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Implementing a Management System in 6 Steps

Implementing a Management System in 6 Steps

Establishing a quality, safety, environmental or integrated management system can seem a daunting task.  Many of our clients are completely in the dark when we first meet them, not knowing where to start, or what the usual course of action is to establish and implement a system.  But the process of establishing a management system, whether it be to ISO 9001 for quality management, AS/NZS 4801 for OHS management, or another standard or combination of standards, doesn’t need to be complicated.  We’ve put together a basic 6-step process for establishing and implementing a management system of your own, including our key points for success.

Step 1: Determine Requirements

The key question to ask yourself at the beginning of your management system project is “Why do we want or need a management system?”  By asking yourself this early in the piece, you determine the motivating factors behind establishment of the system.  Maybe you want to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction or minimise waste and rework.  Perhaps you want to decrease business risk arising from possible OHS incidents.  Maybe you need a management system for an upcoming tender, or a key client is putting pressure on you to implement one.  Whatever your motivations are, you need to determine them clearly in order to best address those requirements throughout the remainder of the project.

Step 2: Establish Top Management Commitment

Throughout our years of consulting in the quality, safety and environmental management fields, it has become clear that management commitment is one of the most important – if not absolutely vital – ingredients in management system success.  Why?  Because the culture of an organisation starts at the top.  Top management decides on business direction and objectives, resourcing, and how the business is run.  If top management doesn’t support the new system that others want or need, it stands little chance of success.  Ideally, top management will be aware of the many benefits of the management system to be implemented, or they may even be the originators of the idea. In this case, their commitment may already be assured.  But if not, getting top management on board is imperative.  Luckily, management systems can be useful tools for improving almost every facet of a business, so if you need to convince management, try appealing to their key focus areas:

  • Got a penny-pinching board?  Work out how much money the company could save by decreasing wastage and rework through a quality management system. 
  • Got a risk-averse CEO?  Teach them how an OHS management system can drastically reduce the risk of incidents, fines and prosecution. 
  • Business owner hungry for growth?  Show them how much work you could tender for if only you had an ISO 9001-compliant system.

Appeal to top management’s goals, and show them how a management system can help them achieve them.

Step 3: Design and Document the System

The next step is to design and document the management system.  A lot of variables will affect this part of the project, such as the type of management system you’re interested in, its scope, the size and operational requirements of the organisation, existing compliance with requirements, available resources, and so on.  You’ll need to take all of this into consideration as you start to design and document the system.  And don’t forget the reasons why you want or need a management system, which you figured out in step 1, as these considerations should also help in shaping the management system.

One key task that a lot of my new clients forget to do when embarking upon a management system project is to buy a copy of the standard/s that you wish to model your management system on.  But how will you comply with a standard if you don’t know what it’s asking for?  The standard/s will tell you what you’ll need to do in order to comply with it, and they will provide you some information on what documentation will be required for your system.  You can buy standards directly from ISO, or from the SAI Global Infostore or another provider.

Another key aspect of designing your management system is internal consultation.  Running a management system is – or should be – a whole-of-business activity, so it’s best to consult with your colleagues in order to design a system that will be user-friendly, realistic, and – most importantly – suitable for your operations.  You might be a one-man-band or part of a microbusiness: in that case, your consultation requirements may be minimal; alternatively, if you’re part of a complex or large organisation, consultation requirements may be more significant.  But don’t underestimate the power of consultation: it can also help to encourage buy-in to the management system, making the rest of your project run more smoothly.  By valuing and incorporating colleagues’ input, you can encourage ownership of the system and better facilitate their cooperation with and adoption of the system in the longer term.

Another option in designing your system is – ahem – to engage a consultant to assist you.  By engaging a consultant, you don’t just buy their time: you open a gateway to their years of experience, knowledge of the standards and business practices, personal network, professional guidance and advice, and tried-and-true documentation and methods.  A good consultant will do their best to understand your needs and motivation for establishing a management system, take into account operational realities and existing material and compliance activities, and design (or help you design) a fully tailored and suitable solution.  Consultants should guide you toward meeting your goals, provide you with options and different methods of doing so, and help to educate you in becoming an expert in your own system.  Consultants can provide you with practical solutions and minimise the time you might otherwise take to understand how to meet the requirements of the standard, helping to smooth and streamline your management system project.

And one last word about management system design: you may have seen advertisements for “off the shelf” management system documentation.  While they can be useful, generally we advise caution when considering one of these solutions – I’ve elaborated on my reasons why in this previous article.

Step 4: Test, Verify and Validate the System

So you’ve designed your system and want to start implementing ASAP.  But before you do, you need to make sure it works!  This is a vital step for ensuring that your system gets off to a good start – there’s not much worse for management system buy-in than implementing a process that is impractical or unnecessarily complex, then having to backtrack and re-implement with an improved process later.  Good testing, verification and validation can help minimise setbacks, reduce the need for rework and retraining, streamline the implementation process, and ensure you get a suitable solution with minimum fuss.

There’s lots of ways to test, verify and validate your system and its components.  Hopefully you’ve tailored your system to suit your organisation while still meeting the requirements of applicable standard/s, and you’ve consulted with your colleagues and/or got some expert advice, ensuring that your documentation and processes are suitable and effective to start with.  But if not, activities such as user testing, additional consultation, internal audits, phased/incremental rollouts, rehearsals, and so on can quickly identify problems with management system documentation and processes, while minimising fallout.  This doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult – it’s all about working together and being creative to determine if the system works.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, gambling that you’ve got it right the first time.  And if something isn’t working, re-evaluate – don’t waste your time and resources committing to something that may not be realistic.

Step 5: Implement!

Once you’ve designed your system and think it will work, you’ll need to get to work implementing it.  You might find it useful to create an implementation plan for this phase of the project, setting out the activities that will need to be completed in order to implement the system, along with responsibilities for who will be doing each task, when, and how.  Or alternatively, if you’ve identified what will need to be implemented via an internal audit of your system, you might simply like to prioritise the internal audit findings to use them as your implementation plan.

However you choose to implement your system, make sure you set accountabilities and monitor the progress of the implementation.  Being accountable and monitoring progress helps to maintain motivation and momentum in your implementation.  It might take you a short time or a long time, but if you do your implementation gradually, make sure each aspect is working as you go, and stick at it, it should get done.

Step 6: Maintain and Improve the System

With successful completion of the five previous steps, hopefully when you come to this stage, you have a suitable and functional management system. Now you’ll just need to maintain and improve it.  If you’ve been diligent in your implementation, you will have set responsibilities and accountabilities for each area of the management system, and with this the case, maintenance activities should be being completed by their respective process owners.  But with new systems, it’s always best to check, and this is where your internal audits will come into play.  Internal audits (or similar) are a vital requirement of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, AS/NZS 4801 and various other management system standards, and they require you to examine your system on an ongoing basis for compliance with the standards and compliance with your own system requirements.  By completing internal audits on an ongoing basis, you determine if maintenance is occurring and processes are functioning as designed and in compliance with the standard/s.

Improvement of the system is another aspect not to be neglected.  As your system matures and you begin to observe its benefits, you may see opportunities to do things better.  And if you don’t, you should!  Things change, and active improvement is a key factor in maintaining organisational relevance and “keeping with the times”.  You might get inspiration for improvement from your strategies and objectives, technological developments, customer or other interested parties’ feedback, motivations for establishing the system in the first place, outcomes of audits, and so on.  But the key is to actively think about improvement and take advantage of opportunities to do so – that’s why the QSE standards have sections dedicated specifically to improvement.

After these steps have been completed, you have an optional seventh step: third-party certification – ie, getting in a certification body to audit and certify that the management system complies with the requirements of the applicable standard/s.  I’ll elaborate upon this process in a future post, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.

And your implementation is done!

So there you have it: our six general steps to implementing a management system.  Of course, these are the absolute basics: each management system should be approached with individual consideration of the organisation and all of the other variables that need to be taken into account.  The more tailored to the organisation that the management system and its implementation are, the better your outcomes are likely to be.

Need help with your own implementation, or got a question on quality, OHS or environmental management?  Feel free to drop us a line or post in the comments!