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Use the right structure, format, and level of detail

A common misunderstanding about “ISO” standards is that they require a lot of documentation. Organizations frequently over document themselves creating an inflexible system that impedes growth and success. While documentation is certainly required, it is important that the structure, format, and level of detail be right for your organization.


The overall structure of your documentation system is important. A common approach is to have a Management System Manual, Procedures, and Instructions/Forms. Other options are to include a Process documentation level and/or a Policy level. There are many variations on these themes. For example, policies may be part of procedures, or Process documentation can eliminate the need for Procedures. The approach that is right for your organization will depend upon several factors including the type of management system you are developing, the relationship to other management systems, and the complexity of the management system in development. It is important to get the initial structure right since changing it in the future is no small task. We can help you determine the right approach to ensure your management system is properly sized.


There are many things to consider when determining the format for a document. For example, who will be using the document, how often will it change, how will people access it, and how critical is it to the management system? While different documents call for different formats, standardizing on a format for certain document types can provide consistency and clarity. Of particular importance is the Process/Procedure level of documentation since it is this level of documentation that describes the larger tasks and interrelationships of the management system. For this level of documentation we recommend Process Maps, which are also called Flowcharts. Process maps, when done properly, can eliminate the need for a large amounts of text which enables the management system to be smaller, more flexible, and more responsive. After all, as it is said, a picture is worth a 1,000 words.

Level of Detail

To determine the level of detail we like to think of this equation: People + Documents + Systems = Effective Process. In one situation you may have personnel that are highly trained, or systems that are highly automated and in another situation you may have high personnel turn over and manual systems. The need for documentation in these situations is very different. What you want is an effective Process and documentation is only one way to get there. Even when documentation is needed it is important to give flexibility when possible. If something has to be done in specific way to ensure effectivity, then document it with a lot of detail. If however, people can achieve the same ends by taking different paths, then allow for those paths and define minimum requirements and activities. By doing so you can allow for best practices and creative alternatives to emerge.

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