The approach of using a wiki to document a Quality Management System (QMS) may seem overwhelmingly obvious in a year or so, yet we are far from that today. Chances are you've used Wikipedia on the web, but you may not appreciate the power that a wiki can bring to virtually every facet of documentation and management systems. This case study describes how Geometrica used a wiki to document its QMS and achieved ISO 9001 certification in "record" time while avoiding the bureaucracy that often plagues this process. Just remember -- You read it here first!
Documenting a QMS is an intense process for every organization, and Geometrica's case was no exception. Geometrica engineers, manufactures and builds domes and space frame structures around the world, and although we were confident of our quality control procedures, our clients were increasingly insistent on ISO 9001 certification. Our policies and procedures were already documented in various electronic and hard-copy formats, but these documents had been developed unsystematically to respond to problems, client demands, and training needs. There was no single approach or cohesive structure.
The company's first approach to documentation followed the old paradigm: Once the decision was made to pursue registration, a quality committee was formed comprised of the CEO, the Vice-President, the heads of operating departments, the quality manager, plus an external consultant. The plan was to proceed in a sequential manner: vision, mission, general production system, quality objectives, organization, and formal documentation procedures, followed by process descriptions, procedures and work instructions, all in the common ISO 9001 framework.
As we emailed back and forth word-processed drafts, edits, comments, discussions, agreements, disagreements, meeting minutes, etc., it quickly became apparent that the procedure was horrendously inefficient -- and the job momentous. The process itself was a big part of the problem: conflicts between documents, typos, clarifications and the organization of the information required substantial editing even for documents that had been “completed”. Meetings dragged on to resolve often small wording differences. In many cases, desirable edits would not be done because of the difficulties of keeping track of the latest version of a document while more than one person worked on it, or simply because of the effort required to update everyone’s binder. We attempted to solve the problem by maintaining only a single copy of the documents on the server and in hard copy, but even these were hard to keep in sync.
In short, the letter and spirit of ISO 9001 -- enabling a management system -- was lost in the in-box. At this point, we started looking at wikis.
What's a wiki?
In specific terms, a wiki is a special website where anyone can edit the content, and where every change is saved. A wiki's advantages stem from key paradigm shifts:
Here's what you lose when you move to a wiki: outdated procedures pasted on walls, updates in emails, endless meetings, employee manuals that are never really up-to-date, document control hassles, and document non-conformities.
What you gain is a system centered in the organization as a whole, not in a person or department. The whole organization can provide feedback and shape the documentation to balance personal belief or subjectivity. Documentation becomes what the organization needs -- not what one individual or department believes to be the best.
Meister's brief but accurate description of a wiki is that it's fast (1), a good fit for Geometrica, where change, teamwork, efficiency and effectiveness are key values. Upper management expected Geometrica's ISO certification to happen swiftly without slowing the work for our clients, and a wiki made it possible.
There are many wiki engines. The most well-known is MediaWiki, which powers Wikipedia. But at Geometrica, we used ProjectForum for its ease of installation, maintenance and use.
There was some initial resistance among the quality committee to using a wiki: worries about vandalism, poor editing and lack of control. Other objections came from ingrained perceptions about the necessity for sequential authoring-editing-approval-publication, and from the perception that when a document is published, its information is correct, complete, permanent and authoritative.
The wiki destroyed these objections quickly.
The committee empowered all its members, and later the whole company, to edit any document. The distinction between author and editor disappeared, as changes to documents appeared immediately in all company locations, including our headquarters in Houston, the plant and offices in Monterrey, and jobsites as far away as Spain and the UAE. The quality of the information improved and continues to improve with most edits, for many reasons:
In less than one year, the Geometrica QMS wiki has amassed 1577 pages of high-quality documentation containing over 3GB of data. Pages have been edited an average of 12 times, with 12 pages being edited more than 100 times. Thirty-six individuals have contributed to the QMS wiki, with the average having contributed more than 400 edits.
Example: Geometrica Continuous Improvement
The wiki process is best illustrated with an example, and the history of our "Continuous Improvement" procedure serves this purpose (in a pleasantly recursive way). The following images are not intended to be readable, but show how the form and length of the procedure change through time and wiki magic. A wiki page for this procedure was created on May 21, 2008. On June 15, it had been edited a total of 15 times, and by October 8, 30 times. Then there was a furious spurt: 112 edits in the next 8 weeks, for a total of 142 edits. Since that time, the page has been edited less than once per week.
Achieving ISO Certification
The central function of our wiki implementation was the ISO 9001 quality system. Once we shifted the documentation process to the wiki, it took nine months to complete the project. The following areas of ISO 9001 compliance illustrate the great value of the wiki approach:
The Consultant's point of view
Management Systems such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 require documentation, but it has never been their intention to imply uniformity in structure and practices. Organizations are free to decide the content, extent, and detail of their documentation.
Documentation should be considered as a tool, a means to achieve a higher purpose. Many organizations make a common mistake and pay more attention to a document's format than they do to its content and purpose. They may buy expensive document-control software with a "built in" QMS Manual, including flow diagrams, procedure pages, and work instruction templates -- but this type of software tends to have very little flexibility. The software automatically sends e-mails to all involved personnel when a document is changed and often adds bureaucratic barriers such as requests for authorization to publish a new version of the document. Such methods introduce friction and are almost as slow as using hard copies.
This is where a wiki for document control -- editing, sharing, recording changes, etc. -- is the best solution. Even better, a wiki allows changes to be made in real time, so continual improvement never has had to wait.
The need for this new paradigm is a primal concern. The world is so different from that in which quality systems evolved decades ago. Today we exist as a global village: We rely on cheap transportation and effective supply chains rather than economies of scale. We cross the world in hours and close business deals from China to Chile in seconds. Networks and telecommunications tie it all together. Isn't it the natural next step to base our quality systems precisely on these technologies?
The bottom line is that a wiki simplifies compliance with ISO 9001 by embracing collaboration and maintaining well organized documentation, the basis of knowledge management. All of the know-how of the organization resides in a media where it is stored, improved, protected from vandalism -- and can be used in education and training. With the benefits that wiki technology provides, it is only a matter of time before Quality and Management practitioners change their paradigms to follow this new trend.
Oh, and this article was written on the wiki too.
(1) Meister, Jeanne C. "Wikis at Work: Benefits and Practices". Chief Learning Officer. February 2008. Retreived on December 4, 2008, from http://www.clomedia.com/in-conclusion/jeanne-c-meister/2008/February/2064/index.php
(2) Alex Handy. "Search and Destroy. " Software Development Times 15 Feb. 2006: 30-31. ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry. http://www.agitar.com/downloads/media/SDTimes144_pages_30-31.pdf
About the authors:
Francisco (Pancho) Castano, PE, is the CEO of Geometrica, Inc.
Gerardo (Gerry) Mendez, has a Masters degree in Administration and is the Quality Manager for Geometrica.
Julio Ayala is a principal at TAC, S.A., Monterrey
Linda Day is the principal at Day Creative, Houston