is the president of ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc., where she specializes in helping organizations implement management systems. She can be reached on her blog about management system standards at

At its core, a management system consists of processes established to achieve the outcomes you want. The outcomes you want to achieve are referred to as “intended outcomes” in the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) management system standards.

PLAN, DO, CHECK, ACT What the ISO management system standards add to this basic concept is a prescribed sequence in which these processes should be structured to achieve optimum results. This prescribed sequence is the concept of PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act): • First, you plan what you need to do to achieve the desired outcomes. • Then, you do what you planned. • Then, you check whether your actions have accomplished what you wanted. • Finally, based on what you discovered, you act to refine and improve your processes. The key to improving your intended outcomes is to make incremental changes by applying the PDCA concept over and over again. In this manner, you improve the processes that have been established to achieve the outcomes you want.
In other words, you use the approach of “Ready-Aim-Fire,” and then you evaluate how close you came to hitting the target before trying again. You do not use the approach of “Ready-Fire-Aim” and then hope for the best. One of the keys to success is assessing your previous attempt so you can improve your aim the next time.
We often use a PDCA approach in our daily lives to accomplish our personal goals, such as improving one’s golf score or losing weight. First, you plan and implement a process change, such as trying a new golf swing or a better diet strategy. Then, based on the results obtained, you make adjustments so you can achieve improved results next time. 
An important limitation is that whenever you have a complex system, you cannot guarantee outcomes. This is particularly the case when humans are involved: • You can hit a perfect golf swing, and the ball can take an unexpected bounce. • You can create a great product, but you can’t guarantee customer satisfaction. • You can implement a fabulous fitness routine, but you can still get sick. • You can implement the best safety programs, but you can’t guarantee zero injuries. CHOOSING APPROPRIATE PERFORMANCE INDICATORS Every management system has two focuses: a process focus and an outcome focus. To evaluate the performance of an OHS management system, you need to have both process metrics and outcome metrics.
How do you decide which process metrics or outcome metrics to use?
To come up with the right performance indicator (a metric), you need to first determine what question you want answered. You need to decide the purpose for which a particular performance indicator is to be used and by whom. Outcome metrics are clearly linked to results but are often misleading in evaluating complex systems. Process metrics are often easier to develop and interpret but can be irrelevant to the outcomes you ultimately want to achieve. USE OF OUTCOME METRICS Many organizations almost exclusively focus on results (that is, outcome metrics) when it comes to safety. They calculate and compare lost work days and injury statistics. They use these statistics in their sustainability reporting and for measuring managerial performance. Outcome metrics are also used to determine audit and inspection frequency and to target OHS improvement initiatives.
Selecting Management System Metrics
For Best Results, Aim Before You Fire