Cracking the Code: How to Write Procedures for ISO Management Systems

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Published on: October 26, 2023

Achieving Certification to one or more ISO Management System Standards is a significant milestone for any organisation, signalling a commitment to enhanced efficiency, best practices, and standardised processes. However, the Certification Process can be hard to navigate, with one of the key components and requirements being the development of clear and well-documented procedures. 

These procedures not only define how specific tasks and processes should be executed within the organisation, but also serve as a guide to ensure that the established procedures align with the requirements outlined by the ISO Standards you aim to achieve. 

Before we delve into the step-by-step rundown on how to write a procedure, let’s make sure you know the difference between a procedure, process and work instructions.

Procedures, Processes, and Work Instructions: What is the difference?

In short, processes provide the overall framework, procedures add more detailed structure, and work instructions offer precise, step-by-step guidance for executing tasks. To break it down further:

  • Processes: Processes are the high-level sequences of activities or tasks that transform inputs into outputs. They outline how the overall work is done within an organisation, encompassing various stages and interrelated activities to achieve an intended outcome. Processes are usually represented through flowcharts.
  • Procedures: Procedures are part of a process, providing instructions that outline the specific actions employees need to carry out. These documents provide a structured approach, offering clarity on roles, responsibilities, methods, and tools required to achieve desired outcomes within a process.
  • Work Instructions: Work instructions are granular, task-level documents that further break down procedures into precise actions. They guide employees on the ‘how’ of performing individual tasks within a procedure. Work instructions are particularly beneficial for complex or critical tasks that require a specific sequence or technique to ensure consistent results.

Let’s clarify with an example: In a typical sales process, you have the overarching actions and stages involved in converting a lead into a client. This includes stages like lead conversion, providing a quote, providing a product demo, and ultimately winning the client.

A procedure, within this sales process, would zoom in on a specific part, for example, how to conduct a product demonstration. It provides a structured breakdown of this particular step, outlining the necessary actions and guidelines.

On the other hand, a work instruction goes even deeper, offering a granular, step-by-step guide on executing a specific task within the product demonstration — detailing how to set up and configure the demonstration uniquely for each client.

In reality, the terms “procedure” and “work instruction” are often used interchangeably, which can cause confusion. However, for practical purposes, you need not be overly concerned about distinguishing between them in real-life applications.

Understanding the ISO Management System Standards

Before diving into the process of writing procedures, it’s essential to have a solid grasp of the specific ISO Management System Standard(s) your business is aiming to achieve Certification to. The four most common standards are: 

Once you have identified the relevant ISO Standard(s), you need to ensure you thoroughly understand their requirements and guidelines. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) provides comprehensive documentation for each standard, including the standard document itself containing the clauses and requirements, as well as implementation guidelines, and frequently asked questions (FAQs). 

Did you know?
All ISO Management System Standards are an actual document developed by ISO detailing the standard’s clauses and requirements. We highly recommend that you purchase your chosen standard(s) document, to fully understand the requirements for successful implementation and audit results. Visit Standards Australia to search for and purchase a copy of your chosen standard(s).

Common Types of Procedures

Below are a few examples of the many types of procedures that organisations may implement:

  • Financial Procedures: Financial procedures are vital for a business’s fiscal health. Budgeting involves planning and allocating resources. Invoicing and billing ensure accurate transactions. Expense management tracks and controls spending. Financial reporting compiles data for informed decisions.
  • Human Resources (HR) Procedures: HR procedures manage the workforce. Recruitment handles hiring. Onboarding integrates new hires. Performance appraisals evaluate employees. Training and development enhance skills.
  • Administrative Procedures: Administrative procedures organise the workplace. Document management includes records. Office supplies and inventory ensure availability. Facility management maintains the workspace.
  • Customer Service Procedures: Customer service procedures focus on customer satisfaction. Complaint handling resolves issues. Customer support assists with inquiries. Returns and refunds ensure fair transactions.
  • Sales and Marketing Procedures: Sales and marketing drive revenue. Lead generation acquires customers. Sales order processing manages transactions. Marketing campaigns reach audiences.
  • Information Technology (IT) Procedures: IT procedures secure digital assets. Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) guides development. Network management maintains infrastructure.

The specific procedures a company employs will depend on its industry, size, and unique operational needs. 

Steps to Develop a Procedure for ISO Certification

Cracking the Code: How to Write Procedures for ISO Management Systems

1. Determine the Purpose and Scope of the Procedure

The first step is to ensure the overarching process is well defined, and then identify the areas of the process that require supporting procedures so employees know how to achieve the process outcome. 

You may also need to review the applicable ISO Management System Standard requirements and the long-term objectives. This review should consider the scope of the Business Management System and the applicable regulations and industry requirements. It is also important to assess any potential risks associated with the activities mapped in the procedures in question. Additionally, considerations should be made for the resources available and other activities necessary to complete the procedure successfully.

It’s worth noting that procedures come in various types.  Some are tailored to specific Management areas, such as procedures for risk management or document control, while others will be operations-based, directly impacting your product or service delivery. Even though they all should comply with the chosen ISO Standard(s) requirements, some management procedures are essentially required to follow more specific directives for Certification Readiness.  

2. Gather Process Information

Each procedure needs a detailed description of all the activities required by the process. To write a procedure, you need to gather all relevant information. This includes inputs, output, activities, the person responsible for each activity and measurements, if any. A flowchart or a process map can help you sequence the work-flow of activities and gather all relevant details. 

Another method that may be used to gather all the information is the Five Ws (also referred to as Five Ws and One How, 5W1H). This method includes questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering or problem-solving. This method can help you define a procedure by answering all 5 W’s and 1 H’s:

  • Why is this procedure important? – Define the purpose of the procedure
  • Who is involved? – Define the person/s responsible
  • What is the equipment/materials? – List of required material
  • Where do the activities take place? – Specified sections for the activities
  • When do the activities happen? – What are the prerequisites for the procedure?
  • How do activities take place? – All tasks/methods involved in a procedure

We will add 2 more questions to the list.

  • How much do you get? – To define the measures
  • How often do you want it? – To define the frequency

This method will help you gather all the information that is required and will ensure that you don’t skip any useful information in the procedure.

3. Develop a Document Structure for Procedures

The fourth step is to create a standard document structure that will also act as a procedure template. This document is ideally built with the organisation’s brand guidelines in mind. A typical procedure template will include: 

  • Scope & Purpose
  • Definitions
  • Responsibilities
  • Procedure
  • References (Checklists, templates, forms etc.)
  • Version History (author, approvals, date, versions etc.)

Document control is an essential requirement of all ISO Management System Standards. A well-defined structure and version history should be maintained for all procedures. All steps necessary to control the changes to the procedures should be followed to ensure that the requirements of your chosen standard are met.

Expert Tip
Your processes don’t have to be limited to written text; instead, you can utilise videos as an alternative medium. In fact, you might discover that creating a step-by-step process through video is not only more effective but also more engaging. Videos allow you to visually demonstrate each step and provide concrete examples, making the information more accessible and comprehensible.

4. Document the Procedure, Review and Approve

Once all the information is gathered and you understand the scope and purpose of the procedure, it is time to write the procedure. Ideally, a subject matter expert should be the one to write the procedure to ensure accuracy. 

The procedure should include all the necessary steps required but at the same time should not be voluminous. It should have just enough details for the staff to understand and follow. The procedure should be written without using jargon from the ISO Standard and using the language which the employees use in their day to day interactions. It is necessary that the procedures are not complicated and any reader is able to understand the steps easily.

After a draft is written, it should be peer-reviewed by a colleague or manager. Once reviewed and all review comments are incorporated, it is required that the accountable person approves the procedure before it is published for use in the organisation.

5. Communicate and Provide Training

The last and the final step is to communicate the approved procedure to all the relevant stakeholders. In case required, training should be provided to all stakeholders to make sure that the staff understand the procedure, implement and follow it successfully. Changes to the procedure should also be communicated whenever these are made.

Hiring an expert ISO Consultant to help you

Even though you now understand how to write procedures for your ISO Management System, we appreciate that the path to Certification Readiness can be complex and, at times, overwhelming – but we’re here to help you! 

We’ve helped over 200 businesses develop effective management systems. Every business that has followed our recommendations has achieved Certification first time. That’s why we offer a Certification Readiness Guarantee – by following our proven planning process and advice, supported by our extensive industry experience, we can get you Certified first time – Guaranteed! 

Call us now on 1300 614 007 or book your online FREE Strategy Session to solve any further questions about the Certification Process, or to discuss a tailored solution for your business.

About the author

Andressa (alias Andy) is the General Manager of ISO Certification Experts and ICExperts Academy, heading our Marketing department and coordinating the internal improvement initiatives and projects. With an MBA in Project Management, and over 10 years of experience in customer service and project management across many industries, she brings valuable knowledge to the business and our operations. Alongside her professional expertise, Andressa holds a genuine passion for sustainability and the environment.

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