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Last edited 15 Nov 2020
Quality manuals and quality plans
Quality Manuals and Quality Plans define the arrangements that an organisation has determined will best manage its works. Quality Manuals are generally used to define the arrangements for the whole organisation, whereas Quality Plans are prepared to cover specific situations, such as a project or element of the works. For the purpose of this discussion they will be treated as the same: either document defines arrangements, only the scope will be different.
A quality manual is an organisation-wide document that provides the reader with a complete understanding of the expectations of the organisation. It considers the risks that the organisation is likely to face from both inside and outside the organisation and defines how it will deal with those risks. In some cases, the organisation will decide that the risk can be mitigated by implementing a process that is intended to manage the behaviours of staff at all levels. In other cases, the organisation may decide that the potential for the risk manifesting is so low that it will note it and keep a weather eye out. A quality manual can also be used to indicate to those outside the organisation that suitable arrangements exist. This provides confidence that there is a robust management system in place that is effective and usable by staff, customers and other interested parties, especially when endorsed by a reputable registration body to an international standard, such as ISO 9001:2015. It should be recalled that ISO 9001:2015 does not specifically require a quality manual. This is to permit an organisation to use web-based maintained documentation that has no manual as such, but covers all the requirements of the standard,
A quality plan is written to meet certain specific events. It may be written by an organisation to define the arrangements for managing a project. It may define the actions to be taken by sub-contractors who are contracted to deliver a defined element of the works, such as the electrical installation. In exposition, it will follow a similar path, in that the risks associated with the works will be analysed and appropriate arrangements defined. It may be required as part of a bid submission. Useful assistance can be found in ISO 10005:2015, “Quality plans”.
 Format and construction
Any document that defines arrangements to manage a situation must be accessible by all who have a need to follow the arrangements. This statement has far-reaching consequences, no matter how the documents are constructed.
Many quality manuals and plans that the author has audited in the past are simply the international standard reflected back. This means that where the standard says: “you shall…”, the manual says “we do…” This clearly meets the requirements of the standard but provides no real clue as to what the arrangements on the ground are. Manuals and plans written in this way have no intrinsic value and have cost the organisation with little or no benefit. As an auditor, a manual or plan written like this provides a clear indication of the priority that is given to managing the business.
Firstly, there is no need to have a written quality manual as a document that is printed out on paper. The organisation must therefore consider the way that the arrangements will be best communicated to those who are to follow them. This means considering:
- The ability of staff to read a given language. This means understanding of the language being used as well as literacy standards. In a packing department, cartoons were used to show how the various units were to be packed. This is similar to the instructions provided with flat-pack furniture, which are non-verbal. In a multi-lingual organisation, consideration can be given to using supervisors to explain the work, keeping the manual and procedures nearby for easy reference. This was a solution in India, where staff may have had one or more of 27 major languages.
- Language also means legibility. There are scoring systems that can be used to determine the reading age of a document. This document has a reading age of 11.9 years. However, this matters nothing at all. The important thing is that the person reading it understands what has been written, that is, the message has been properly communicated.
- The place where the manual or plan is to be read is important. If only staff in the office are to read it, then the solution is simple. Construction staff work on site, where it rains and is often mucky, the office solution may not be the best! However, it must be available and accessible to the individuals who need to refer to it, at the location where they require that access – normally at the point of use. That means they must be available on site for supervisors and operatives to read, not just in the head office or project site hut.
- The appropriate revision of any document must be available to all relevant staff. An out-of-date procedure can result in a non-conforming product that may have to be reworked, but is certain to be the initiator of the non-conforming product process with its concomitant cost implication..
As stated above, there is no requirement to write a manual or a plan, although it is often convenient to do so. With the increase in the availability of technological solutions, including weatherproof tablets with powerful processors, many organisations are creating web-based solutions. These often have a front page with the high-level policies and links to the arrangements to be followed by creating layers of interfacing web pages. Above all, the information that is provided, however it is provided, must provide for the effective management of a construction organisation with all its complexities and interactions. It needs to reflect the competencies of the persons operating within the arrangements and be available as and when needed.
Original article written by Keith Hamlyn, reviewed by members of the Competency Working Group on behalf of the Chartered Quality Institute, Construction Special Interest Group and approved for publication in December 2018.
--ConSIG CWG 13:49, 05 Jan 2019 (BST)
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