ISO Documentation Numbering System is essential for company-wide documentation for all kinds of procedures and manuals especially for those companies who intend to go for the ISO certification.
Currently, ISO Certification craze has been largely faded out recently. Ideally, the main reason for any company to go for the ISO is two-fold i.e. to help improve the internal quality, and perhaps more importantly to tell the public that they are now ‘ISO certified’ company. And this, in turn, will command a respect from the consumers and will eventually develop a competitive edge on the others who have not yet achieved the ISO certification.
The reason behind the recent decline in the ISO certifications is the wrong focus by the company who just want 'certification paper' from the marketing perspective and less for the internal Quality improvement.
ISO 9000 series provide a detailed road map for the continuous improvement of the internal business processes and the importance of involvement of the top management. But on the contrary, the true spirit of ISO is hardly applied for the purpose of continuous improvement. And mostly, it only remained attached to the documentation of the company i.e. policies, procedures and forms. This perception is quite flawed and far from the truth.
The Quality programs including TQM, Kaizen, 5S, ISO, Lean, Six Sigma and many more, all aim for the continuous improvement, and perhaps there is nothing wrong with the programs, but it is always on the implementation side, where the true justice usually is not done and the blame is put on the Quality program.
Though ISO is a big topic, but considering the scope of my article, I will stick here to the ISO documentation numbering system.
Every company medium to big is now required to have the formal written policies, procedures/sops and the related forms/checklists in an organized and systematic manner. But many still come up with the confusing and haphazard way of documentation numbering system.
I will share here one actual experience with one real estate company in Dubai, where I was co-leading the ISO certification and Dubai Quality Award project. It was about a one-year project because we were also actually trying to do the process improvements.
Regarding the ISO, I eventually came up first with the high-level map for the ISO Documentation Numbering System, that should be able to show in one snapshot what policies, procedures and related forms/checklist company have at any point of time. I also thought that it will be very easy for the ISO Auditors first to have the clear high-level look about how we have planned the ISO documentation within our company.
The ISO Documentation numbering map /or the master document was made in a MS Excel file with a coherent and easy to understand numbering system, and every document was interlinked with the parent and the offspring document.
The main ISO documentation numbering system was divided into 3 categories:
Above is a snapshot of MS Excel File (with one policy example)
If you may look at the above MS Excel chart it will show you the coherent and integrated ISO Documentation numbering system. The policy 001 has the related 2 procedures i.e. 1.1 & 1.2 and every procedure has the related forms/checklist with the same related numbering 1.1.1, 1.1.2 & 1.2.1, 1.2.2.
In addition, Policy document has a 3-character code ‘Pol’, Procedure has a 3-character code ‘Pro’ and form has a 3-character code ‘For’ for easy identification.
Therefore, for one policy document there are 2 procedures and for each procedure there are two sets of forms. Not only that, every policy document mentions the related procedures at the end of the policy document and every procedure mentions the related forms/checklist at the end of the procedure. Similarly, on the other way around, every form mentions the related parent procedure from where it springs out and every procedure mentions the related parent policy from where it springs out.
On the day when the ISO Auditors arrived at our premises, they were simply thrilled to see this MS Excel chart showing the complete company documentation map, they got so positively charged up with confidence that if the company could take care to develop such a master documentation chart, then they must be having all the related documents systematically organized. And when they started the ISO auditing, sure, we were able to produce all the documents.
It was just a matter of half day, and another half day was spent with management interviews and presentation and eventually we got the ISO certification achieved.
Sometimes, the route is simpler than we may think otherwise. Though the above example is only limited to ISO documentation numbering system but the actual experience was much elaborate involving many other process improvements using the Six Sigma tools and techniques.
Moreover, the above ISO documentation numbering system definitely is not prescriptive. It is just suggestive based on what worked for us practically. Every organization may have its own way of numbering conventions and may also use the automated numbering system with the help of the software as well. However, this example is largely based on the manual numbering system when you may be struggling to come up with a plan.
The main point is that the all quality management tools including TQM, ISO, and Six Sigma or anything else, do help you in many ways. It does not only provide you the ready-made tools, but it helps you to think differently and smartly to solve many of the problems in your business as well personal lives.
The main success of any 'Quality' initiative either in the past or in the present is not in the theory or its model, but it is mostly in the implementation and the execution stage which is not be properly done leading the failure and developing the wrong perception about the 'Quality' initiative.
If you are interested to know more about the ISO certification, you can also read another article: What Exactly Is ISO Certified ? And Why It Does Matter?
I do hope this simple and smart ISO documentation numbering system may help others.