Your management system consists of business processes that interact with each other through documents and records. Yet in many companies the system appears to be functioning whether anything is documented or recorded. Can this be an effective management system? It depends on the process management maturity and the QMS Maturity Levels of your organization.

In learning about our own business processes, we have identified a five level model of QMS Maturity Levels to describe the phases in which an effective management system comes to life. If you are on a path of continual improvement, you may find it useful to consider the concept of process maturity.

QMS Maturity LevelQMS Maturity Levels

Realizing the Need for Process Improvement: Phase One — The Reactive Phase

Is your quality management system in a constant state of repair? Each day brings new surprises: situations arise, errors are discovered, customers complain. Did that supplier deliver the wrong parts again?

The Reactive Phase of the QMS Maturity Levels is, well, reactive. There is no system for using information for improvement. The staff deals with problems as they are realized according to priority and resources. Issues are addressed one by one by individual staff members who are doing their best to get things done. Each customer complaint, shipping error, or other problem starts a reaction. Every day seems different even though the same type of problem might arise again and again.

In Phase One of the QMS Maturity Levels, processes are not well-defined and have little meaningful documentation or effectiveness criteria. Tribal knowledge rules, while training programs are weak. Employee experience is gained primarily through OJT — On the Job Training.

Collecting Management System Data: Phase Two — Documentation Phase

It is time to determine which processes are core to your business and which ones are subordinate or support processes. To move past the Reactive Phase you must start to document your processes, start to write procedures, and think about more effective training. Some teamwork is required because you need to agree on what your processes are:

  • Where do they start and end?
  • Who is the process owner?
  • Who is really the customer or supplier?
  • What is important or critical in terms of process success?

To understand your processes, you can start with a process map, build value stream maps, or write policies, procedures and work instructions that help create understanding about the process. Of course, one concern is that creating a system of documented process could become an overblown bureaucracy, but the goal should be to keep it basic, and build on it as you go along. It is easier to add critical pieces when identified to a basic process map than it is to simplify an overwrought process document or procedure.

As a starting point, we only need enough documentation to get the job done. The intent of the documentation phase is to create operational definitions for your processes. Well-defined processes have clearly identified suppliers, inputs, outputs, and customers (SIPOC).

Policies, Procedures and Forms

Procedures define who does what, when, and where. Work instructions explain how a particular task within the process is performed. Forms are created, controlled, and distributed and should be re-enforced with training so that workers know how and when to use them. Completed forms create the records that capture key process data — important information needed for improvement.

This is the beginning of a quality management system. The intent of the Documentation Phase is to collect data (records) from your processes that you will employ in the next phases and lead to real improvement. To move out of the Documentation Phase you will need to chart, trend and analyze your data. Typical tools used to get out of this phase include Pareto charts, histograms, run charts, and SPC (Statistical Process Control), all critical pieces for phase three.

Separating the Common from the Special: Phase Three — Stability Phase

Now is the time that we need to start to think about continuous improvement with control charts in order to move through the Stability Phase. Stability is how we want our quality management system to be characterized. Stabile processes allow us to drive real improvement.

That’s because there are only two real actions you can take in process improvement. The first is to make unstable processes stable (our goal for phases two and three), and the other is to make a stable process better (our goal for phases four and five), which is also referred to as improving process capability and results in shrinking the control limits of our stable processes.

Data Analysis

In both cases we need data recorded (these are our ISO records) describing such things as process defects, process metrics (we also call these effectiveness criteria or key performance indicators) and of course process targets (could also be called our quality objectives derived from customer requirements). As you can see the Stability Phase is all about data analysis, which is used to derive knowledge and wisdom from information. Using this information we should be able to identify common cause and special causes of process variation.

Common causes result from the process design. If we see common causes of failure then we need to redesign the process in question. Special cause results from something identifiably or special occurring. We need to isolate the identifiable cause and eliminate it using root cause analysis. Using control charts we can ascertain whether either common causes or special causes of process variation are present and then take the appropriate actions.

To get out of the Stability Phase and move into the Corrective Action Phase we need to start using cause-effect, scatter, and fishbone diagrams as part of our root-cause analysis. In lean we may use takt time to balance production lines or Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE, which could also be called manufacturing effectiveness). In Theory of Constraints we look for the one constraint to flow. Many quality tools are at our disposal. The trick is in learning which one to use and in deciding which business process you should improve first.

You may recognize your organization as stuck in phase one or two, the two most common process maturity levels in many organizations. Some organizations are able to advance farther up in management system maturity to the stability phase. Moving up the process maturity chain can mean big organizational improvements. As you gain process maturity, processes become more effective, and eventually more efficient as you focus on what customer’s value, thereby eliminating waste.

Using the Maturity Model to Kick Start Your Process Improvement

To move past Phase One you must start to document your processes, start to write procedures, think about more effective training, and develop process maps. We believe one effective way of building an effective management system is by employing the requirements set forth in the ISO 9001 Quality Management System Standard.

Building an ISO 9001-based quality management system provides the framework to move out of the reactive phase because all of these steps are part of building an ISO management system. The ISO 9001 standard spells out the requirements of a Quality Management System but leaves it to organizations to use the methods they want to use to meet those requirements.

You may recognize your organization in Phase One, the process maturity level of many organizations. Few organizations are able to advance much farther up in management system maturity.

QMS Maturity Levels consist of another common phase, the Documentation Phase, and the most desired state, Phase Three, the Stability Phase. There is also Phase Four (Corrective Action) and Phase Five (Preventive Action), the most difficult phase to reach and, therefore, the rarest of them all.