Monday, September 28, 2015

Goodbye, Quality Manual

Who loves their quality manual? Please give me a show of hands. Hmm, not much enthusiasm. That’s because the quality manual for most companies serves no other purpose than something to give to customers or auditors. Most employees have never seen or heard of their company’s quality manual. And yet it has been a required document of ISO 9001 since the standard was first published. That has changed in ISO 9001:2015. There is no mention of the words “quality manual,” and the only true leftover requirement is that you have to document your quality management system (QMS) scope. I expect that many companies are going to drop their quality manual altogether now that it’s no longer mandated. But wait! Let’s re-imagine the quality manual as a document that actually helps the organization. First of all, let’s get rid of the rehash of ISO 9001 requirements. Most quality manuals feature this, and the rehash constitutes 95% of the words included. If you want to see what ISO 9001 says, get a copy ISO 9001. The quality manual should be completely focused on the company, period. Secondly, let’s think of the quality manual as a sort of “User Guide for the company’s QMS.” What would an employee or interested party need in a user guide? Well, let’s provide the following:
  • Structure and contents of the management system 
  • Road map to lower-level documents within the system 
  • Company history and background 
  • Overall process flow of the organization 
  • Company’s products and services described in a clear, practical manner 
  • Organization’s strength and capabilities 
  • What to expect during an audit and how to prepare for one 
  • Responsibilities and authorities of key personnel 
  • The scope of the QMS 
Some of these items have always been included in quality manuals, and others are new additions. The point is to assemble all the high-level content that people need to know into one consolidated location. This could be accomplished in 3-4 pages at the most. Since it’s so lean and streamlined, employees might actually see value in using it. The quality manual could truly become the gateway to your company’s management and business systems. Now we’ve got something useful. But let’s drop the name “quality manual.” Any thoughts for what this information should be called?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ecolink Inc.’s Quality Policy and Cultural Norms

Ecolink Inc. is small company, but you couldn’t find a Fortune 100 company that takes its organizational culture more seriously. Located in Tucker, Georgia, Ecolink ( develops and formulates industrial degreasers and solvents. Maybe not a glamorous business, but Ecolink long ago saw an opportunity to leverage its environmental stewardship and help customers make smart choices. “Sustainability is simply the right thing to do,” the company President, John Roudebush, explained. “Secondly, it gives us a huge opportunity to tap into new business. We get a lot of new customers by saying, ‘We’re here to sell you less and safer chemicals.’ It’s a message the really resonates with the environmental, health, and safety community.” The focus on reduction of environmental impacts became one of the driving themes of Ecolink’s business. When the company implemented ISO 9001, they wanted a quality policy that really set the tone for their business practices and strategy. Environmentalism was one of the key principles that was stressed. Never mind that it was a “quality” policy, the point was that this was a major part of their business strategy and it needed to be highlighted in their policy. As John Roudebush led the company through the development of the quality policy, other important themes emerged. These included work-life balance, positive karma, and high integrity and ethics. The final result was a wide-ranging and unique quality policy that truly fit the organization it was written for. John Roudebush decided that he wanted to go one step further than the quality policy. What sort of employee behaviors would reinforce the principles this company was founded on? This led to the development of the Ecolink Behavioral/Cultural Norms. They represented a natural extension of the quality policy, but defined actions and behaviors that could be put into practice every minute of the day. Over the years the Behavioral/Cultural Norms grew to 25 specific actions that reinforced the organizational culture that John Roudebush was trying to establish. These included such things as “Check your ego at the door,” “Do what’s best for the client,” and “Create a feeling of warmth in every interaction.” In order to make sure every employee understands the Behavioral/Cultural Norms, Ecolink maintains a weekly schedule whereby each employee gets a turn to discuss what a norm means to them. The employees bring the concepts to life through practical examples of how the norms guide their actions. So, when an auditor asks, “How do you communicate and support your quality policy?” John Roudebush tells them to sit back and relax. It might take a while.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Organizational knowledge and ISO 9001:2015

One of the more unusual new requirements in ISO 9001:2015 is the one for organizational knowledge. It basically says that your company will determine the knowledge necessary for running its processes and producing conforming products. Could you even be in business and NOT have this sort of knowledge? No. So, at first blush this seems like one of those meaningless requirements that companies and auditors just gloss over. The notes at the bottom of that section (7.1.6) provide valuable context, though. The notes state that knowledge is gained through experience, and they go on to give some examples of how knowledge is obtained: lessons learned, failures, successes, sharing of knowledge, improvements. Now you start to get the picture. This so-called organizational knowledge is always a work-in-progress. You’re continually building it on a day to day basis, as you hit home runs….and strike out with the bases full. ISO 9001:2015 also says that this knowledge will be maintained. That means kept up to date and made accessible. Far from a meaningless requirement, you now see an important process for continual improvement.

ISO 9001:2015 has been approved

The ISO 9001:2015 ballot has been approved. There were 75 approvals, 0 disapprovals and 5 abstentions (Canada, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, and Qatar). It is planned at this time that the standard will show a September 15, 2015, publication date and it is scheduled for release on September 23, 2015. (On schedule)