“Procedures” are one of the basics of a quality management system. In simple terms, they are written documents that specify the steps you need to complete a work process. Normally procedures also explain how your staff should do each work step. They provide a documented, structured, instruction set for a process which will fulfil a customer’s requirements.
You cannot document every work process. An artisan at work has years of training and experience. Nobody would write procedures for how a glass blower deploys his skill. How would you write a procedure to describe how a graphic artist creates a harmonious design? However, you can document the different parts of the overall process. Your “procedures” should describe how experience, skills and creativity are used in the work chain. That needs to include who, where, when, and in what steps the skills should be deployed within.
Every work place has procedures, even if you do not have them written down. Running a business involves many different jobs. In essence, each of the little things we do in our work involves a procedure.
In a quality management system the aim is to improve your processes. Each improvement helps you do a better job for your customer. That includes benefits for you too. Improvements you make to your procedures may save money, time or reduce mistakes. A quality system requires you to have procedures written down, so you can see what works. By understanding what works, or not, you can see how to make improvements. This is the basic mechanism for continuously improving your business.
Only those things that directly affect the delivery of a quality product or service. However, many businesses find that as they take the quality management approach the benefits start piling up. Eventually they end up with procedures for most work activities – the effects are positive throughout the business.
Procedures do not lead to continuous improvement if you make two mistakes. The first mistake is to write a procedure that no body uses because it is “idealised”. A Quality Manager or supervisors can easily write procedures that they would like to see. Those would not be the same as the procedures actually in use. What you need to do is document the procedures your staff uses now. Then use those as a basis for looking for improvements. So, write it down. Then, review it to see if it is right.
Management often get a surprise when they read the first efforts at writing procedures. They often have no idea that basic work processes had become complicated, inadequate, wasteful or even poor quality. Just the act of writing the procedures down brings all sorts of nasties out of the woodwork. A quality company needs to know about those things that are not right.
If the written procedures model your work processes, what next? You might find things are working well – or not. Some investment may be in order. You might find some people are doing different things to others working on the same process. These sorts of findings help you reduce variable quality in delivery of products or services.
Whatever you find, you will need to review the process. That is when the managers and staff put on their thinking caps. The aim is to produce a better job. Next, you write an updated procedure. Then, you can train people to use it and try out the new way. Simple.
To keep making continuous improvements you will need to check each procedure regularly. Checking that the work process parallels the procedure helps correct problems. You also need to check each procedure delivers the right outcome, that it is meeting its requirements.
Your business can suffer with poor quality product, bad operations, variable processes and excessive costs, or a whole host of other problems. All those problems remain hidden without your “Procedures”. They form the basic unit of good sense in your business. Once everyone knows how things should be done, you have set your standards. So, that is why your “procedures” are such an important part of your quality management system.