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January 2003
Volume 10 • Number 1


Self-Assessment Methodology: The Route to Business Excellence

by A. M. Ahmed, Bradford University School of Management, and J. B. Yang and B. G. Dale, Manchester School of Management

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the area of organizational self-assessment and an increasing number of companies have used the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) business excellence model as the template for testing different business strategies as well as for measuring performance. There is little evidence of any methodology, however, that can help organizations link the areas for improvement identified from the assessment to their business’ action plans at strategic, tactical, and operational levels. This article discusses these problems and puts forward a solution by describing the use of multiple criteria decision-making (MCDM) and the evidential reasoning approach (ER) in the self-assessment process. It is argued that the intelligent decision system (IDS) being developed can be used to improve how the self-assessment process is carried out and provide accurate and fast scoring for a company.

Key words: EFQM business excellence model, evidential reasoning approach, intelligent decision system, multiple criteria decision making, self-assessment


In today’s competitive global environment, companies of all types are facing many challenges. They are finding that their survival in a dynamic marketplace is increasingly in doubt. Industrialists, in particular, are striving to gain a competitive advantage through shortening the product development cycle and responding quickly and efficiently to customers’ needs and wants (Ahmed and Abdalla 2000a; 2000b). Emphasis on the cost and functionality of a product, however, is not the only factor that enables companies to compete and cope in the global market. The development of internal quality and the ability to respond to customers’ requirements in a timely manner are also critical (Clausing 1994). Most experts (for example, Dale 1999 and Feigenbaum 1999) agree that quality, in its widest sense, is the dominant factor in companies’ national and global success. According to Feigenbaum (1999), an organization’s initiatives toward quality development can be demonstrated in four ways:

  1. By fundamental changes in the way people think, learn, decide, and accept the leading role in improving quality of every aspect of their daily activities
  2. By using fact-based monitoring systems
  3. By adopting a more structured approach rather than anecdotal
  4. By developing their discipline toward quality-cost economics

Self-assessment has been accepted as a comprehensive, systematic, and regular review of an organization’s activities, and results are referenced against a specific model. The European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) business excellence model addresses a number of the aforementioned challenges (Hakes 2000). The benefits an organization gains from carrying out a self-assessment are detailed by EFQM (1999) and include providing a powerful tool to measure performance, highlighting areas that require immediate action, and involving people at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels in developing a process improvement approach to quality.

This article is based on research conducted as part of an Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded project (Yang 2001; Yang, Dale, and Siow 2001) that examines measuring and assessing business performance through self-assessment and decision modelling. The research addresses the problems associated with the current methods of assessing organizational performance against the EFQM business excellence model. It also allows the application of the decision support system (DSS) to the self-assessment process, which enables an independent assessor to improve the scoring accuracy of an organization’s self-assessment document against the model’s criteria, thus providing a more accurate scoring decision.

The current approaches (for example, matrix chart, workshop, pro forma, questionnaire, and award simulation) for conducting a self-assessment deliver different benefits and have associated problems (Ritchie and Dale 2000a; 2000b). This variation in delivering benefits can cause confusion regarding which approach is the most appropriate for a particular situation.

These approaches to self-assessment cannot be considered as a generic methodology. The EFQM published booklet, Assessing for Excellence: A Practical Guide for Self-Assessment (1999), emphasizes a number of problems associated with each of these approaches. The matrix-chart approach does not facilitate comparisons against European Quality Award (EQA) applicants, lists of strengths and areas for improvement are not produced, and there is no direct cross-reference between the steps in the matrix and the subcriteria of the EFQM business excellence model. A workshop can be a high-risk approach in terms of excellent preparation and facilitation, and is considered less robust and rigorous as a process (EFQM 1999). Furthermore, there is scope for unrealistic scoring, and evidence of the deployment of an organization’s processes can be difficult to assess. A pro forma approach does not always tell the full story. It only represents a summary of the assessment and therefore might dilute the self-assessment process. The questionnaire approach indicates only what people think and not the reasons that underlie their thinking. An award simulation approach is ambitious, and potentially risks a lack of involvement by the management team and greater delegation to others, as well as potential for creative writing, covering up the real issues (EFQM 1999).


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