By Ted Annis, BRC President
When considering articles we always try to include practical info that you can act on, or a new and interesting point of view, or some guidance to help make your work slightly easier if possible. Here we have collected what we feel are 5 key factors that will help to make your management system (quality, environment, health & safety, or otherwise) successful.
Some may apply a little bit more or less, depending on whether you have an established, mature system…or are just beginning to plan and implement. The actionable guidance here is to evaluate where you stand in regards to each, and then take what steps you can to make sure your organization is being proactive where it matters.
An Understanding of System Implementation and Management
This can be difficult because you don’t know what you don’t know. Without a strong knowledge of what the requirements are asking (or NOT asking), systems can develop unnecessary activities. Many companies simply can’t afford the expense of a full-time expert, and typically the ISO Coordinator or Quality Manager has many other responsibilities.
Hiring a good consultant can add real value here, especially for key activities that can be clearly defined:
- Review of documentation before a new system is implemented.
- Outsourcing of internal audits to a fresh, experienced and impartial set of eyes.
- Periodic review of processes and documentation to keep them simple, effective and relevant.
- Training in quality-related subjects (Root Cause Analysis, Process Mapping, etc.) to build internal skills and drive improvement.
The Right Manager
Quality success is very closely aligned with business success, so the person running the system should have a good knowledge of the business’ systems and processes, the respect of others in the organization, the authority to mandate change (rather than beg for it) and a focus on achieving business objectives, profitability, growth, and success.
This doesn’t have to be the president (wouldn’t THAT be something?). More than anything, this person needs the support and involvement of management, good organization skills, business experience to draw from, and the ability to focus. Without these qualities, the long-term success of the QMS could be in trouble.
Management is often keen to implement an ISO or similar management system, but only because it has to in order to satisfy contractual or regulatory requirements. We see many organizations that stop short of a full commitment to implement and maintain a system that effectively manages quality and improves the business. Minimum resources are allocated (to ensure ongoing certification), little time is dedicated to maintenance and development of the system, documents quickly become out of date, and processes (intended to help and improve) are simply circumvented for things that managers prefer to do.
Nearly all executives would agree that the fundamental processes and activities that form a QMS are just good business sense. By organizing these processes into a “system” with specific activities and dedicated resources, we greatly improve the organization’s consistency and stability. Sometimes, organizations can be critical of the resources required for each activity and lose sight of the overall benefits.
- A 3-day audit becomes a 2-day audit to save on time.
- The audit team lacks training support to save on training budgets.
- Follow-through on Corrective Actions is not prioritized, and issues linger.
The commitment needs to come from the top…from leadership that can force management involvement and understanding, acquire the resources needed, ensure the focus is meaningful for the business, and be disciplined.
“Good” is a very general and subjective term, but in regards to policies, procedures and work instructions there are a few guidelines that may help you evaluate your own documentation.
Simplicity – When it comes to the totality of your management system’s documentation, work as hard as you can to keep things simple. While every standard has specific requirements for what must be included, these requirements are usually much lower than most people think.
Remember that the more you say you are going to do…the more you will actually have to do. And the more detailed and complicated your documentation, the harder it will be to use and maintain.
Accuracy – There is a great benefit to including people with direct knowledge of the activities being documented, especially since many organizations are surprised to find out that their procedures don’t quite work the way they thought they did!
Involving the people working within the system will also help with buy-in and acceptance once documentation is complete.
Consistency – While involving people is important, consider having one person write the actual procedures. This ensures a consistent style and level of detail, not to mention an understanding of the big picture that can contribute to the overall quality of the documentation when finished.
This is a great place for some outside consulting help. Not only are specialized consultants experienced and efficient, but this is a part of a system that can pull you in. A desire to get things just right…without knowing exactly what “just right” is…can lead to a never-ending trail of documentation that isn’t entirely necessary. Even when used as a periodic advisor, a specialist can offer great value – such as knowing how to combine flow charts and written procedures in a way that provides a big picture overview with supporting detail where needed.
Effective (or Appropriate) Audits and Auditors
The terms “audit” and “auditor” come with a bad reputation. There is often a perception (especially by those not directly involved with managing a QMS) that audits are an attempt to find and highlight mistakes, and that an auditor’s mandate is to be critical. For these and many other reasons, audits are not looked forward to, even though they are one of the key tools we use to improve the system…and the organization.
- Are friendly, respectful, and focused on the system – not individuals.
- Put your employees at ease and encourage cooperation.
- Are not confrontational or adversarial, but are there to support and further your efforts.
- Are well planned, professionally handled, and focus on the areas that matter most.
- Find things! From real and pressing issues to observations and opportunities for improvement.
- Challenge the system and organization to continually improve.
Remember, the goal is not to do as little as possible with your QMS, but rather to find and fix issues…and to consistently improve effectiveness and efficiency. Your internal audit process is there to ensure that your system is working and improving, and so if your external auditor ends up with more than a few small findings, you may want to ask yourself some questions…
Are my internal auditors well-trained?
Are they overcautious about raising issues to management…or concerns with fellow workers?
Are they the right people for the job? (Or perhaps just those who were willing or available?)
If your internal auditors didn’t spot some of those things first…what else are they missing?
While you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on training, you do need to provide the basic audit tools, experience, resources and time. You will see great results if you make the commitment.