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What is the process approach?

Imagine a small business, let’s call it ‘Pete’s Perfect Plumbing’. It has several regular customers, and a handful of bright, enthusiastic staff. Sounds good so far. But, interestingly, this business has no agreed processes.

On one day, a customer will call up Mandy (who answers the phones) with a plumbing issue and they’ll receive one service experience. The next day, a different customer will call, get Norman on the phone while Mandy’s busy, and experience an entirely different level of service. On the following Monday, the company hires Rich, a newbie plumber, and throws him – with his own cheeky style – into the melee without an induction.

Everyone doing their own thing. Everyone working to their own personal standards. In short, the left hand has no idea what the right is doing. Pete’s Perfect Plumbing might keep its head above water for a few months, but firstly, they’ve no hopes of a big contract, and second, they’re likely to go bust pretty promptly.

Why? Because businesses like Pete’s haven’t adopted a process approach to their business.

What is the process approach?

The ‘process approach’ is a management strategy that incorporates the plan-do-check-act cycle and risk-based thinking. It means that processes are managed and controlled. It also means that a business not only understands what its core processes are, but knows how they fit together.

To achieve compliance in ISO 9001:2015, an organisation must adopt the process approach. Each process is defined as a ‘set of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result’. An input can be tangible – in Pete’s case perhaps some plumbing hardware – and they can be intangible – such as the information that Mandy gathers when she answers a call. But what is key is that these inputs deliver an intended result, every time.

The process approach within the QMS

To work towards compliance, Pete’s Plumbing should adopt a quality management system (or QMS), whose very foundation is the process approach. This collection of business processes focuses on consistently meeting customer requirements and improving on them. The QMS integrates processes and measures to meet these objectives. In the words of the Standard itself: ‘Consistent and predictable results are achieved more effectively and efficiently when activities are understood and managed as interrelated processes that function as a coherent system.’

What next?

In short, Pete and his staff need to get around a table and write down what processes make their business work, how to regularly measure how well these processes are working, and find ways to keep improving. Once this information is down, every member of staff has a compass for their role in the company and how to move forward. Quite frankly, everyone is now singing from the same hymn sheet.

Through using the complementary methods of the process approach, risk-based thinking and the Plan Do Check Act system, businesses like Pete’s embed increased quality into the way they work. Staff know what they’re doing. Customers are happier. Hiring good staff, training and retention are all a bit more straightforward.

And you never know – by achieving compliance, Pete might even win that contract he’s been after and hit the big time.  

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