ISO Management Systems: A Beginner’s Guide (I)

Part I. Putting Management Systems into Context.

A management system essentially defines how things get done. For example, how you set reminders – whether through the latest smartphone app or through post-it notes – represents a functional component of your management system. Ranging from unassumingly-simple to technically-multifaceted, the complexity that drives your management system will depend on your specific goals and the value it brings in realising these goals.

From an organisation’s perspective, a management system relates to developing, deploying and monitoring a framework of interacting policies, processes and procedures that ensure the execution of tasks required to achieve its objectives. The scope of a management system may be restricted to a specific aspect (i.e. quality) or integrated to encompass multiple aspects (i.e. quality, health & safety and environmental) of an organisation. An integrated management system emphasises cohesion throughout the organisation: the distribution and not segregation of functional responsibilities, and the introduction of combined core practices in place of multiple separate practices. Anything managed in isolation of other organisational components is not integrated.

It is important to appreciate that every organisation has a management system(s), however how a management system(s) is implemented at one organisation may not necessarily be optimal for another organisation (i.e. there is no one size that fits all). In the context of complexity, smaller organisations may simply require clear directives and strong governance without the need for extensive documentation, whereas larger organisations may need more extensive processes and documentation to realise regulatory and legal compliances, and organisational objectives.

The formality – the degree to which processes are explicitly defined, documented and purposefully directed – behind a management system represents another point of distinction in implementation. An informal management system – no requirement for management support, process change approvals and oversight – places exclusive reliance on the relationships, collaborations and communications between personnel to achieve organisational objectives, and thus affords a higher degree of adaptability to change. This advantage of adaptability however may be offset by the risk of disorganisation and misinterpretation that may translate to inconsistencies in products and/or services. In contrast, a formal management system – requirement for process standardisation, and clear delineation of roles and responsibilities – provides a more tangible framework for oversight and accountability, that promotes consistency of products and/or services.

For most organisations, the degree of complexity and formality that goes into a management system is often a commercial decision that weighs perceived investment against benefits. Regardless, an effective organisational management system ensures a level of transparency: the communication of organisational expectations, the alignment of organisational intentions with work being done, and ultimately promoting customers confidence. In this context, an effective management system provides a framework that safeguards against doing wrong (i.e. risk-management), and that simultaneously supports the use of inherent motivation and discretion for doing good. An effective management system is also subject to improvements as organisations continue to learn and evolve. An effective management system is fundamental when striving for excellence and success.

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