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Document Control

The Effective Document system

Document control is essential for a business. It provides a way of co-ordinating your Best Practice processes, documents and records across the organisation. Alongside that, here are customer and regulatory requirements. So, document control ensures that all staff are using the agreed and current documents. Also, it provides a management framework to meet those requirements. Further, it provides a firm basis to build continual improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of your business. In fact, Document Control lies at the very heart of your Management System (MS). This is true for any of the ISO Management Standards.

A Management System gives you an opportunity to meet those needs. That is a good thing for your business. So, why is there such an emphasis on documents? The answer goes right to the heart of your MS.

What a Quality Management System must do

To be compliant, the documents in your system must accurately document and represent the business’s structure, organisation, procedures, work processes and resources. In fact, that is not as onerous as it appears on the surface – because, it helps you to order your business, to keep it managed. Actually, the documentation you produce is very important. It is a statement about the current condition and effectiveness of your organisation. Let’s explore the reason for that.

Every product should have a design standard. Therefore, a specification provides the base information needed to produce a ‘widget’. Likewise, when an entrepreneur looks to develop a service. The manager must identify the work context and customer preferences. The last thing a business needs is customer complaints. So, both product and services need careful planning and consistent execution. Effectively, that is what the Document System establishes.

When we specify something complex, like a service or a design, the specification forms the base of operation. Fundamentally, the lack of agreed documentation means there is a danger the process would not be faithfully reproduced. Little variances, or errors, can destroy the consistent production of a good quality widget or a quality service. Eventually, a lack of documentation will cause the best practice to deteriorate and degrade your operation.

If our work is consistent and of good quality, this shows we meet a high standard. A Management system defines High Standards. So, how we uphold, and even improve that standard depends on having clearly documented processes, good records and measurable goals. Therefore, a documented process will help identify goals for customer satisfaction and a basis for improvement of that standard. Ultimately, the document system acts as an important point from which to develop and improve.

Creating a baseline for Quality

Documenting work or production processes and goals is critical. It ensures you are working to your latest agreed processes and Best Practices. That provides a base to measure the success of any improvements made. So, the written procedures, work instructions and goals form an essential part of creating a standard from which to move forward. (See: ISO Guidance on the requirements for Documented Information of ISO 9001:2015)

Continuously updated Quality Documents act as an operations manual for the business. That is because they document the current agreed procedures. At the same time, they represent the current ‘state’ of the quality system. The staff can use that baseline ‘state’ to find ways to improve. Eventually, these continual updates and improvements will raise the quality of the product or service step-by-step.

going beyond the product or service process

Quality Documents describe your agreed Best Practice. However, it is also important to include how you are going to check your MS operation too. Like your work processes, the system itself needs procedures. Every aspect of the MS needs monitoring to ensure it is working as specified.

Without agreed procedure or processes for your document system, you cannot manage your Quality Documents. The system describes your MS in general. That includes the document procedure itself. That specific procedure shows document use and how to make changes and updates. It also details the ways you manage and monitor the documents. Thus, the document procedure referencces every aspect of the MS.

Consequently, you cannot improve the MS if the Document control procedure is inadequate or ineffective. Your MS must accurately describe your work processes. So, all improvements to your business processes rely on the important base line determined by the current documents. Therefore, it is of great importance that your management process keeps your documents up to date and properly reflecting your work processes.

A definition of Quality Document Management

Your documents system is a statement of where your business is on the improvement journey. It is your reference for how to record and retrieve data and information. Also, it is your statement of how you will monitor and operate all aspects of the system, and how you improve it too. The Quality Document Management process includes all aspects of documentation. That includes, management of the monitoring; use, tracking, storage and control ot the documents themselves. Finally, it includes changes and improvements to documents as well.

How to build a Quality Document system?

The structure of your documentation is important. Successful systems tend to have a hierarchical structure. The hierarchy typically follows this format…

  • Quality or Business Manual.
  • Policies
  • Procedures
  • Work Instructions.
  • Forms and Records.

Typically, the Manual is the top document. It contains the organisation’s  Objectives, mission statement, the Policies and link the Standards requirements to the Procedures. These are the framework documents. Together, they create a platform for making decisions that affect Quality in the Organisation.

The next layer…

The Quality documents describe all aspects of the procedures that run the MS itself. Every ISO Standard has its own requirements. However, there is a common top-level Index for Management Standards using seven key clauses…

  • Context.
  • Leadership.
  • Planning.
  • Support.
  • Operation.
  • Performance Evaluation.
  • Improvement.

To comply to these clauses, there will be procedures and processes that relate to the specific needs of your business. Examples include procedures for Risk management, Traceability, Identification and Monitoring. In addition, the procedures cover the overall description of the workflow and work processes in the product, service or other requirements.

The Quality Work Instructions

The procedures identify specific actions taken by staff in the workflow. Beyond that, detailed instructions can provide extra details. Work instructions often act as effective Training aids. They provide a resource for new employees. For existing staff, your documents act as reminders. Furthere, the work instructions help them carry out unfamiliar activities or analysis. Of course, they must also properly describe the work process itself.

Keeping records

Records provide a historical backdrop to the actions taken within the organisation. They need to be strictly controlled. Tampering with records can be illegal. It can cause chaos as well. Disarray in records provide a nightmare for tracing issues. It also makes rectifying problems difficult when something goes wrong.

On a broader scale, records are specific to a business. That is because every business is different. Therefore, it is no surprise that every business has its own record needs and record structure, as well as unique storage and retrieval systems.

Record keeping is, therefore, an important function of the Management System overall. The records provide a historical basis upon which the management can seek to continuously improve the organisation. Consequently, properly documenting work records and procedures is important. Maintaining good records of the MS and any changes are a fundamental part of the fact-based management decision-making process. Ultimately, the document system provides a backbone for your organisations improvements.

Document Control

What is document control? It is the process of keeping a careful record of the history of the documents and the management of those documents as a staff resource. Thus, Document Control is the backbone of your whole MS documentation system. Without control over your documents, people will use different versions across the business. They will mix up processes and specifications too. Consequently, if the documents are not current and out of order, or do not match the work process, control of the business will decline. So, it is of central importance that your documents are organised, current and properly reflect your work processes.

Essential aspects of the control process…

The maintainance of a document control process relates to nearly every part of the organisation. As a result, it has some specific attributes…

  • Document writing and editing by appropriate personnel.
  • Review and approval of new documents by management prior to release.
  • Document versioning.
  • Distribution, reviews, approvals and releases to staff (and including training).
  • Revisions, changes and update identification within the record system and each document.
  • Distribution of current version of applicable documents to appropriate “access points”.
  • Document identification and version logging.
  • Historical archive for research; redundant documents removed from use.
  • Document protection against damage or loss at “document access points”.
  • Control and management of external documents (e.g. Customer-supplied documents, supplier manuals, reference works, specifications, drawings and other documents).
  • Prevention of the “unintended” use of obsolete documents.
  • Regular review of existing documents to match the current work processes in progress.
  • Staff feedback system available to report back on problem documents and document problems.
  • Monitoring the document system through Audits and reviews, as well as investigative documentation checks and corrective actions.

For more detailed information on the nature of reccords, there is an entire ISO Standard dedicated to more specialist record-based organisations. See: ISO 15489-1:2016 Information and documentation — Records management — Part 1: Concepts and principles.

The ultimate aim of a Document System

If your Quality Document system works, it will successfully support all aspects of the MS. It helps prevent process problems in the workflow. The Quality Document system also ensures that the current processes are properly specified. As a whole, this essential component is there to provide a reference to consistent work and to support staff and staff training.

The Quality Document system is a communication system. It creates an established standard for policy and process in the business. Of course, the staff must also have full access to the system as a reference. Consequently, document control becomes the root of consistency in the organisation. That is because it acts as a reference standard for the level of Service Delivery maintained across the organisation. In addition, the document system is updatable, as well as, manageable. Ultimately, the Quality Documents give the Management Team proper control of all aspects of the work processes as well as the MS itself.

These principles are basic to evidence-based management. Your documents and records establish a baseline for your Management System and the future of its improvements. With training, the staff will be able to use the document system as a central resource for consistency, improvement and guidance to best practice.

Can we help you?

CHARTER4 has many years’ experience of helping organisations set up management systems and the associated document systems. We work with businesses of all sizes to help them develop management systems based on their current organisation. However, we concentrate on establishing an important principle. Many consultants work to just get you through certification. We believe that you should also get a return on your investment. So, our focus is to ensure that you get your certification, but also to “Improve your business, rather than just comply”. That means, we ensure your management system has a real impact on improving your business. Furthermore, we aim to  ensure that business and system improvements will continue to positively develop your business into the future.

Would like to know more about our unique approach? We can help you to improve your business future. Simply press one of the buttons below.

Certification with Charter 4 – the Business Benefits
  • Improve, rather than just comply.
  • Full service and ongoing support to compliment your resources.
  • Build on your Processes & Systems (no standard templates).
  • Help defining your Best Practice.
  • Certification by independent UKAS accredited Assessors.
  • 100% Success & guaranteed support until Certification.
  • Help to get Government Grant (when available).
  • Flexible support to complement your resources.
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