Making Changes

It’s easy to set about making changes to an organisation by tinkering with its procedures – consultants do it all the time.  Issue a new “Quality Manual”, paying attention and correcting what used to be problematical, and you’re on the road to success.  Oh, if only it was that simple.

When ISO9001 morphed from its BS5750/DEF-STAN-05-21 guise into its new millennium form, a lot was made about it now being process based.  Unfortunately, it did little to move the focus away from procedures, still requiring documented procedures for what are seen as core management system elements.  I have to say I saw the changes to ISO9001 as a very good step but, unfortunately, far too many just saw the change as a need to tweak the documentation.

I’ve written about a process oriented approach elsewhere; here is where I want to highlight the difficulties in making effective changes.  A management system is not its documentation – the system is what is actually done, not what is written down as what somebody thinks should be done.  Management system documentation often describes an ideal, not the harsh reality.  Forcing people into the word processed utopia will inevitably lead to dystopia.  The culture is the practise.

If we want to fix problems, and I don’t mean problems that merely revolve around non-compliance with documented procedures as they’re easily fixed by rewriting the documentation, but problems where the system is not delivering the required outcomes, we need to look at the practices and underlying culture.  Eventually, we need to make the formally documented system match these practices and the culture – not force an alien system.

For example, returning to the subject of document control, the system should ensure people have all necessary documentation for the task in hand – not by requiring them to jump through hoops to get it (and then criticising them for possessing or using an obsolete document) but by making the document control system natural and a fit with the culture.  Often this means reverting to what some people call a “push” system rather than a “pull” one: the system delivers proactively rather than reacting to a user request.

(Posted as a blog 17th December 2012)