The yin and yang of today's quality management: a properly implemented quality management system can provide improved efficiency, lower costs and improved employee morale.
Unlike its predecessors, the current standard does not dictate actions, but rather offers 20 issues to be addressed. Each issue, from Management Responsibility through Statistical Techniques, must be addressed by each company in a manner that best suits its needs. A good analogy would be that the standard provides 20 questions with infinite possible solutions, depending on the company's needs, market realities and customer requirements. This standard is generic enough to be used by any size company, regardless of products, services or industry involved. However, a key issue of the standard is the need for a documented quality system.
Implementing an ISO 9000-compliant quality management system requires the preparation, issuance and control of command media such as procedures, work instructions and checklists. However, this requirement is often misunderstood in practice. The standard's intent is to provide a balanced approach to instructional guidance.
For example, the standard states, "... the range and detail of the procedure ... depend on the complexity of the work, the methods used and the skills and training needed by personnel involved." Accordingly, the standard only provides simple guidance concerning what must be addressed ha a functional quality management system, without dictating how it is to be done. A quick rule of thumb is, if the method does not seem right for your company, then it probably should not be used. The key is that you discover the right instructional balance between documented instructions and job training.
The newly revised standard has significantly trimmed the number of required procedures specified. However, the standard does not tell how many procedures you should have or how much training you should provide. The standard does provide a much better understanding of the intent of the documented quality system. The question remains for each company to determine a proper balance between command media/procedures and training. While not significantly changing the basic ingredients of quality management, the new standard changes how we think about quality management, offering a process approach to quality management.
The new standard divides the quality management system into five primary processes: documentation requirements; management responsibility; resource management; product realization; and measurement, analysis and improvement. Documentation requirements are defined as "documents needed by the organization to ensure the effective planning, operation, and control of its process." This statement provides guidance to develop procedures, but it does not restrict us from balancing with the proper amount of training (Figure 1).
At first, this question of instructional balance may appear simple; just decide how many procedures you think you need based on the number of elements in the standard and how much training you believe is necessary. However, closer scrutiny reveals a much more complex interaction. Too many unnecessary and restrictive procedures may hamper the proper use of your documented quality system or make it too cumbersome to be effective. In contrast, too much training may be overly expensive or time consuming. Too little of either or both may result in an improperly implemented quality system or no quality system at all. Too much of both will prevent a company from effectively dealing with a rapidly changing business environment.
As an advisory, do not assume that highly educated individuals need far fewer documented procedures and instructions than less educated personnel. For example, airline pilots use highly detailed checklists and procedures because their tasks are highly detailed, structured and require consistent repetitive performance. At the same time, they must continually undergo refresher task training. In contrast, assembly line workers rely more heavily on structured training, as their tasks are much more time sensitive and are performed in environments not suitable for the continual reference to written instructions.
As another example, design engineers and research scientists need only minimal documented guidance while electronic assemblers and test technicians need detailed work instructions. But, do not assume that the scientists working in your laboratory do not require any job-specific training.
Accordingly, any one element is insufficient to define your company's instructional balance. More accurately, all factors must be considered to establish the ideal mix of documentation and training. In the very early stages of developing your quality system, you must determine the proper balance between the quantity of documentation you develop and the amount of training you perform. A proper instructional balance must exist between the yin of documentation and the yang of training.
A review of the new standard provides some initial guidance toward the proper balance of instructional media. When this standard explains documentation as a media of "communication of intent and consistency of action," it introduces an important aspect of a proper quality management system. (1) Likewise, the standard also recognizes that the company itself is the key to the type and amount of documentation necessary; the extent of documentation is determined by the company based on several internal issues. (1)
Although the new standard defines training as the means by which the company achieves a satisfactory level of performance among its personnel and an awareness of customer needs, it does not draw the important parallel with a defined balance with documentation. These issues will most likely dictate the scale you will require to determine that unique balance that will satisfy your company's needs.
When seeking the proper balance between your documentation and training, your company must consider various issues: those issues introduced in the ISO standard and others defined by your business, product, people and culture. Each issue must be examined for its effect on your instructional balance.
The products or services of your company will provide one of the most notable influences on instructional balance. If the product is highly complex and requires stringent conformity, a higher level of documentation may be needed. However, if the product process consists of constant or repetitive tasks, training may be a better approach. If the task requirements lean toward the interpretation of changing or presented conditions, then the individual's level of training may need to be higher to temper the judgment calls.
In many industries, customers commonly specify or even provide training. Customers may also stipulate and provide review/approval of command media used to provide the product. For example, any organization that provides services or products to the US government must follow the Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL). These requirements specify the type and format of procedures to be developed and approved by the customer's representative.
The personality of your company will often dictate the accepted instructional balance. Even while desiring more documentation for consistency, many companies refrain from implementing such documentation. A company's personality could be damaged by perceived restrictions suggested by command media. The opposite can be found in a company that "goes by the book" and whose personnel then feel threatened if the "book" is unavailable.
As discussed, the complexity of the task itself may dictate the level of training and documentation required. If a specific recipe for success is defined by a set of work instructions, those instructions must be followed, often to the letter. But if success depends on the ability of a technician to interpret complex signals or situations, then the company should improve that technician's ability to react, rather than wasting its resources on attempting to anticipate what may go wrong.
The expectations of workers and supervisors will often dictate the instructional balance. If the company's nature predisposes it to a level of expected documentation or training, doing anything else would be less than effective. If employees were anticipating detailed procedures, failure to provide these documents would just increase their anxiety, and the reverse is just as true.
For a company to convert from favoring training or documentation to the other side of the balance will be difficult. Shifting toward a more equitable balance will require great delicacy. Too much too soon could result in an unsettled workforce and unbalance in the reverse direction.
Cultural and social diversity
Effective communication, including documented procedures and task training, between diverse cultures and social groups requires careful and deliberate attention. The social and cultural interfaces that exist within a company will prescribe the levels and forms of instructional balance required. Also, feedback should be encouraged to ensure that the desired documentation or training has indeed occurred. If the desired communication has not occurred, the desired consistency of action will not occur. Additional caution is advised against cultural stereotypes or social chauvinism.
A classic "no brainer," but, if regulatory requirements specify a level of training or documentation, then the only discussion must be directed at how best to meet these regulatory needs without violating any of the company's other needs or demands. This situation is not one of how much, but rather, one of integration. The new standard establishes that "management should ensure that the organization has knowledge of the statutory and regulatory requirements that apply to its product, processes and activities." (2)
The nature of the workplace itself will strongly influence the method of instructional communication used. If the workplace environment is unfriendly to the use of documentation, the company should use training to communicate expectations. The same would be true if the functional nature of the task at hand dictated the balance to lean toward training. Although these factors may be outweighed by task complexity, customer requirements or regulatory issues, the company must introduce appropriate documentation, despite hostile conditions.
Computers, cellular telephones, video conferencing, the Web and other recent technological innovations have initiated a massive shift in the factors that influence a company's instructional balance. Now, a technician can receive detailed procedures, with supporting diagrams and illustrations, via a personal computer attached to the Internet. In-depth training via the Internet can also be provided. Where once providing documented procedures or training was impractical due to time, place, environment or some other factor, technology now not only makes practical but preferable.
Dispersal of activities
With the introduction of the "virtual office" and the increased trend toward geographic dispersal of both functional and operational activities, new demands have been placed on the established balance of training and documented instruction. No longer can a company anticipate that training will occur either in the classroom or one-on-one. No longer can written procedures be locally situated for quick reference. Web-based training and electronic documentation are rapidly becoming accepted practice, and this technology influences the instructional balance that may exist within a company.
The new ISO 9000 quality management standard has significantly reduced the explicit pronunciation of required documented procedures. However, companies must still rigorously seek suitable instructional balance. This reduction invites a company to seek the proper equilibrium. If an unbalance exits within a company between command media and training, this unbalance can and will create inefficacy in personnel, perceived lower competency of personnel and deficiencies in the expected results and the products. When a company has achieved equilibrium and instructional balance, it will be rewarded with improved efficiency, lower costs and improved morale.
FIGURE 1: The balance between Training and documentation. TRAINING * Formal Training * On-the-job Training * Certification DOCUMENTATION * Policy * Procedure * Work Instruction
(1.) ISO. 2000. ISO/FDIS 9000(E), Quality management system--Fundamentals and vocabulary, par. 3.7.1 and 3.7.2.
(2.) ISO. 2000. ISO/FDIS 9004, Quality management system--Guidelines for performance improvement, par. 5.2.3
Lee C. Bravener is vice president of National Quality Assurance, Acton, MA; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.