By the end of 2015, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will release the newest version of ISO 9001. Although bureaucracy tends to get more complicated over time, ISO 9001-2015 reduces the documentation your company needs to meet quality standards.
You don’t need a quality manual anymore to be ISO 9001–certified. But don’t get excited yet. Yes, quality manuals can be a lot of work, but they’re still important for your company. Instead of abandoning your quality manual, you can rethink it—what it contains, how it’s written, and how you access it.
What your Quality Manual should contain
Since you can define the contents of your quality manual, include only what’s useful for your company. A shorter quality manual could persuade your employees to actually use it. So what should you write in the manual? Add the information that will guide current and future employees as they build the business you envisioned:
- Your company’s goals and vision. To set the tone for your quality manual, start it off with the answer to one question: Why does this company exist? Remember, your company does more than just making a product or providing a service. Its purpose involves improving people’s lives in a specific way. Figure out how, and write that down.
- Products and services. For any product you create or service you fulfil, define the process behind it in the quality manual. Quality is largely about consistency, so make your expectations clear.
- Your company’s definition of quality. By itself, the word ‘quality’ is vague. Define specifically what matters to your client. For instance, if you deliver packages, timeliness is crucial to quality. For more nebulous goals, like “comfort” and “sturdiness” for furniture, decide on a measurement, like survey responses or the amount of weight an office chair can hold.
- The relationship between different departments. Few products come from just one department. Make sure you define how different parts of your company work together. The easiest way to do this is with a clear flowchart.
How your Quality Manual should be written
While your quality manual used to provide value through compliance, now it should provide real value for your company. Instead of worrying about oversight, make your manual readable. Here’s how:
- Write in short sentences. You may have heard before that you should write so a child in secondary school could understand. Don’t dismiss this simple advice. If your manual is easier to read, it’s easier to use.
- Make it actionable. Assume that people will be working as they read your manual. Write clear instructions, not descriptions of processes. For instance, instead of saying, ‘The employee will then apply the protective coating’, just write, ‘Apply the protective coating’.
- Increase readability with formatting. There’s more to a readable document than writing style. The way your documents looks will influence how easily employees can use it. To make your manual more accessible, get rid of lengthy paragraphs, use numbered lists, and bold crucial points.
Where your Quality Manual should live
If your current quality manual is in a dusty binder lying forgotten in a corner, it might be time to go digital with a wiki. You already know that digital documents are easier to search and access, but wikis have additional advantages for quality manuals:
- Powerful version control. With a wiki, you can update your quality manual whenever you need to, making your company processes more agile and flexible. Wiki software can also track each edits, displaying not only who made the change and when but also the exact changes made.
- Hyperlink manual sections together. Consider dividing your quality manual over several wiki pages linked together from one hub. Employees can deal with small chunks of relevant information instead of wading through the whole manual. Wiki software usually includes a search feature to find information when employees don’t know which link to follow.
- Easier maintenance with user permissions. When many people think of wikis, they think of Wikipedia and how anyone – no matter their background – can edit its articles. However, with a company-level wiki, you can customise user permissions so only certain people can edit your quality manual. That way, you can divide some of the maintenance work among trusted employees.
Even though the next version of ISO 9001 won’t require it, a readable quality manual can still give your company an edge. Dust off your old binder for an update. Your quality manual can prove its worth in 2015 and beyond by keeping your products consistent.