Where does your Integrated Management System live?

Quality management is compliance.

This is one of the basics in quality management. In practice, this means that the organization must identify, understand and meet the demands of its key stakeholders. A fact that may sound simple, but in practice includes a lot of work and different documentation.

Who are our customers?

The identification of key stakeholders typically begins with reflecting on customers, personnel, owners and society. These are four very different types of stakeholders, all of whom have their own requirements for the organization. Customers want an excellent price/quality ratio for services and products, personnel demand good leadership and rewarding, owners are interested in profit and organizational growth, whereas society expect social and environmental responsibility. Stakeholders can also be further divided. How do managers’ and personnel’s expectations for the organization differ from each other? Or how do the expectations of families with small children differ from the expectations of senior clients?

As you are considering the stakeholders in your organization, try to do an acid test. Ask your colleagues who they think your organization’s customers are, and write down the responses. If the responses are in line with each other, the stakeholder groups have likely already been mapped, or at least the understanding of your customers is on a good level. However, if you notice a significant variation in the responses, a more thorough identification of key stakeholders could be beneficial to you.

What are stakeholder requirements?

After identifying the stakeholders, the next step is to understand what are their requirements for the operation of the organization. The requirements may be on a more general level, such as “the products must be safe”, or they may be very accurate, for example, “queuing at the counter must not last more than five minutes”. A good way to map stakeholder requirements is to form a table. Below is an example of customer requirements for a toy store:

Child (user customer)
An interesting shop with opportunities to play and experiment
A comprehensive range of products
Parent (paying customer)
Safe facilities and products for children
Competitive prices

Stakeholder demands can be considered amongst the staff in meeting rooms, but at some point, the results of this reflection must be tested by the stakeholders. This can be done naturally as part of customer surveys or market/product testing. Advisory groups of stakeholders can also be considered as tools for identifying requirements.

It is beneficial to document the identified requirements and communicate them to the whole staff. This improves the understanding of what the organization is expected to do and where the quality work is aimed at. Documentation also makes it possible to return to joint agreements if necessary.

How are requirements met?

Identifying requirements is the first step in quality work. The next step is to consider how to ensure compliance with the requirements. In practice, this is done by agreeing and improving common practices. The agreement may be expressed as a process description, an instruction or other documented information. Together, these agreements form the organization’s integrated management system, that is, the documented information on how an organization intends to meet (or exceed) the requirements of key stakeholders.

Of course, the documentation alone is not sufficient, but common practices must also be a part of the daily work of the staff. Putting this into practice (deploying) requires good communication and involving the staff in the quality work. The fact that the documents are easily accessible and easily updated in the online environment also makes it easier to succeed. Also, document version control and approval practices should be in order, so that outdated instructions that have already been buried do not wake up from the dead and mess up the work.

The commitment of management to the jointly agreed practices is paramount. If one member of the management team or a supervisor fails to comply with the common rules, the base falls out of the entire operating system. Some variation in implementation will always occur, and there may be situations where operating under the management system would be a worse solution than doing otherwise. No integrated management system can provide the right answer to every situation. Therefore, it is good to leave some “air” in the instructions and descriptions to enable the employee to apply his or her own skills and competence to complex situations.

IMS software as a folder of common agreements

Arter’s IMS software is the result of years of development. It is an excellent software solution to be the home of your integrated management system, or as one of my colleagues once said: “to be the folder of our common agreements”. The IMS software provides an easy-to-use platform for process descriptions, manuals, documents, metrics, reports, tasks and risks.

Through comprehensive linking capabilities, information only needs to be updated in one place. This keeps the documentation of the integrated management system up to date much more effortlessly than for example a collection of Excel and Word files.

Before my career at Arter I have also worked as an IMS administrator myself, and sat at the meeting table in the role of a quality manager during an ISO 9001 audit.  I know from experience how the IMS software is an unmatched tool for both auditing and everyday quality work.

A good integrated management system must have a good home. Where does your integrated management system live?