Corporate Jazz: Importance of a Management System

The following paper is a basic training guide about the importance of an effective Management System written by myself as part of a freelance work commitment.

The importance of Systems and Processes

While in this modern age, most discussions in workplace meetings and television channels circle around the use of robotics and artificial intelligence, all of that jazz can only be embedded if an environment has high quality process, systems and controls in place. Simply put it, a well-defined process riding on an efficient system is the minimum basic requirement for any workplace / factory / department to sustain, function and pass the test of time. Just walk into any unhappy office or employee and ask him/her what the reason for his/her unhappiness is. The likely two clusters of answers will be:

  • Unfairness, lack of transparency and office politics.
  • Bad systems, poor processes, lots of rework and everyone unclear on responsibilities.

Often (b) is linked to (a). If you have clearly defined processes, roles, responsibilities; enabled by efficient systems, controls and checks; the office is likely to have enough data, adequate transparency and little room for unfairness.

(Politics will still exist! we all love politicking don’t we? Now Politik also reminds me of a lovely Coldplay song!)

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So managing a process isn’t as easy as a list of tasks scribbled on a piece of paper or a flow chart flowing over some jazzy software. The following things need to fall in place.

  • The process needs to work.
  • The right people need to be working on them.
  • The people need to respond to how the process fares, make feedback and process fine tuning mechanism work.
  • The process design must be such that rework is always minimal.
  • That the process reject rates are high upfront and not late in the day.
  • Adequate controls are put in place to ensure breakdowns and errors are caught upfront and timely.
  • Technology is in place to eliminate manual, repetitive and non value add work.
  • Must follow the time bound limitations as required by the business objectives.
  • A set of processes must have enough room for flexibility and scaling, should the business volumes increase in future.
  • Strong documentation and training modules so that the process is independent of individuals.

To address all the above key points the first step is a need for a robust management system.

MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

What is a management system?

 A management system is a strong governing set of policies and principles that ensure every process in a workplace is carried out in the most optimal way, follows industry compliance norms, is sustainable and gives an output that is fair compared to the price being paid by the market. Such governance methods determine longevity of workplaces. That is why when you enter a new workplace you often hear the words ‘Here in XYZ we do it this way’ or ‘Here in XYZ we don’t do it this way’. The ‘way’ here is the system, the framework, the guidelines that have been in place for years and fine tuned, with changing times.

"It's our caseload management system...we just give them more cases until they collapse."
“It’s our caseload management system…we just give them more cases until they collapse.”

Need for key functions of a quality management system

 Let’s reflect back on the checklist that defines what all needs to work for a process to fall in place. This will help us define the key functions of a management system.

Elements of a good process

 

Why this is important Key functions needed of a management system
1 The process needs to work.

 

You need to close shop! –          Leadership & Direction

 

2 The right people need to be working on them.

 

The right output/product needs to come out for customer satisfaction. If you fail the customer, the business fails. There is no point asking accountants to do a nursing job in a hospital. Can they do it? Would patient care be always on their minds or the cost of fruit juice and sandwich served keep them thinking?

 

–          Strong selection process

 

3 The people need to respond to how the process fares, make feedback and process fine tuning mechanism work.

 

I was once asked to check what was wrong in a department that had accumulated backlog work worth one year’s efforts! Amongst all things, what came out evidently was a poor work culture and environment which didn’t allow flexibility in process and not much room to voice out process issues. The unit had to spend millions of dollars to recover the work that was pending to be done and off course got a chance to revamp the process. But it cost millions.

 

–          Work environment

–          Leadership & Direction

–          Data based continuous improvement

4 The process design must be such that rework is always minimal.

 

If I enter a data at one point of that process, that same data (or subset of that data) must be viewable to all stakeholders in that process and in that process chain. There is no point if another person down the chain is inputting part of the data yet again. That’s rework. Or verifying late in stage that the data entered by the first person was wrong and it should go back to the first person again. Work done by the first person must be checked and approved by the next person. Often at airports you would have seen even after the immigration counters have stamped your passport, there are two more sets of people validating that your passport has been stamped properly. This is a bad process and shows that the process doesn’t trust the immigration process well and hence have to put two levels of filters. Integration of systems is hence a key element i.e. all systems that are part of the process must be sharing data for smoother process flows.

 

–          Integrated systems

–          Data based continuous improvement

5 That the process reject rates are high upfront and not late in the day.

 

Consider this, your manufacturing team has sent five trucks full of front loading washing machines to your customer across the border. Days later the customer finds out the delivery has 100% error rate – they are all top loading washing machines! This is something that should have been checked upfront at your manufacturing unit and now you need to imagine the additional costs and time wastage for identifying a process reject so late in the day.

 

–          Detailed process maps & robust documentation

–          All stakeholders commitment

6 Adequate controls in place to ensure breakdowns and errors are caught upfront and timely.

 

Consider this example – A telesales team had completed the survey amongst 5000 respondents in record time and had got very insightful feedback. But, hold on…the telesales never marked the gender and area of residence of most respondents in the feedback forms and that was an essential data to conclude on the survey. This means another round of calling the customers needed ie rework… but shouldn’t the form, instructions and checklist have been such that any telesales executive shouldn’t have kept the phone down before filling all mandatory data?

 

–          Timely checks and controls

 

7 Technology in place that can eliminate manual, repetitive and non value add work.

 

Every bit of manual effort and data input must either be beneficial to the organization or to the customer. Why should a television retail seller bother to enter data like age, gender or ethnicity of a customer? Why should a child need to fill similar forms at every extra class he/she needs to enrol for in the same school? And then get individual departments in same school processing similar information again and again.

 

–          Integrated systems

–          Customer centric and value add

8 Must follow the time bound limitations as required by the business objectives.

 

Payment instruments like checks (also spelt as cheques) need to be sent to local clearing houses by a particular evening cut-off time say 3pm. This means the unit doing the pre-work may need to start work by a particular time (could even be 6am in morning) to meet the cut off time. Take another example, when a customer applies for a product on 5th of the month, he/she would like all systems to record it as 5th of the month. If the customer service centre later refers to customer as applied on 7th of the month, the customer will feel aggrieved. Every data input and process output must fulfil customer value add objectives.

 

–          Customer centric and value add

–          Work environment

 

9 Process must have enough room for flexibility and scaling, should business volumes increase.

 

Your process can be built today to cater for 0-500 volumes per day. However if the volumes rise to 5000 per day, your process must be robust enough to be able to upgrade to the increased market and customer demands.

 

–          Ability to upgrade, scale up and adjust

–          Customer centric and value add

 

10 Strong documentation and training modules so that the process is independent of individuals.

 

Your department head / team leader / process manager / critical resource can leave the company at any instant. Can a new recruit fill up the boots? Yes, only if there are proper written documentation in place – policies, process notes and process maps in place that are updated timely and strictly followed by the unit.

 

–          Detailed process maps & robust documentation

–          Work environment

–          Training and communications

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Top 10 factors that make a total quality management system

Having identified the need for a quality management system let’s list down the top ten key factors that will make it work:

  1. Leadership & Direction – To ensure all the nine elements below is in place and has all stakeholders’ commitment in them.
  2. Strong selection process – The right people are selected for the right job. Human resource is still a premium capital.
  3. Work environment – That encourages flexibility, transparency, feedback and quick adaptation.
  4. Data based continuous improvement – Frequent use of data to improve.
  5. Integrated systems – All technology systems and processes are tied to each other and none operating in silos.
  6. Detailed process maps & Robust documentation
  7. Timely checks and controls – Instant checks built into the process, not to be confused with routine audits.
  8. Customer centric and value add – Every step in process must be a value-add to the organization or to the customer.
  9. Ability to upgrade, scale up and adjust – To have ability to be at par with market and compliance needs and demands.
  10. Training and communications

If an organization has these ten things in place, it essentially has all the elements of a perfect system in place; with ability to withstand any environmental and market change in dynamics.

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