An invented word that I hope won’t catch on but it’s got your attention and you’re reading this! What does “monuments” mean? To me, it’s documents that add nothing except more recycling potential. Let me explain.

I do a lot of management system audits and many audit protocols, and management systems themselves, place great reliance on documentation. Procedures that define and dictate how a particular job is to be done, or painstakingly prepared records that nobody (except auditors) ever read. For auditors, documentary evidence is king.

I recently had a discussion with a company about simplifying some of their procedures. They (the procedures) were quite detailed and it was explained that they were to make sure everyone did the same task the same way; their internal audits took great pains to ensure they were rigorously adhered to. Why, I asked, did it matter so much; surely, if the outcome was the same, why not define what is actually needed and let their staff decide the best way to accomplish it. Training and experience would probably result in the most efficient way evolving and as or when, circumstances changed staff would probably respond accordingly. The response was that it was the job of the quality management system to make sure everyone worked the same way. I could not convince them to trust their staff to decide how – leaving management (and the system documentation) to just define the what.

In another company, there were numerous folders (paper and electronic) of work records that seemed to have no purpose other than to exist. Project managers spent several days each month preparing reports that had to be sent off to head office (and quickly chased up by head office if not received on time) – on investigation I found they were never actually read by anyone. There was a legacy system in place that had been needed to address some problems with a few divisions elsewhere within the global group but, for the UK division I was dealing with, was totally superfluous: head office management were not going to waste their time reviewing these reports but the system was there and had to be followed irrespective of need.

When auditing, some companies seem disappointed when I don’t spend hours reviewing the documentation they’ve prepared for me – it’s taken them a day or so to collate it and all I do is dip in and out. My view is that if they’ve prepared it I should expect it to be correct and “dipping in and out” allows me to verify that through sampling (which is a fundamental audit principle). Personally (and professionally) I’d rather spend valuable audit time finding out if they know what they’re doing and why. Sometimes it’s not the answer I get to a question that is crucial – rather it’s the way it’s answered, the hesitation or otherwise.

Documentation, whether process maps, procedures, records, etc. is valuable – but only if it adds value. Sometimes (in fact, all the time) we need to challenge whether it is really adding value.

(Posted as a blog 6th August 2014)