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What is important? Is Intent and Content or Templates and Formats?

Rajendra Babtiwale May 15, 2012

ISO Process Innovation Quality Top Management audit reviews Technology CMMI Quality Assurance

In my experience, while working with the teams and developing their processes to get accredited for ISO 9001:2008 and CMMI, focus is on writing down their existing way of doing things. Identify measurement parameters and ask them to start monitoring. Once they find out gap between what is expected from process and what is being delivered, improvement opportunities emerge. They are trained on the methodology to improve process systematically, using data.

In this process of improvement, teams come up with new templates, formats, checklists to ease out the execution and assist new comers. Slowly I have seen that bureaucracy starts creeping in the entire system and people focus more on maintaining the system than improving it for providing better quality, fast response and reducing non value added work.

I tried to analyze it for some time and one reason glaringly stood up was the audit process or review, which we conduct. Being compliant to ISO or any other standard, has mandatory requirement of conducting system audits at frequent intervals. Many audits, I witnessed focus on documentation and record control as these are the easy factors to catch wrongdoing and issue nonconformance. This endorses a belief of maintaining status quo. No one try to improve the processes and templates or documents for the fear of getting NC issued to their function or activity. This inhibits innovation, promotes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (Chalata hai to chalane do) mindset and brings in complacency.

Project Manger’s dilemma:

Functional leaders or project managers often get sandwiched by the immediate requirements of the project and need for maintaining documents of the project. What should they do? Deliver urgent things or maintain documents?

I will suggest definitely deliver urgent things, however once delivered need to sit back, involve team to find out causes of the urgency and see to it that these causes do not repeat. Documentation in the project is essential for transferring knowledge, keeping evidence of what transpired between different stakeholders of the project at different events and use it as knowledge repository for future corrective and preventive actions. Allergy for documentation puts additional burden on the project managers as they have to remember everything which is humanly impossible.

I find in those cases commitments start getting missed out, long explanations need to be provided, lot of time spent on calls for resolving issues, no time for reviews and dependency on “heroes” in the project. Overall I see lot of firefighting happening in those projects.

What business we are in?

People struggle with this question many times. Are we here to deliver what customer wants or to maintain documents? My answer is pretty simple. We are here to maintain and improve our way of delivering what customers want. How will we know that we have improved unless we have documents to prove it? Documentation is inherent part of the way we work. Different kind of checklists, standards to maintain uniformity and various formats and templates to record information, which are useful for analysis and knowledge transfer in future, are part of this documentation. While auditing or reviewing, auditors must give more importance to the way teams have used this documentation for the successful execution and improving delivery to client than looking in template numbers alone. They are necessary to keep uniformity in the organization but not sacrosanct. QA function should look in such deviations, find out good things in them and make them part of the system. Provide more alternatives to teams to choose from and that way customization will reduce unless someone strikes an innovative idea to do things differently. Accept it and make it part of the system.

What really organization should expect from ISO and CMMI:

I personally think that somewhere expectations from ISO and CMMI requirements should be redefined. Many places I have seen that ISO is perceived as maintaining documentation, labeling places and finding things in shortest possible time. Some places I have seen organizations go for certifications just because their customers ask for it and not because they have belief in it. They want a wall hanging in their offices to showcase these certifications. I think sometimes this perception is created by the consultants, some of the auditors and experience gathered someplace else. Data collection and improvements are focused in few pockets of the organization and not spread across functions.

Organizations should define upfront what they expect from the quality initiatives they are planning to introduce, identify success parameters and achievement criteria. Some of those parameters can be as follows:

  1. How much customer (Internal and External) focus has increased?
  2. Are people blaming each other or finding out lacunae in the processes and coming together to improve them?
  3. Has overall learning improved in the organization?
  4. Are people gathering data for analysis and decision making?
  5. Has rework and rejection gone down?
  6. Is there reduction in the cycle time?
  7. Are people following systems on a continual basis or audit to audit?
  8. Is their ownership amongst people for the systems developed? (Many times it is missing as systems are developed by outsiders or unrelated people)

There can be many more parameters based on specific industry domain. Organizations need to come up with measurements and methods to track them while implementing and maintaining the selected quality initiative.


If organization is not getting what they are expecting before the quality initiative, introspection should happen to find out what went wrong and correct the situation. Many times it is found that there is no desire to change at all levels starting from top and commitment to follow through, majorly at the top. It is expected that while implementing and maintaining selected quality initiative top management should have patience for results and impatience for actions.

It is extremely important to involve affected people in development, deployment and improvement of processes or else ownership will be missing. Involvement, measurement and reviews are pillars of any initiative. If it is found that entire process has become bureaucratic, efforts should be made to make it livelier, agile and supporting innovation.

As documentation is important, creating an environment of ownership towards them is more important. This environment can be created by involving people in defining processes and documentation and empowering them for enhancement. That way it helps to have more meaningful audits and reviews and throws up real issues for improvement. Then the question posed in the beginning of this article becomes irrelevant; “Is Intent and Content important or Templates and Formats?

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