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Documentation and Work Instructions

Developing effective work instructions
ISO 9000
Instructions that work
Organizing documents

Sample tax form
Form for tracking payroll
Process steps instructions
Trial documentation
Document alerts
Books on process documentation
More books on documentation

Organizing Your Documents
for the Future

Does your company depend on the information your employees use to be accurate and easily retrievable? Do you have time you can afford to waste on finding out where a note was filed? No-one does! Yet every place I've audited or consulted with, document control system was the first part of the process we needed to get a handle on. Organizing your documentation is important to any organization. Documentation System controls the process flow of information. Wether a system is formal or informal it exists in your company. Wether it's formal or informal you are paying for it's existence. Your choice is to pay for a document control system that works for you, or for a system that does not work for you.

Documentation system consists of two types of information that needs to be captured: Documents and Records. Documents are a form of information that is used over and over like: directions, procedures, policy, work instructions, recipes, drawings, instructions, etc. Records are the pieces of information that capture data at a particular time interval. For example: A form application for Social Security Number is a document. Once it is filled out with persons information it becomes a record. Documentation system can be electronic or paper driven. For example: the clerk may have a screen that defines the information same as the form on their computer. The entry screen is the document-form, once the clerk transfers the information from the paper copy and saves it on the computer it becomes an electronic record.

An informal documentation system may consist of employees personal notes that they are able to scribble down when they are trained. It continues to grow as employee jots down additional notes to capture any changes. Some of these notes are noted only in their head. I've seen little notebooks, calendars, pieces of paper taped to equipment, specifications spray painted on walls in 3 ft. high lettering (wrong spec!). Binders employees stored in their lockers and trunk of their car. File cabinets of information stored in employees garage.

E-mail system has created another form of junk documentation. When a manager wants to change something he or she sends an E-mail to the employees and believes that takes care of the problem. Well it does some of the time, as long as there is no staff turnaround or information is used immediately. If it's something that affects an employee moths later or very infrequently, they will likely forget about it since they will have thousands of other E-mails to remember. Whenever an employee changes jobs it is usually impossible to go through all the E-mails that were saved by their predecessor.

Records that are tracked informally are either not easily retrievable or missing. I have witnessed employees searching through the warehouse of boxes that were soaked and not legible but critical to the company. I have searched for many records myself. That time and resource is lost and wasted yet no-one tracks that as a lost $ to the company. Missing contracts, purchase orders, lost invoices, lost checks are all costing an organization $$$. Yet spending the $ to invest in a good system is hard to justify.

A good document/information control system will ensure that all the information that is used by employees is current and accurate.
A good system is protected from changes by unauthorized individuals.

A well organized record system will allow employees to retrieve information as quickly as they ask for it.
A document system that is configured in a format with the user in mind will be used.
A document system that takes weeks or months to update will result in obsolete system that employees will distrust.
When policy information is obsolete and outdated the employees will view it as unimportant to follow.
When employees observe you mistreat the records they are documenting, they will give less importance to these records as well.

The actions of management communicate loud and clear to the employees what is important to the organization. If you do not believe your organization needs documents and records to be controlled don't waste your employees time in collecting the information. Information that is collected and never used should be trashed immediately, Why waste space and storage of your company in collecting pieces of paper or typing in useless information? But guess what, we are all saving tons of useless information just in case we might need it, even though it may take weeks to try to retrieve it. We all can remember an instance of a missing document or record. Many times organizations pay dearly for lack of a good document/information management system.

A paper or electronic documentation system still needs to be organized in a way that can easily be found by employees. A document number, title, revision date, issue date and page of pages numbering is a minimum identification any document should have listed on each page. Word processing software makes this very simple when header or footer of the document is used. Titles take longer to find documents. Creating a code system for documents organizes the documents so that employees can find it easier. What makes sense for one organization may not make much sense for another. A good code system will make the difference for user. Test the system you've created with different employees. Time it how quickly they can retrieve the information they need.

Any organization can create an electronic system. If your employees do not know how to use a computer this may be a best way to get them used to it. I have not met a documentation system yet that could not be automated. If the only aspect you implement is documentation and record control system that assures that information is current, accurate and easily retrievable by all you will conquer one of the most important aspects of implementation of ISO-9001. Your organization will achieve a cost saving that will save $$ through generations.

Wether you choose to get ISO certification or not, choose to control the information flow in your company. The quality of the decision process in your organization depends on the quality of information that was used to make a decision. Your employees are making decisions every minute in your company and those decisions are critical to the future of the organization.

Danuta Highet

Foqus, Inc. September, 2004

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