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What is a Process Approach?

A process approach means an organization manages their business as a system of processes – not departments or people or products. This works because if you have a good process, you’ll have good results. Think about making cookies – if you follow a proven recipe (series of processes), it will provide good cookies (output). The interactions (the inputs and outputs that tie the processes together) between these processes is important. If you look at the simplified diagram below, the output of one process is the input of another process, which stresses the importance of not treating each process as an individual silo (department, job, etc). Each process needs to ensure it delivers (outputs) what the next process needs (inputs).

ISO 9001 promotes the process approach to managing an organization, and examines over 20 processes in its scope, including the entire Quality Management System (QMS) working as a process. Thus, you must document how you’re going to address these processes and (procedures are a good way to do that). ISO 9001 introduces the term process approach in the Introduction, and is again addressed in the section Leadership, stating that managers need to promote the process approach.

What are processes, inputs and outputs?

Every organization is made up of a series of interacting processes. A process is a set of activities that uses resources (people, machines, etc.) to transform inputs into outputs.

As a process approach can often become a complex system with too many processes, inputs and outputs we recommend using a diagram or flowchart to allow you to better visualize the input-output relationship

The ISO 9001 Standard is designed to manage and improve processes.

  1. First, you identify your key processes.
  2. Second, you define standards for those processes.
  3. Third, you decide how the process will be measured and evaluated.
  4. Fourth, you document your approach to achieving the desired quality, as determined by your measurements.
  5. Fifth, you continuously improve.

Once these are identified, an organization can ensure its processes are effective (the right process is followed the first time), and efficient (continually improved to ensure processes use the least amount of resources).

The effectiveness of the entire system is determined by the effectiveness of each process and the interactivity of these processes within the system. By establishing quality objectives and auditing how effectively the processes fulfill those objectives, an organization can determine whether the processes add value or need to be improved. Using the Process Approach while designing and developing a quality management system enables this to happen.

A QMS using the process approach (guided by standards) can meet their customers’ (internal or external) requirements and continual improvement in:

  • The organization’s’ overall function- the series of processes
  • Processes – the conversion of inputs into output
  • Results – Products and services resulting from processes
  • Quality – fulfilling requirements/objectives
  • Environment – preventing pollution and waste to improve the new bottom-line
  • Safety removing unacceptable risks for the people supporting the processes

The Process Approach approach enables the organization to meet customer requirements and deliver continual improvement.

Visualizing Process Approach

Visualizing a process approach can be extremely beneficial. It allows you to interact and map out your process. This can allow you to better organize the process and is often a helpful tool.


Flowcharts a great way to describe a process, break down the process into parts to allow for easier explanation and to help you improve your process. Flowcharts are simple diagrams that map out a process, making it easy to visualize and to communicate. They allow for you to better see what really happens in a process as well as their interaction.

Turtle Diagram:

A turtle diagram is another great tool your organization can use for a visual aid for processes. This tool helps identify inputs, outputs, criteria and other information to allow you to effectively execute and improve processes.


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