mistakesWith over 20 years experience in this field I’ve seen a lot – the good, the bad, and the positively ugly. Everyone is “irked” by something and for me it’s seeing companies waste time and money developing management systems that don’t work, either because no one follows them or because they are impractical and inefficient, or they fail the certification audit. It may sound simplistic but companies often lose sight of their ISO standard goals through wayward enthusiasm, unnecessary layers of complexity and misunderstanding the requirements of the standard or the degree of flexibility available. Much of the bureaucracy put in place “in the name of ISO” stems from this.

Look, there’s nothing magical about ISO systems, be they there to manage product and service quality, customer satisfaction, environmental risks, energy usage or carbon emissions. The ISO standards simply provide the framework through which organisations can achieve goals and implement strategic objectives. A management system designed to meet the requirements of an ISO standard, any standard, shouldn’t be complicated, shouldn’t be inefficient, shouldn’t be a means to an end. They should however create value.

Here’s the top three most common mistakes I see:

  • Mistake 1: Writing over 50 procedures when 12 would have done.
    • You only need to document 6 procedures to meet the requirements of ISO 9001. No one has time to read or decipher a document of biblical proportions, let alone follow them.
    • Be concise. Think about clarity. A standard should only contain verifiable statements. Moreover procedural documents shouldn’t eliminate a rainforest.
  • Mistake 2: Writing policies and procedures that are soooooo long yet say soooooo little.
    • Firstly you risk turning the clever staff member who has to follow lengthy directives into a turnip, fast-tracking them toward the road of complete disengagement.
    • Secondly whoever said that procedures must be written in complex prose? Use visuals that compliment the human brain’s natural cognitive ability. Create process maps, info maps, checklists or diagrams.
    • Make simplifying processes an integral part of your management system. You’ll be amazed by the productivity gain.
  • Mistake 3: Writing procedures that are micro-specific.
    • Nine times out of ten, these fail the audit. No one follows them in such an exacting manner. It’s really that simple.
    • It’s vital when designing systems that you distinguish between work instructions and procedures and keep them separate.
    • It’s equally important to have a good understanding of human behaviour so rather than attempting to force people to adapt, you’re incorporating behavioural insights into your methodology. Play to people’s strengths and leave the micro-specifics to work instructions … and then, only if you must.

I hate to think about the amount of money businesses have spent writing their own systems. I’ve seen it countless times and the costs are material – in fact they frequently run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars even for small businesses. However as is often the case because the business hasn’t tracked capacity utilisation, they’re unaware of the real cost. It’s a damaging false economy.

I do see many positives from the development of one’s own system. For example its a great way of achieving commitment and buy-in. However if you’re struggling to write your own system, if confusion reigns, if your system is inefficient and ineffective I can help. Let me focus my core competencies and core business on the task at hand, whilst you focus on yours.

All the best – Liz.