Quality Manual Series: Part 2 of 3
Way back when, we used to have a Quality Manual with the following elements:
As you can easily see, it met the requirements of the standard itself and was valuable to us, because the links took us to the actual procedures. When a customer would ask us for a copy of the Quality Manual, we would cheerfully print the process map, the scope statement and, of course, all the procedures. What a better way to show them what our processes really were! Instead of giving them a document that paraphrased the standard, we told them exactly what we did and how we did it – through our procedures. We were clear, we were transparent, and we had nothing to hide.
As we received more and more requests for a hard copy handout of our Quality Manual, it became a bit time consuming to do our printing. Not just that, but the auditors also began to have a headache because they were not presented with what they called “the norm.” So we found it convenient at one point to create a quality manual that could sort of summarize our procedures, so that when somebody asked for it, we did not have to print all our procedures. Additionally, we saw it as a good tool for managers and employees to refer to, helping them become deeply familiar with our company. At this stage, the manual did not follow each clause of the standard. Instead, it was a document that told me enough of my processes and my procedures to be very valuable – without getting into so much detail that it could potentially contradict with our procedures.
But somewhere, somehow, someday…this new breed of follow-the-formula auditors began having trouble relating to the requirements of the standard in our Quality Manual. Basically, they went from a minor headache to a major brain freeze. They did not want to read our procedures, but rather they wanted to see each clause and sub-clause of the standard perfectly imitated, laid out and presented to their hearts’ content. Never mind that our procedures were very detailed and met all the requirements of the standard – in fact they met the requirements of many standards at once – since at one point our facility was certified to ISO 9001, ISO 14001, QS 9000 and TL 90001. However, for some strange reason, if we missed clause d on 6.2.2, even though the procedure explained it, we were toast.
And so the era of repeating the standard began. I found that even when I summarized all the bullets into a few sentences, there would always be one auditor who would suggest putting the content back into bullet format. Or if we combined two bullets into one, thus having bullets a through d for example, instead of a through e, there would be an auditor having a brain freeze because they could not find bullet “e.” So, we finally gave in to the auditors’ “stay-inside-the-lines” demands and nowadays we advise our clients that because we do not know what kind of auditor they will get, we better write the Quality Standard line-by-line, word-for-word – just like the standard – and then plug in our procedures as reference.
The most ironic part of this in my view, is that a Quality Manual that regurgitates the standard word-for-word may fare better than another Quality Manual that perfectly addresses the standard but presents more valuable information regarding the company procedures, the company culture and the company processes. What a beautiful thing it is to read a manual where I can learn about the company, truly have a glimpse on their processes and see what they are all about. Yet certain auditors will come and tell me that because I called the document control procedure “Documentation Control,” I’m wrong and I deserve a finding. Give me a break, where is the value-added here?
Having a quality manual that regurgitates the standard seemed to have appeased most auditors, however, we’re seeing that some of these auditors are now starting to move in another direction. Where? You guessed it: procedures. Now they want to see our procedures also paraphrase the standard.
I will not lose my company culture, our industry jargon and our process names just because the auditor wants to impose their flawed interpretation of the standard upon us, and force us to have procedures that parrot-phrase the standard.
Where are we, in 1994? The standard changed in 2000 for the better, and it must continue that way.
I can truly say that in our company I live the standard, I live the quality management system; as an auditor, as the management representative and as the consultant that coaches clients what to do day in and day out. The standard is there for us to follow so we can improve, and that does not mean for us to repeat what it says but rather TO DO in our own way, what it says. Lukewarm people are those who talk about the standard, coach about it, but don’t follow a thing. Our company lives by it and I know that the standard was never meant to be regurgitated and not be followed. So for all those out there who feel there is no value in paraphrasing the standard, I hear you.
Miriam Boudreaux is the President of Mireaux Management Solutions, a consulting firm headquartered in Houston, TX. Mireaux’s products and services encompass international standards Consulting, Hands-On Training, Auditing, Document Control and implementation of Web QMS platform.
To get in touch with Miriam Boudreaux, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.