Process Management: An Introduction

Joe Kuhn

Process Management: An Introduction

Process management (sometimes referred to as process discipline) is the key tool in management for efficient processes with predictable results — nothing has more impact. It is worthless to know a best practice and not have the organizational discipline to execute it consistently. Following standards is a massive organizational challenge — most fail, costing organizations billions of dollars and leading to worker injuries/fatalities, environmental disasters, quality excursions and production issues. Failure does not occur with the sudden, conscious choice to stop following a standard; organizations drift away from a standard over time. In most organizations, procedures are in employees’ heads rather than being written down, which basically ensures that drift will occur. Employees change due to attrition, roles change within the organization and employees seek shortcuts to save time/eliminate waste as knowledge of the “why” of a procedure/standard fades into history. 
Organizations that win do the basics well every day. What safeguards are in place to keep your standards from drifting over the next week, month, year or decade? How confident are you in your answer? A lack of process discipline puts an organization on a hamster wheel of: 
Learn a best practice — create standards to lock in learnings — drift away from standards — failure — re-learn standards — drift away from standards — failure.  
There’s a good chance you and I know this story already.  
Below, I detail a process that institutionalizes process discipline. The key here is that work standards are system-dependent, not people-dependent. I was introduced to process management in 1993, and in my experience it has transformed every plant that embraced it. The metamorphosis comes from holding on to all the gains made in best practices by converting “tribal knowledge” in employees’ heads to documented, audited and sponsored institutional knowledge accessible to the entire team. Failures occur once. Lessons are learned once. People come and go, yet the knowledge stays. The best part is that this process is free and only requires you to invest some time and labor.   
The opportunity costs lost with the lack of process discipline are HUGE! What could your employees be innovating/creating if they weren’t reinventing the wheel every week? Do not underestimate this organizational waste — it can be 10, 20 or 30 times the impact of the processes being managed. 

Process Management 

To better illustrate these concepts, I'm going to use an example most people are familiar with: a car wash business, with you as the owner. Here are the key people involved: a Process Manager, a Quality System Manager and a Sponsor. 

Process Manager (PM)

This is the person in the organization tasked with controlling the selected process. Your plant should have dozens (or even hundreds for very large plants) of process managers. Typically, these are production or maintenance workers, supervisors, planners, technical specialists and/or engineers. Be careful not to make the processes too large and complicated.  
Car Wash examples:
  • Good (focused on specifics) — Windshield not clean on the first pass.
  • Bad (too broad) — Car clean first pass.  
See the difference? This process should include all quality issues a car wash should address: dirty wheels, bugs on bumpers, cleanliness of all windows, etc. Right-size the process to be managed to make an impact on the business without overwhelming the process manager with problems. Focus is key. 

Specific Accountabilities of the Process Manager 

  1. Results – Document and graph output measures (results) critical to your process. For most, this will be a monthly number (or numbers) plotted on a graph. Calculate statistical upper and lower control limits and place these on the graph (these will be two lines). Lastly, place internal specifications on the graph (two more lines). These lines are the high and low internal limits for the metric. Upon completing these tasks, the system is graded "RED" — tracking output measures.
  • Car Wash Examples: First time through clean cars; percent of windshields with no bugs; dollars of car damage per month.  
  1. Variables – Document and graph which plant input variables impact or determine the output variables above. For most, this will be a monthly number plotted on a graph. Calculate statistical upper and lower control limits and place these on the graph.  
  •  Car Wash Examples: Percent of soap concentrate in wash solution #1; percent of soap concentration in wash solution #2; PSI of water rinse. 
  1. Education – Create, maintain and communicate to all stakeholders all documents outlining work procedures required to maintain process control. All documents shall have effective dates listed and document numbers (tracked and logged as a plant). Keep all training and communication records with names, dates and refresher training expectations.
  2. Audits – Execute and record critical weekly (or appropriate frequency) shop floor audits to ensure operator/craftsmen standard work is being completed on time and with precision. As it makes sense, some audits can be done monthly, quarterly or annually.   
  • Car Wash Example: The process manager observes three soap solution-adds by operators each week.   
  • Car Wash Example: The process manager verifies the rinse solution pressure three times per week. 
  • Upon completing steps 1, 2 and 3, the system is graded "YELLOW" — tracking input variables. 
  1. To achieve “Green” Status: Short-term process control – three months in a row with 100% output measures and 100% input variable graphs being in control and in specification.
  2. To achieve Purple Status: Long-term process control – 12 months in a row with 100% output measures and 100% input variable graphs being in control and in specification. 
  3. Change Control – The PM is accountable for getting approvals for all process changes, as well as keeping detailed records of all changes.  
  • Car Wash Example: PM wishes to change the soap concentration from 5.1% to 4.9%. 
  1. Corrective Actions – The PM is accountable for documenting all corrective actions to the process, from non-compliance to standards to performance numbers being out of control or company standards. 
  • Car Wash Example: PM audit of shop floor following standard work found one of three process audits not in compliance. 
Processes can be co-managed by up to three people if it makes sense. For example, an engineer can partner with an operator and a mechanic to manage a single process. This can drive ownership and communication between work groups.    

Quality System Manager (QSM)

This role owns and has expert knowledge of the process management system and acts as a coach and guide, cultivating robust PMs. The QSM is not an expert on the manufacturing process being controlled but rather on the overall system used to manage the processes. The entire process is documented and standardized. No PM should deviate from the series of processes established by the QSM. They do have lots of freedom to act and create, but all PMs should follow the same outline –— no exceptions. This role also conducts routine audits of the managed systems to ensure integrity and compliance. Typically, these audits occur monthly, and the audit results are summarized and communicated to the plant leadership team each month.     


Specific Accountabilities of the Quality System Manager 

  1. The QSM is the owner of the standards (which are documented) for process management. This includes requirements for advancing a managed process from Blank (no progress) to Red (tracking output measures) to Yellow (tracking input variables) to Green (short-term process control) to Purple (long-term process control), as well as standards and systems for document control, change control and corrective actions. See sample documents at the end of this document.  
  2. A teacher and coach to all PMs. 
  3. An auditor of all managed processes. 
  4. Delivers summary reports to Sponsor(s) on the status of all managed processes. Best shown via an Excel document with a color status of each process. This enables a rapid understanding of your organization’s process discipline.  
  5. Speaks candidly with sponsors on the progress of systems as well as addressing any gaps. Gaps are business risks the sponsor must know about in order to take action to improve. Positive progress can present an opportunity for business result improvement (i.e., increased sales or new markets due to quality improvements). Process Management will be an early alarm system for good and bad business results.    


This role is at least one layer higher in the organization than the assigned process manager (i.e., production manager). This is an active role where the process management system is discussed in meetings, emails and performance reviews/expectations. The sponsor also audits process manager systems at least once a quarter. If your organization is large enough, it is highly recommended that a second-level sponsor is also named (e.g. the plant manager). This role receives quarterly reports on the status of all systems and should randomly audit three to five systems a quarter.   

Specific Accountabilities of the Sponsor 

  1. Know/Estimate/Communicate the business case for the process to be managed. This ensures the effort to control matches the opportunity. 
  2. Consistently support the actions of PMs — in meetings, emails, performance expectations, rewards and recognition. 
  3. Participates in periodic audits of managed processes (each process once per quarter recommended). It is recommended that 25% of the audits are on the shop floor; 75% in the conference room. Do not go more than one year without auditing each process on the shop floor. Office audits hide opportunity and drift.  
  4. Ensure resources have time, understand the priority of process management and know where to find help. 
  5. Knock down barriers to success for PMs (i.e., fund training overtime).  
  6. Set expectations for improvement from managed processes (internal standards and potentially stretch goals). 
  7. Set expectations for the QSM. Meet at least once per quarter with the QSM to see how you can help them be successful and to know the current state. 
  8. Work with the QSM to develop a routine process to recognize the best PMs. Examples: best business result; most improved; most creative.  A best practice is to hold an annual award luncheon for all PMs and Sponsors. At the luncheon, pass out certificates and meaningful cash awards.  
  9. Make organizational changes necessary to create a process discipline culture at the plant. Realistically, some employees will refuse to work by standards. How do you plan to address such employees?   

Process Management (PM) is not a project with a beginning and end but rather a system to ensure long-term discipline in a process. 


As a managed process matures, the business case for improvement should be constantly evaluated — is the work required to sustain or improve worth the expected result? If the sponsor believes a process no longer needs to be a fully managed process, they can elect to advance the process to Blue (Sustain). In this status, a minimal cadence for managing the process is to be negotiated between the sponsor and process manager. An example of this is when an engineering solution is made, and the process makes a step change in long-term consistency with little to no intervention. 
  • Car Wash Example: An automatic soap concentration controller has been engineered and installed. It self-calibrates, alarms and makes all soap adds. No issues have occurred in the last six months with the system.  
Examples of Processes to be managed in a manufacturing plant 
  1. Safety: Finger cuts on sewing machines 
  2. Environmental: Total suspended solids in ditch 
  3. Quality: Sheet thickness 
  4. Quality: Material tensile strength 
  5. Production: Yield (scrap) at a production center 
  6. Production: Pounds per hour on a production center 
  7. Maintenance: Planning process 
  8. Maintenance: Kitting and staging process 
  9. Maintenance: Outage execution process 
  10. Maintenance: Equipment health (PM and PdMs conducted) 
  11. Maintenance: Problem solving system 
  12. Maintenance: Outage wrench time 
  13. Maintenance: Lubrication  
  14. Maintenance: Motor management 
  15. Maintenance: Bearing management 

Process Management — Change Control 

  1. Describe change to be made: 
  2. Expected benefits of change/measures of success: 
  3. Risks of change: 
  4. Countermeasures to reduce risks of change: 
  5. Owner of change: 
  6. Today’s date: 
  7. Implementation date: 
  8. Approvals (<$25K impact — production manager/sponsor; >$25K impact — plant manager): 
  9. Plant change number (all changes tracked on master log):  

Process Management Corrective Action 

  1. What happened: 
  2. Business impact: 
  3. Problem solving process (5 why; Fishbone; Apollo): 
  4. Root cause:
  5. Corrective actions: 
  6. Approval: 
  7. Process manager/owner: 
  8. Date: 
  9. Corrective actions verified within 30 days of due dates: 
  10. Plant corrective action number (all CA are tracked on master log): 


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About the Author

Joe Kuhn worked at Alcoa Corporation for 32 years. Joe was an operations leader for 29 years, a plant manager three times, and the global director for reliability and maintenance serving 31 loca...