Overwhelmed by the amount of documentation within your organization. Don’t worry, you are not alone! As organizations and their systems grow so does the amount of system documentation to include procedures, instructions, checklists, SOPs etc.

At times, the documentation is not created because it is needed. It is created to resolve a non-conformity, to ensure a process error does not occur again, to reduce organizational liability and to appease an inspector/auditor. Under these circumstances the need of the hour is to make the problem go away quickly, not to invest time in identifying a long-term sustainable solution. We see our systems grow from 30-page manuals to over 400 pages as time passes. Ineffective reviews perpetuate the problem as duplicated information goes unaddressed.

How much is enough then?

Organizations need to recognize that the documented system is created to enable to users. Too much of it may actually impair the operator rather than enable them. How many of the processes in your house are documented? Now I know some of you are wishing they were and everyone was on board with it! To determine how much is enough companies may be guided by the following:

  1. The competency of the personnel – When the personnel within the organization are well training and competent in what they do and do it well there may be no need for too many of the processes to be documented. However as turnover increases or the organization grows in size additional documentation may be needed to allow for control where needed or to capture knowledge or to simply give confidence that the processes are being carried out as planned.
  2. The structure of the organization – A company with multiple sites, remote sites, or large enough in size, may use documentation to create a system that is uniformly implemented across the breath of the organization. Further documentation may be used to provide clarity on company policy, guidance on what can or cannot be done and/or to allow for decentralized decision making.
  3. The criticality of the process – Where processes are complex and critical and the consequences of failure high the organization may opt for documentation as a means of control to prevent the possibility of human error. Despite the competency of personnel a “zero-trust” environment is adopted to ensure that the process is consistently carried in the way it is intended to be.

Review your system

QMII recently worked with two separate companies to review their existing management system documentation and identify opportunities for reducing the amount of documentation without comprising the quality of operations. In one case we reduced the size of the quality manual from approx. 120 pages down to 30 pages. Information needed by the users was removed form the manual, reviewed and then created as instructions that were more accessible to the users who needed them. Wordy procedures were converted to flowcharts and images used to clarify requirements where needed.

With the other client QMII helped them reduce the number of procedures from approx. 30 to 12. The client realized that a number of procedures could be combined into one and the operator specific information combined in one easy to read document.

A regular review of the documented system is a critical step in ensuring that the documentation does not overburden the user or stop being useful to the user. People change, competencies change, organizations change. The change could be a downsizing or growth. Similarly, our management system documentation too may at times need to be ‘downsized’. Make sure that the documentation is kept relevant and easy to use. The tool used to do this is not as important as the intent and effectiveness of the process. A good review will additionally benefit the organization by allowing for more buy-in by the users and make the system more effective.

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