to have the new door lock fitted."
Staff Member: "Ah yes. Let's get that done for you right away. Sorry for the problems last time. We were really busy. Our survey department received your customer feedback form. We hope you will give us full marks for today."
Customer: "We'll see."
Staff Member: "You know, we receive a bonus when we get good scores on customer surveys. And we get the best scores in the city for our service. I actually share my bonus with my colleague, and he shares his with me, so we always come out on top."
Staff Member: "All done. Be sure to give us a positive report when our customer survey team contact you."
Is this how staff treat your customers or clients? What incentives do you provide your staff for satisfying your customer's needs? If your staff are not placing the interests of your customers first, then your customers will not stick around.
Your customer service, and more specifically, the experience of your customers, IS YOUR BRAND!
Take a look at this recent post, Wake-Up – Take customer experience seriously by Torben Rick. It includes a great infographic with 8 key points to consider about customer experience.
This customer will not be purchasing another vehicle of this make any time soon; and definitely not without some solid evidence of a major turnaround in their customer service attitude and training.
Given that this has proven to be an endemic issue with this organisation, there's obviously a need for change at the top management level. It's important to recognise that within any organisation, the attitude of its staff is a reflection of the attitude of its leaders.
How much is the attitude of the leadership in your organisation contributing to bad customer experience?
How much is bad customer experience costing your business?
Business process mapping is one of many tools used in developing a process based management system. It provides a pictorial representation of a process. In this context, a business process is a series of steps within a specific activity that combine to produce a required outcome. Clearly understanding, defining, and mapping a business process is always the first step down the path of continuous improvement.As a representation of "the way things are done", process maps are important as a communication tool for providing:
It is the first or second generation of process documentation that organisations often struggle with, and which is the focus of this article. The goal of the initial creation of a business process map is to benchmark the process for reference and future improvement.
The goal of the initial creation of a business process map is to benchmark the process
If you've never analysed a business process or tried to map a process, then the prospect may be daunting.
As in many areas of business, there are a number of recognised standards that may be used for process mapping. A quick search for business process mapping will uncover information on "flowcharts", "workflows", "BPMN", "swimlane diagrams", and "process modelling", to name a few. (Refer to the list of Abbreviations under the Resources menu.)In the first instance, the standard or format that you use to create a process map should be the one that is easiest for you to implement. Follow the principle of keeping it simple. After all, the initial purpose of process mapping is to create the content and communicate the content - capturing individual's ideas and creating a record of what is known about a process.The medium you use to start creating your process map will often be a large sheet of paper or whiteboard, remembering that you are likely to make multiple changes before you settle on a working version.
The other reason for initially drawing a business process on a whiteboard, is that this an exercise best undertaken by a group, where all team players contribute by brainstorming the steps that make up the process - it is rare that only one person is involved in a given process; involving all stakeholders will facilitate buy-in across the team.Once the content of your process map is agreed upon, then you can transfer it into a drawing package that can be used to create and manage the agreed version and future changes.
Q: "What program should I use to draw my business process map?"
A: "Which ever drawing software you have available and are most familiar with." Often the easiest to use is what you already have available. In many instances, this will be one of the applications from the Microsoft® Office suite - Word, PowerPoint, or Excel. While none of these are specifically just drawing applications, all of these have drawing capabilities as part of their functionality. (If you need to enhance this functionality, you may consider an add-in such as Flowbreeze for Excel by BreezeTree Software.) Open source office software suites have comparable drawing functionality.
Be aware that there are also some good cloud-based (SaaS) solutions emerging. Depending on your organisation, and how your workers interact with resources, these may be viable considerations. One which we have found to be particularly effective is Miro.
As process documentation matures within an organisation, the additional features of applications such as Microsoft® Visio can be beneficial. The advantages of applications such as Visio for drawing business processes, is the capacity to define specific meta data that sits behind each object in your process map. Such data effectively becomes a database of information that complements your process map. The point at which this becomes beneficial will depend on the complexity of the processes and the number of stakeholders involved (or size of the organisation).
Q: "Should I map my process from left to right, or top to bottom?"
A: "It makes no difference. The specific process itself may dictate that it is easier to format in one orientation than another."
In developing a process map, remember that it is as much about identifying the steps that exist within a process as it is about identifying the order in which the steps occur. The orientation or layout is secondary to the steps and their order.
A business process map should be considered as a dynamic diagram - it is not set in concrete; it changes over time as people, processes, and technologies change. Ideally, the validity of process maps should be regularly tested and adjusted where required.
By documenting your process(es) through process mapping, you are creating a benchmark to work from and improve upon. Quite often, the very act of brainstorming your business process among the relevant team members and stakeholders, will raise questions, improve collaboration, and uncover improvements. Depending on how well established a process is (its level of maturity), and whether or not there are any recent changes that impact on the process, there can be benefits in mapping out an initial process, then re-drawing it to represent the way that it needs to be. This is sometimes referred to as drawing both the "as-is" state and the "to-be", or "future" state.
Once you've completed an initial process map, ask whether there are steps that are redundant or steps that can be rearranged to improve efficiency.
The important aspect here is to provide a basis for ongoing, continuous improvement. Something that can be refined over time, as and when influencing factors change. Factors that can impact on your now documented process map(s) include:
As with many challenges, trying to find solutions by yourself is not always the best strategy. This is definitely the case when it comes to business process mapping. It can often be that business process improvements are more readily identified through a fresh set of eyes, by someone who is impartial to the situation.
This is where an experienced business process improvement consultant can provide significant value. The short term cost can lead to significant long term gains.
If you have a specific Business Process Mapping project requirement that you feel we may be able to assist you with, either now or in the near future, then tell us about your project here. We love helping others solve the challenges of business process mapping and process improvement.
Further reading: Business Process Improvement
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