Management Review – it’s all in the name

I was in a discussion with a very earnest young man a while back and one of the topics we covered was Management Review as part of the ISO 9001 quality management system he had responsibility for. Let’s just say the conversation was a little heated in places and that lead me to write an article for the Chartered Quality Institute’s Quality World magazine – published in 2011. I’ve been following a couple of threads on social media and was discussing terms with fellow standards developers and thought it might be interesting to revisit the subject.

My earnest friend was of the opinion that Management Review was something new and special – perhaps invented by those wise people in ISO – when it is in fact merely a term for planning – an activity that responsible businesses have been doing for years. Now I understand the need for standard terms and for ISO to define these terms so that users of these standards have a common understanding. But here’s the rub – it is not the place for standard users and in particular quality professionals to continue to use these terms in their daily life. The more we use terms like Management Review, Management Representative and, my personal favourite, Product Realization in both work conversations and management systems documents the further we take these systems away from the people that matter – the users. So once we understand the term we need to go back to our organisation and understand what process(es) we have in place that already satisfy the requirements.

You would expect the board to discuss the effectiveness of the organisation’s management system in ensuring it delivers products and services to meet customer requirements Customer feedback, internal quality measures and the status of improvement plans and programmes would be topics of interest to any managing director. All well and good so far – these topics should also address the requirements of ISO 9001:2015 clause 9.3.2. But, rather than get a regular slot on the board agenda where the responsible manager reports to the board the poor old quality manager generally calls a one off meeting called a ‘Management Review’ with a cut and paste agenda of the standard. The agenda is slavishly followed until the board is bored into submission and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, go back to the ‘real’ job and drop quality until next year. Worse still the board avoids the meeting as a waste of time – sometimes to the extent that records of reviews are fabricated for meetings that either didn’t take place or where necessary participants couldn’t spare the time. I’ve lost count of the number of wry smiles seen when I float this seemingly ridiculous notion. It is easy to criticize top management commitment in these situations but the responsibility for making the review relevant to busy senior managers is ours. In a previous role as the new quality manager I presented the plan for management review to the board of my ISO 9001 certified company and was faced not with hostility but with blank looks. It took a full eight months of one to one discussions and translation of ISO terms into activities and ,measures they were familiar with before we completed our agenda but I am confident the outcome was much more relevant.

The real challenge for the quality professional is to keep it real and get quality up the agenda so that quality performance is seen to be a leading indicator for financial performance. Recent changes to ISO 9001 give us a real opportunity with the requirements for organization leaders to get involved in establishing meaningful objectives and for process measures to be part of regular quality monitoring – right up to board level. Until those objectives and measures are meaningful and can be seen to be the main route to a sustainable business then we are condemned to a check box approach to review.