Process Based Management Systems: Everything You Need To Know But Were Afraid To Ask!

While almost every area within today’s organisation is looking to improve efficiency by adopting the latest technology, challenge existing processes to increase performance and maximise resources, the structure and content of many company management systems has unfortunately fallen miserably behind the times.

So much so that the techno-savvy young professionals must be shaking their heads in disbelief at the monstrosity they often have to use to access key information related to their responsibilities. With the extensive use of social media, where information can be read, shared and processed in seconds, the clunky, cumbersome access provided by the traditional document-centric system approach must be such a turn off to the younger generation. 

To name a database or application that has large numbers of random text documents, voluminous procedures, operating instructions, disparate records and fragmented flowcharts a `management system` could realistically be termed an oxymoron. 

The reason that some companies have poorly structured management systems full of erroneous untargeted content may vary, however years of low financial investment and a general lack of interest by senior management could be the key factor. In an attempt to address this possibility, the latest version of the quality standard ISO 9001:2015 hopes to reverse this by demanding evidence of top level commitment.


History of Modern Day Systems

The first and largest pyramid at Giza in Egypt was built for pharaoh Khufu (around 2551B.C.) where upon completion, it was found after measurement that the greatest difference between any of the four lengths was (allegedly) only 4 inches. It would have been an impossible task to achieve without a management system to control the thousands of human workers, hordes of animals and quite literally a mountain of materials needed for the considerable build.

Pressing the fast forward button, the origins of the modern day management system became popular in the mid 1980’s where work practises were churned out in volumes as companies formalised their work practises. The document format of: Purpose, Scope, References, Responsibilities etc. spawned a lucrative industry for technical writers and management consultants who were skilled at re-packaging quality manuals and operating procedures many times over with minimum tailoring. 

While the most recent revision of the ISO 9001 standard advocates the use of the term `process` in place of procedure, many of the organisations who have their certificates nailed to the reception wall are still document-centric and nowhere near the nirvana of being fully process-based. 

For clarity, the differences between the two types of document as defined in ISO 9001:

  • A process is a series of tasks or methods that together turn inputs into outputs
  • A procedure specifies the method in which to perform the task

While there is always grey ground, interactions that involve multiple people are often seen as a process.


Why Change to a Process Based Management System?

Apart from a requirement to comply with ISO 9001 or other industry standard(s), there is a more practical reason to re-design the management system to reflect the actual operational processes of the organisation. This involves authenticating each document for accuracy and validity and assessing whether it can be transformed into a process or left as a text-based procedure. An important part of transforming to a process-based system is the removal of documents that have been superseded, duplicated or made obsolete. This transformation exercise will reduce document numbers and help simplify the complexity of the document hierarchy.    

There are a number of benefits from becoming process based, such as:

  • Verified processes – The validation exercise will provide a master document register which includes processes
  • Graphical Navigation – Understanding where processes reside within graphical models
  • Clarity of content – The exercise of mapping a process presents the key stakeholders with visibility of the sequence of activities required and provides the opportunity to rectify inaccuracies and suggest improvements to the process resulting in increased ownership by the users.
  • Quick Access – Processes that are listed within a document management system can be difficult to find particularly if the user is unfamiliar with the application. The process approach uses end to end process overviews with business and delivery models helping users to find the right document quickly.
  • Process Harmonisation – Where duplicated processes exist across the organisation, these can be harmonised into consistent, generic processes applicable to all sectors or regions.
  • Responsibilities – There is a clear view of each individual’s role & responsibilities and the specific processes they participate in dependant on their competency and discipline expertise. Due to these requirements, the design of the traditional document-centric system is seen as being inflexible and unable to cope with the demands of today.


What does “the process approach” mean? 

The process-based management system (or Business Management System / BMS) approach manages all processes by creating a centralised, over-arching, holistic business model.  This is supported by process overviews in alignment with the framework that reflects the way the company provides their product and / or service to customers.  Through the use of process overviews, end users are directed to the best content for their situation whether it is a process swim lane or a low-level operating procedure.

The example below represents a Strategy to Task Business Model showing high level strategic direction and governance guidelines, the value chain of core processes and links with the relevant supporting information, videos etc.


Simplifying Navigation

There are two key aspects of a management system that are fundamental to facilitating access to required information:

  1. The navigation should be simple, intuitive and information ideally located within 3 mouse clicks
  2. Once the correct information has been located, it should be easily understood by the user

Whatever management system structure is in operation; this simple stress test has to be passed.                                                                                                                                                                               


Process Mapping Overview

Once the design of the overall Business Model and supporting Process Overviews has been graphically represented, mapping the business processes can then start.

The example above is of an End to End Process designed for a Rail company who use the London Underground theme to simplify the various functions within the organisation.


How to capture process content – the process mapping session

The traditional exercise of creating a process map using brown paper and coloured stickies’ might be seen as antiquated in today’s electronic age. However, more companies are realising the benefits of mapping their processes in a live collaborative environment during facilitated mapping sessions where opinions and bright ideas find a natural home.

While external consultants bring experience and focus to mapping exercises, the bulk of improvements originate from the process users themselves as they have the rich vein of practical knowledge often gathered over many years.  There is a natural fork in the road here regarding retaining core knowledge before it becomes lost in the retirement of key employees but that’s for a later article.

Process Mapping during live sessions introduces greater flexibility, speed, and ultimately lower development costs while improving the accuracy of the process and increasing the ownership by those involved.

Experience has certainly shown this writer that using the Swim Lane approach helps all stakeholders identify their responsibilities to gain a greater understanding of the overall series of activities. A swim lane should include the detail, ‘who does what, where, and when’.

Some benefits that should arise from the process mapping exercise are as follows:

  • Increasing ownership by the stakeholders
  • Identifying inefficient practises, duplication and obsolescence
  • Linking to documents required during each particular step
  • Integrating Risks, Controls and Compliance within the process



If transformation from the traditional structure to process-based is the objective, there are considerable advantages of implementing a leaner, more focused management system model that will provide:

  • Simplification of system content
  • Improved process efficiency, greater performance & reduced costs
  • Improved visibility of work routines & practices
  • Ability to harmonize processes to improve consistency
  • Easier navigation structure to access the right document
  • Improved individual ownership of process
  • Greater visibility of Risk mitigation
  • Greater awareness of multi-standard compliance

The next stage of the transformation is selecting repeatable processes that can be automated as they display some of the following criteria by being:

  • Repetitive: routines that are labour intensive
  • Compliance-driven: requiring documented evidence of each cycle
  • Accurate: Removing human error and poor decision making from the process

Written by Peter Shields, Managing Director, BusinessPort Ltd

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