How to operate a management system effectively?
Short intro for non-dummies
What is a document?
Documents are the “container” for content ie knowledge. Knowledge or content consists of a set of interrelated information in a common context.
The digital representation of content comes in a broad variety of formats based on modern information technology today.
Of course, mixed forms are also conceivable.
Why „steering“ documents?
Creating value requires the systematic provision of information for the contributors. It is a prerequisite for an efficient, sustainable, compliant process. The steering function controls which content is valid, for whom, where and when.
Example: A process instruction describes the starting procedure of a rolling mill for steel. This information is relevant for the employees of all shifts. The operators of all shifts should additionally register their confirmation of the instruction. For other employees, the statement also applies if they join a shift crew. The process instruction should be revised after 3 years in accordance with the maintenance intervals of the system.
How is the timeliness, relevance and quality of content ensured?
Employees, who are to follow these guidelines and apply the knowledge at their place of the value chain, have to be informed beforehand. Any new feature or modification will have to be communicated. If they are searching for content, it must be ensured that these are current and historical or invalid content does not appear or is clearly labelled as outdated.
Spontaneous or systematic revision of the content by an editorial function keeps the content current, replaced or updated timely.
The contents are not equally interesting, noteworthy or mandatory for all members of the organisation. Accordingly, each employee must receive his individual information package for his tasks and environment. Given today’s information overload a sparse, concise and efficient notification procedure is required to avoid a loss of attention.
Members of the organisation can have an obligation to retrieve the information (pull) or the organisation is obliged to notify the recipients (push).
Knowledge management can be run effectively among larger workforces based on personal networks. The flow of information must be steered along organisational and geographical criteria. This dynamic allocation of knowledge is indifferent to fluctuations in knowledge nor in the workforce.
To avoid wasting the attention of the recipients it is best practice to mark slight changes on large content as such.
An internal control system following the principle of segregation of duties provides assurance for the quality of the content. Before any information is communicated within the orgnaisation, it subject to a proactive quality control procedure:
- An editorial functionidentifies theknowledge areasandstructures relevant to the enterprise.
- Authors-typically subject matter experts-designandupdate the content.
- Examiners-alsoexperts in the field-evaluate thefactual accuracy, validity periods, theplannedaddressees, reference toother content.
- Theapproverauthorisesafter checkingthe content formallybefore it can be distributed.
- Notesand comments ofexaminersandapproversarelogged not only in the case ofrejections. The change historyofeach version, the versioningofdocumentsand the acknowledgement are registered in a protocol.
- Whenevercontent expires, its further use must be avoided. Therefore, readers are notified aboutthe end of the validity periodand/or the content is submitted to theauthorfor review.
After the start of the authorisation procedure, the content must be conserved. Furthermore, the content of the change log must be stored unchangeable to allow audits. Inefficient, unstructured communication based on differing versions can be excluded.
This is the only way a company can achieve compliance with legal regulations, corporate governance rules and quality standards.
How does this relate to knowledge management?
Each recipient has the current and relevant knowledge for a location, his position/role, his department at hand always.
It is critical to avid redundancies and reconcile all parts of the content for consistency. For this, the content elements must be structured as shown in a mind map relationship:
- Applicable documents
- process views
- Parent documents – including laws, norms, standards or corporate policies
- previous versions
- Replaced content
Thus, the authors are able to respect existing content and to recognize a need for change whenever related content is modified
Example: A hygiene rule has changed. Accordingly, work instructions for cleaning certain locations, operating procedures for the disinfection of certain instruments or the recruiting criteria for foreign personnel are affected. The relationship can be tracked using the cross-references.
How to structure the totality of the contents or the documentation?
Besides the given hierarchy of the subject matter:
Other tags and indices for items, products, business partners, or similar dimensions support the readers finding content. In addition, a logical hierarchy breaks down broad and general guidelines into concrete applicable content:
In which languages should content be made available?
History has formed different cultural and linguistic areas. Therefore, a 1: 1 conversion of content is impossible. Nevertheless, it may be useful to translate content in the language of the recipient, for a better comprehension. This content inherits the properties such as validity periods or content relationships of the original source.
Alternatively, content may be created independently and cross-referenced to the respective elements in other local language areas.
Which companies preferably should use a system of document control?
In highly regulated industries such as financial services, medical care, pharmaceutical products, or environmental protection and disposal, the implementation of legal requirements without clear and auditable communication to employees is not conceivable.
Industries with highly complex products or production processes and accordingly extensive, interwoven knowledge or security risks such as automotive, aerospace, civil engineering, chemistry or complex services and manufacturing processes like plant construction, raw material production, semi-finished and intermediate products, and electrical engineering also require a systematic documentation, maintenance and distribution of knowledge.
Companies and groups of a certain size with multi-dimensional organisational structures are face the challenge to inform employees effectively and efficiently. Communications of the company or group management must be delivered and prioritised. Respecting national cultures and addressing everyone’s information requirements individually is a prerequisite to make policies, regulations and strategies work.