Local Business talks Digital - QDT's David Stephensen
Recently we sat down with David Stephensen and discussed how his business, QDT Management Consultants, utilises digital technology to assist other businesses achieve internal structural success.
So if someone came to you wanting an intranet to build their business around, and was in the design and conceptual stage, what would you do?
Well, I would start by finding out a lot about how the business operates. And I would then show them what a typical intranet procedure manual might look like, and how it might be structured. There are nine basic business areas that you normally describe.
So what would those nine be?
Management, infrastructure, marketing, sales, production, purchasing, finance, human resources and safety + environment. Safety and environment tend to share space since they are both about human health.
Okay, so you've got that concept stage, but you haven’t built the intranet. Do you document it first in a hard copy?
You do a little bit more planning to expand those basic areas. Within each of the areas are some standard operations that every business does. First of all I present those as ideas to check whether it rings true for the business concerned. It usually does. The processes that happen in a business are normally structured like that. So we do a little more planning. Within each of those areas there are sub categories – for example, in production, there’s planning production, there’s designing your product or service (if you do that), then actually making the product or delivering your service, and there’s also making sure that stuff that’s wrong doesn’t go out of the door.
As far as the hard copy document is concerned, you assemble notes and drafts using whatever tool the business would like to use, or directly into the intranet if it is available. You only print it if people want that.
I suppose when you’re building that intranet, the first thing you’re going to do is get those nine sections and make sure they interact properly with the way the business is actually structured?
Exactly, that’s just an overall plan. Most houses have got a bedroom and a bathroom and a kitchen and the lounge room. Same idea. And so where they want the bathroom, and how big they want it and all that—that depends on what the business owner actually needs and wants. And so, then, you design the procedure manual based on what the business actually is. Most of these components are going to be there somewhere. So then you sketch it out, you brainstorm with them, or in some other way work out a basic structure. Then you drill down to the details. It’s really like building a house.
So, sometimes it’s starting out with a flowchart?
Yes, absolutely. You definitely start with a flowchart.
So, say, for example, I came to you and you've got those nine areas, we've discussed them, we've got them going, they’re working very well, the concept is going very well— You’re happy with the structure, the diagram we’ve drawn. Then you want to translate that into the intranet, and you’re going to have to start building something, and that’s where I come in the web development but, in your documentation, and the building of the processes you’re doing, what do you do during the project with the documentation?
Well, I’ve got a template that I would supply to you. You could import it into whatever software you’re using for the intranet. Then we would have a basic skeleton of the procedure manual already set up. It has a place for where you talk about how you make your product, or deliver your service, a place for how you recruit team members, a place for how you do your accounts payable, and so on. And so it’s just a matter then of training somebody in the business to write the details—to write the procedures in the appropriate places.
So, in effect, what you would be doing is building the framework for the structure of the intranet, and then you’re getting them to fill in the details?
Yes, the ideal situation is if I coach them to do it, then project manage them through doing it. You get more engagement with the business team. If I did it, maybe no one would ever read it.
Okay so, what tools would you use to help them?
Well, we'd like tio think that they’re going to use an intranet—an internal website. They’ll be using the structure I've provided. It's your job as developer to provide a vehicle for it where ordinary people can feel comfortable editing, adding topics, hyperlinking, working within the structure, working with the user interface that you provide. They might want to put diagrams in and other things like embedded videos.
I teach them a discipline in doing the authoring. For example you write in plain English and don’t have huge picture files—you reduce their size. You use bullets and numbers and heading 1 heading 2 heading 3. You teach them how to make a uniformly formatted set of documentation. Then you project manage them through doing it.
One area that I haven’t mentioned, and that is that to achieve, for example, recruiting a new person, different businesses do it a slightly different way, and it all comes down to who does what. It takes a group of people to recruit somebody. One person does something, then another person does something. It’s a chain of events that happens to recruit this person. It could be the HR manager, a manager of the department, or maybe some peers. The CEO could be involved, too. So you can draw a swimming line chart. This chart explains who does what and in what order—how the process flow goes between these roles to achieve this end of recruiting a person. That chart sits at the top of recruitment procedure, and it governs everything in that area. Swimming lane charts are the start point for every interactive procedure.
You can make a chart with clickable boxes if you want to invest in creating that. If you don’t need to invest in that level of sophistication then you can just draw it on a bit of paper and scan it. The main thing is that the team understand the procedure flow.
So while that process is going on and you’re interacting and you’re coaching, and there are emails back and forth between you and the owners, and you’re doing all that sort of thing, are you constantly putting the process in a document—like a physical document to ensure that the process to get to the end goal, which would be this intranet? Would you be able to do that?
It is better to have the intranet available for people to write into directly and see the procedure manual growing. If it's not available then you have to assemble the work using another tool, such as Evernote or Microsoft Word.
What’s the benefit of having an intranet and having that documentation? If I come to you—I’m a business owner, I’ve got bits of paper floating everywhere, and I had to recruit someone, but I've got no swimming lane chart, what are the benefits for a business to be well documented?
Well, the first thing is that you’re not reinventing wheels all the time. In the intranet, there is a central place where you have recorded the best way for doing things.
Someone might suggest an improvement. If you like the suggestion, you edit the instruction in the intranet and it's immediately available to everyone. It's a good idea, of course, to let people know it has changed.
Say you’ve got a new team member. They need to learn the ropes. Where do you send them? Or where do they go if they’re not sure how to do a certain thing? They go to the procedure manual. You have a new team member, you want them to learn quickly, then you’ve got all that information ready for them to learn.
So in the intranet, you could have induction courses if you needed to?
Yes! You can embed videos and have training courses and things like that. It’s all in one place. For example, how to assemble a product or deliver a service can be text with pictures or a video—or it can be a comic. I've met young people who really value comics as a medium for instruction. You could have a comic about how to do it. Whatever you have, it is in the intranet. But it still goes back to creating that structure and that documentation so the business can use it.
So, say, then, that I’ve got the intranet going, it’s been working okay for a few years, and then, all of a sudden, I decide that it needs a bit of a restructure. So can I call you, get you on the phone?
And what would you do to facilitate the redevelopment? What would you look at? What ideas?
I'd find out what had changed and create a plan for reorganising and updating the procedure manual. Depending on the level of skill of the team members I'd work directly on restructuring the procedure manual for them or project managing them through bringing it up to date.
So, really, you'd come through and audit everything, and then would you compare that against their business goals or their organisation goals?
In a full review of their procedure manual and quality system I'd most certainly be comparing it against their objectives and goals.
Part of good quality practice is that management themselves regularly look at their system to see if it is aligned to their objectives, and so I'd also be checking that they have been conducting those reviews regularly themselves.
A good management system in a business also has regular internal audit.
The auditor observes how people are doing things and compares it with what’s written down to see if there’s a difference
You don't mind going and doing internal audits?
No, but I think there are other people who are better at auditing than I am. I am better on the problem solving, system design and documentation side. I have some associates who love auditing, and so I’d probably call them in for any extensive auditing.
So, we all need to check things and test things. You have business goals, so you have to test the business goals. How does the intranet facilitate you testing those goals? The intranet is simply a convenient vehicle for the documentation. Well, the documentation is really only a part. Documentation reflects the actions that are meant to be carried out. The other components of quality management are record keeping and measurement. That is the part that helps demonstrate progress.
And is this the ISO 9001 standard you’re talking to me about before?
ISO 9001 is about that. For ISO 9001 you don’t strictly need very much procedure documentation. You only need documentation where it really makes sense to have documentation. You can have the most of the business knowledge walking around in people’s heads if you want to. You wouldn’t want to, but you could, theoretically. A procedure manual is good and useful, but ISO 9001 doesn’t really say that you’ve got to have one apart from a few specified things.
Under ISO 9001, the international standard in quality management, you are more interested in knowing, for example, whether there are records of proper management review—whether the management is meeting regularly, and working out if there’s enough money, enough team members, enough resources, are the customers happy, how continual improvement is going, are we fixing stuff that goes wrong, and that sort of thing.
That’s just one thing you have to do. Another other is that you have to have a system for fixing things that go wrong so it doesn't happen again. You also need a system for making sure that bad product or service doesn’t get delivered. You also need a system for regularly checking that people are complying with procedures, with what they’re meant to be doing—that’s internal audit.
And so how does that tie into the intranet, because ISO 9001 obviously points out qualities that we want our business to display. It reinforces that, I would say.
Well, the intranet contains the instructions for doing all these things.
Oh, I see. Yes.
You can have a whole business with everyone walking around knowing in their heads how to run the business. Practically, that’s not going to happen. You do need to write things down. That’s what the intranet procedure manual is for. The certifying auditor will take a look at the procedure manual and check that the essential ISO 9001 policies and procedures are there in a form appropriate to the business. What the auditor really wants to see is what people are doing. For example, they might ask to see where you have had problems and fixed them, and your records of having done that.
And the intranet will then hold that information?
The intranet can conveniently give access to the on-line records of the business and to applications that help with record keeping. It can also explain where paper records are kept. A content management system, for example, can manage records and issue tracking software is also particularly valuable.
So how does quality assurance fit in those nine areas?
It fits into different places. For example, customer satisfaction would go into the Sales area.
Oh, so it’s split up into multi areas?
Some people think of ISO 9001 as some little box that’s kept up in the top of a cupboard and only brought every three years for the audit. That is absolutely the wrong idea of ISO 9001. Quality management is the life blood of the business. It's everywhere. It is what everyone does. You don't keep your life blood in a shoebox in the cupboard.
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