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Investigating process management in firms with quality systems: a multi-case study

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether investment in a quality system leads to process management. Do firms that have invested in documenting their processes in a quality system also manage their processes? Design/methodology/approach ‐ The research question is approached by applying four fundamental dimensions of process management: process awareness, process ownership, process measurement and process improvement. A multi-case study based on interviews and live demonstrations of the quality systems in question is designed, and quality managers in 23 firms are interviewed. Various analyzing techniques such as descriptive and interpretive analysis, meaning condensation, and thematic scoring are applied. Findings ‐ This research finds that investments in quality systems have not resulted in process management. Business executives are not particularly concerned about their firms' business process on a daily basis, process accountability has not been institutionalized, explicit process goals are seldom set and measured, and continuous improvement practices are rarely found. This could be read as if the executives view their quality system as an artifact which is forced upon them, rather than a valuable resource for managing and developing their companies. Practical implications ‐ First, without process management, firms do not know whether they are satisfying quality requirements and achieving customer satisfaction. Ideas as to what quality managers could do to move toward process management are consequently provided. Second, the findings challenge the present certification arrangement. Although a certain firm is certified, a substantial gap may exist between how the processes are described in the quality system and how they are practiced by the employees. This should be discussed by those who consider a quality system as a written guarantee for managed quality. Originality/value ‐ Given that the processes in a quality system must be managed, it has not been found that the question of whether investments in quality system leads to process management is empirically investigated in as detailed a manner as one would expect. In this multi-case study, it was found that a quality system is viewed as something enforced upon the firms. A quality system is a prerequisite for doing business, and the investment is primarily a consequence of external orders, demands and expectations. In the context of quality systems, firms are not concerned about developing better organizational and management practices, i.e. process management; they are concerned about satisfying external requirements in order to stay in business.
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Keywords: Case study; Certification; ISO 9000 series; ISO 9001; Norway; Process management; Quality standards; Quality systems

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-02-03

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