ISO's Process Approach

Also see our Process Management Framework and our Process Audit Tool.


Most ISO management system standards now expect organizations
to implement a process approach. But what is it, exactly?

The process approach is a management strategy. When managers use a
process approach
, it means that they manage and control the processes that
make up their organizations, the interactions between these processes, and
the inputs and outputs that tie these processes together. It also means that
they manage these process interactions as a system.

A process is a set of activities that are interrelated or that interact with
one another. Processes use resources to transform inputs into outputs.
They are interconnected because the output from one process often
becomes the input for another process.

ISO standards define an output as the “result of a process”. They then
go on to list four general types of outputs: services, software, hardware,
and processed materials. However, ISO's very broad definition suggests
that there are many more types of outputs. If an output is the result of a
process, then many kinds of outputs (results) are possible including
not only tangible outputs like products but also intangible ones.

So outputs could include not only services, software, hardware, and
processed materials, but also decisions, directions, instructions, plans,
policies, proposals, solutions, expectations, regulations, requirements,
recommendations, complaints, comments, measurements, and reports.
Clearly, an output could be almost anything.

But what about inputs? Since the output of an upstream process often
becomes the input for a downstream process, outputs and inputs are
really the same thing.

Since this is rather abstract, we’ll make it more concrete with examples.


Since the process approach is now central to most management
system standards, we've tried to identify the processes that could
make up management systems. Some of these are listed below.

  • Design process

  • Review process

  • Delivery process

  • Training process

  • Planning process

  • Assembly process

  • Marketing process

  • Validation process

  • Evaluation process

  • Innovation process

  • Monitoring process

  • Production process

  • Purchasing process

  • Leadership process

  • Verification process

  • Traceability process

  • Distribution process

  • Maintenance process

  • Management process

  • Post-delivery process

  • Development process

  • Improvement process

  • Measurement process

  • Manufacturing process

  • Service delivery process

  • Market research process

  • Internal auditing process

  • Communications process

  • Product provision process

  • Document control process

  • Service acceptance process

  • Product acceptance process

  • Management review process

  • Complaints handling process

  • Records management process

  • Resource management process

  • Performance evaluation process

  • Design and development process

  • Information management process

  • Customer communications process


Of course, our list is not exhaustive. In addition, some of the processes
we have listed overlap. This is difficult to avoid because processes can
be grouped into larger processes and can be subdivided into smaller
processes and because there are many ways to categorize processes.

How you define your processes is entirely up to you. Your organization's
list will probably be much shorter than ours and could be much different.
In fact, you could even treat your entire organization as a single large
process if you think it makes good sense to do so.


When you think about all the processes that could possibly make up a
management system and then think about all the possible input-output
relationships that tie these processes together, you soon realize how big
and complex such a system is. Because of this, you may find it difficult
to create a single map or diagram of your management system. There
are just too many processes and too many input-output relationships.

For this reason, we suggest that you diagram one process at a time
using a single flowchart on a single page (see diagram below). This
will allow you to specify the most important input-output relationships
without getting buried in complexity. The diagram below shows, in
general terms, how this could be done.

The box in the center is the process you want to diagram. That’s your
focus. Upstream processes provide outputs for the central process and
downstream processes receive inputs from them. Arrows represent inputs
and outputs and the associated text describes them. These arrows also
show that an input-output relationship is sometimes a two-way street.
Sometimes inputs go one way and outputs go the other way.

Process Flowchart


ISO expects you to establish process-based management systems.
Such a system uses a process approach to manage and control how
policies are implemented and how objectives are achieved.

A process-based management system is a network of interrelated
and interconnected processes. Each process uses resources to transform inputs into outputs. Since the output of one process becomes the input of another process, processes interact and are interrelated by means of
such input-output relationships. These process interactions create
a single integrated process-based management system.

ISO asks you to identify the processes that your management system
needs, to identify their sequence and interaction, to identify all required
inputs and expected outputs for each process, to identify process risks
and opportunities, and to assign responsibilities and authorities for
each process. It also expects you to identify the methods needed to
manage, monitor, measure, evaluate, and control each process
and to provide the resources that each process needs.

Once you've done all of this you've defined your unique process-based
management system. But that's not enough. It also asks you to address the risks and opportunities that could influence your organization's system or disrupt its operation and to consider how its context and its interested
parties could affect the results it intends to achieve.

At an abstract level, a process-based management system can be diagrammed in the following way. The diagram below shows several processes interconnected using many lines (and how suppliers and customers fit it). These lines represent inputs and outputs. All of
these elements make up a process-based management system.

Process-based Management System


ISO standards usually expect you to "maintain documented information
to the extent necessary to support the operation of processes and retain
documented information to the extent necessary to have confidence that
the processes are being carried out as planned
". In other words, you must
maintain the documents that you need in order to support your processes
and retain the records that you need in order to show that process plans
are actually being followed. This leaves you with quite a bit of leeway. Essentially, you can provide as much documentation as you need
in order to support your process-based management system.

We suggest that you use flowcharts to give people a view of the big
picture and develop more detailed procedures to show them how
process activities should be carried out. However, this is only our
recommendation. It's not an ISO requirement.


PDCA stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act. ISO uses the PDCA model
to organize their management standards in the following way:

  • Plan (sections 4, 5, 6, 7)
  • Do (section 8)
  • Check (section 9)
  • Act (section 10)

ISO standards also recommend that you use the PDCA model
to establish your organization's processes. It suggests that you:

  • Plan each process.
  • Operate each process.
  • Evaluate each process.
  • Improve each process.

It also suggests that you use the PDCA approach to establish
your organization's process-based management systems.
It suggests that you:

  • Plan your process-based management system.
  • Operate your process-based management system.
  • Evaluate your process-based management system.
  • Improve your process-based management system.


Introduction to Process Management Framework

Overview of our Process Management Framework

Our Plain English Process Management Framework

Process Management Framework - Product Sample 1

Process Management Framework - Product Sample 2

Process Management Framework - Product Sample 3

Praxiom's Plain English Process Management Audit

Process Management Audit Tool - Product Sample 6

Process Management Audit Tool - Product Sample 7

Plain English Process Management Definitions

InfoGraphics for Process Management


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 Updated on August 17, 2021. First published on November 25, 2014.

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