A common process maturity level in many organizations is Phase Two — Documentation. Frequently, this is where organizations get stuck, and are not able to advance in their management system maturity. We’ve also covered Phase three — Process Stability. The next two levels in our process maturity model are called the third level Corrective Action Phase and the fourth level Preventive Action Phase, and we will see why they are so difficult to reach.

Finding Root Causes: Phase Four — Corrective Action Phase

The Corrective Action Phase is either about process re-design to address common cause variation, or it is about root-cause analysis to address special cause process variation. Deming pointed out that about 85% of process defects are the result of common cause variation, so it is important to understand this concept.

All processes have variable output (not completely consistent). The question to ask is, “Is the variation we experience common variation” In statistical terms we call this random variation. (If it is not random then the variation has a special cause.) This expected variation is really the capability envelope or capability range of the process. If you are unsatisfied with the capability of a process, then the only solution is to make the process more capable through a process re-design. The original design or documentation was done in Phase Two. Phase Three, which we call Process Stability, is basically the check step for Phase Two, where you ensure the process’s capability and take action to improve it as necessary.

A Cycle of Continuous Improvement

In Phase Four of the process maturity scale we are tweaking the process design in a cycle of continuous improvements. There are several methods you can use to accomplish this process improvement. Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is a design tool that can be used to understand and rank the customer’s needs, wants, and desires, which make up the basis of your value proposition.

Six Sigma uses a host of quality tools to manage the whole corrective phase. DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) is the acronym for the Six Sigma process of corrective action. But corrective action is internally focused on how we correct common or special causes of variation. If we continue down this path we will eventually realize a diminishing return on our efforts, as we focus on smaller and smaller problems.

Once we start reaching diminishing returns (i.e. the investment of time and money needed to correct the problem outweighs the benefits gained) through correcting problems, the goal should be to move past the Corrective Action Phase. We need to start thinking more externally and about what could go wrong, but hasn’t yet. We are ready to employ tools used in the Preventive Action Phase: Benchmarking, Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA), Design For Six-Sigma (DFSS), or Poka-Yoke.

Phase Five — Preventive Action Phase

The Preventive Action Phase is all about preventing defects and errors before they occur. We need a really good system for customer feedback, benchmarking, and external data collection. In addition, our employees need to be flexible, be willing to try something new, and be unafraid of mistakes or critical comments.

The organization as a whole should be spending more time on preventing defects than correcting them. Management, however, has to be careful not to harvest the profits from all of our good work using job cuts (known as the Iron Law of Layoffs). “When product quality is bad use quality engineers, when product quality is good lay off the quality engineers.” If we lay off the quality engineers, then who is going to focus on problems that have not occurred yet? After all, isn’t that why there are fewer defects? Once you lay off the quality engineers then the defects will start coming back, and you have started a vicious cycle.

We may start to use Hoshin Kanri for strategy implementation and we may start new market development. As we venture into uncharted waters, we are actually reentering Phase One again with new processes and methods. Now we are back to the Reaction Phase. The cycle is complete.

management systemImplementing An Effective Management System

Now we have discussed all five phases of management system maturity. It starts out as reactive, moves into documentation, and then stability before we can really have corrective and preventive actions. Yet, many companies try to implement it all at once and get overwhelmed, or they get stuck somewhere in the first two phases. Few organizations are able to implement a truly effective management system of well-defined policies, procedures and processes.

Have you figured out which phase your organization is in? If you are like many, you might think your organization is a composite of all of the phases. This could mean that you are trying to do a little bit of everything. Or maybe some of your processes are farther along than others. Either way, it is a good idea to align the organization to the same goals and try to get all of your processes to the same maturity level.

Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link. It will be more important to have all of your core processes complete Phase Two, where all processes are documented and you began to keep important process records, than to have a collection of processes at different phases. Your weakest process could hold the others back.

But that shouldn’t stop you from implementing your strategy now that you know how it’s done. Step through the phases one at a time. Do your best to get out of the reactive phase as soon as possible.

If you need help, give us at Bizmanualz a call. We can start with a simple Gap Analysis that will identify what where you are in your process maturity and clarify what your next step should be. With a little help from a company like Bizmanualz, you could achieve the effectiveness you are looking for in your management system.