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A Toolbook for Quality Improvement and Problem Solving (contents)


The Quality Toolbook > Processes > Process managment and improvement

Process management | Process improvement | Reliability | Benchmarking | Process re-engineering


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Process management

Process management involves the management of all aspects of a process, as described above. Basic actions may include:

  • Finding the needs of customer processes and setting exit criteria accordingly.

  • Deriving the requisite inputs, setting entry criteria and ensuring that supplier processes will meet them.

  • Defining the actions, decisions and sub-processes within the process to:

  • Check that inputs meet entry criteria.

  • Transform the inputs into the required outputs.

  • Check that the actions within the process produce correct results (validation criteria).

  • Check that the outputs meet exit criteria.

    • Recording, analyzing and acting upon the checks made.

    • Determining the resources required to enact the process.

    • Motivating and controlling the people within the process.

    • Monitoring customer satisfaction and checking for changing needs.

    • Improving the process further.

Process improvement

Taking the above descriptions into account, broad actions to improve processes may include:

  • Changing exit criteria to define outputs that meet customer needs better.

  • Changing the actions within the process either to achieve the above or to perform the same process more efficiently or more reliably.

  • Changing entry criteria to achieve either of the above. This may mean working with a supplier to improve their process so that they can meet the new criteria.

  • Changing validation criteria to detect problems within the process better.


In addition to validation activities, processes can be made more reliable by designing them for mistake-proofing and robustness.


Mistake-proofing (also called Poka-Yoke) involves designing the process so that it cannot be done wrongly. For example, a location peg may have a lug put on it, to prevent it being inserted the wrong way around, thus:

Other mistake-proofing examples include:

  • Asymmetrically placed screw holes, so that parts cannot be assembled incorrectly.

  • A computerized telephone dialer that, given a person's name, automatically selects and dials the correct number.

  • A checklist of key activities that must be ticked off and signed before a customer order is dispatched.


Making a process robust involves using risk management techniques to identify key causes of variation that cannot be eliminated, and taking measures to prevent them from upsetting the overall running of the process. This typically involves building redundancy into the process, and requires a balancing of costs against potential damage. Robustness examples include:

  • Training several people in first aid, to cope with multiple accidents or absences.

  • Allowing time in a project schedule for identified possible risks.

  • Packing a parcel with polystyrene chips to prevent damage during transit.


Another approach to improving processes is through Benchmarking, where the process is compared with a similar process, either in another part of the company or in another company, which is recognized as being superior.

Benchmarking against external companies processes may be done as a collaborative exercise, for example where several companies work together, sharing information on common key processes. Competitive benchmarking involves analysis of available information about a competing company (for example, financial performance or reliability levels). This data is then used as a goal for your own improvement efforts.

The ideal process against which to benchmark process is one recognized as being 'best in industry'. In practice, the best may not be known, or information on it may be unavailable. In practice, the best processes against which to benchmark are those where sufficient information is available to allow your own processes to be significantly improved.

Process Re-engineering

When processes are significantly out of date, making incremental improvements may not enough and a more radical approach is required. Business Process Re-engineering (or BPR) implies going back to first principles and building processes from the ground up, starting with company goals and customer requirements and using whatever technology and methods are available to create an optimally effective and efficient business system.

BPR can run into problems where the significant change causes an equally significant reaction from the people involved, and results in the current cultural 'immune system' trying to reject the changes. To make BPR successful, as much if not more attention must be paid to the people as is paid to the processes, reassuring their fears and retraining them to work in the new organization.



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