During the past 20 years, companies have taken the steps necessary to meet the requirements of the ISO 9000 family of standards and have obtained third-party certification to show that they meet these standards. The certification process often can be time-consuming and costly, but it is considered a necessary step in developing a quality management system that meets the needs of both current and potential customers. Many companies can even attribute much of their success to their commitment to a well-managed quality system.
As part of their continuous-improvement efforts (a component of the ISO 9000 standards), companies are reviewing and improving their procedures constantly. During this review, however, it is surprising how many people ignore or are simply unaware of the procedures that have been documented as part of the company’s ISO 9000 certification effort.
This disconnect brings up some interesting questions: Do some companies simply go through the motions to achieve ISO 9000 registration? Do they undertake the effort because everyone is doing it, or because their customers tell them they have to in order to remain a preferred supplier? Are written procedures created in haste just in case someone asks for them? Does the registration certificate itself become the sole motivation, rather than a genuine desire to improve quality management in the organization?
It is hard to argue with the need for process documentation. After all, documentation communicates what is needed. It can also help achieve process repeatability and output consistency. Documentation is also an integral part of an effective training program geared toward developing or enhancing employee skills.
There are many ways to document procedures. Photos and videos are becoming more prevalent, but flowcharts and written documents are still used by many. Yet, more important than the documentation format is the need for current information to be available at any time.
If we streamline or improve a process in any way, we must start by retrieving and carefully reviewing the existing documentation. It may be that what was written is now outdated and needs to be modified. This may not be a bad thing if the improvements are enacted and the documentation is revised to reflect this. The review of the existing documentation may also conclude that it is perfectly suited to current practices, but for whatever reason is no longer being used. Perhaps some employees were never exposed to the documentation, while others may have found it easier to complete tasks a different way.
These situations reflect a weak quality management system. They point to the need to review the entire organization’s system for document development and control. At minimum, this review should address the following questions:
1. Is the documentation easy to understand? The best documents are created by the people who actually do the job. These people know the most important aspects of a job and can communicate in terms that their coworkers understand. If asked, “How would you tell someone else to do this job?” these people can usually provide either a draft upon which to build, or in some cases, clear, user-ready instructions.
2. Is the correct version of the documentation the only one available to those who need it? Lack of document control can lead to outdated information appearing on the manufacturing floor. Document control is a system that allows only the correct documentation to be used by those who need it. Any system that lacks this discipline will be ineffective.
3. How is the need for revised documentation communicated? If we believe that change is one of the few constants in life, then we know that just about every document will be changed for some reason, at some time. It is, therefore, very important to establish a process to communicate revisions to anyone using affected documents. Effective communication will clarify responsibilities when changes are made, leading to a smoother implementation of any change.
Revisit the reasons you adopted the ISO 9000 standards as a means of improving your business. Are you getting everything you can and should from this effort? If not, perhaps it’s not too late to refocus your organization and commit to the practice of saying what you do, then doing what you say (and proving it).