This article is particularly relevant to organizations seeking to develop or transition a quality management system to the ISO 9001:2015 standard.
ISO 9001 has introduced the topic of knowledge management. This is essentially a new requirement, as there was no direct equivalent in the earlier standards. The requirements may be summarized as:
1. Determine what knowledge is necessary for work processes and to achieve product / service conformity.
2. Maintain that knowledge and make it available where needed
3. Consider the current levels of knowledge in the light of changing needs and trends
4. Acquire or access any additional knowledge required.
You may notice that the requirements listed above fit very well into the PDCA cycle that underpins the standard.
What is meant by knowledge? While there are many possible definitions, we might think of it as a layer built upon data and information. Data may be considered as raw facts and figures, and information is putting data into a context. Therefore, we might consider knowledge as the know-how and understanding of how to utilize that information.
For example, we may have data of 3 different temperature readings – 3, 5, 7 degrees – obtained via a sensor. We may have information that those are the respective temperature readings of refrigerators A, B, and C used to store a food product. We may have the knowledge that 6 degrees is the maximum safe temperature for that particular product. Therefore, the product in refrigerator C cannot be used.
The key question here is where does that knowledge reside? Is it just in the head of one worker? (sometimes referred to as tacit or implicit knowledge). In which case, what would happen when that worker is not there? How would others know the right thing to do? Alternatively, is that knowledge somehow shared with other workers (sometimes referred to as explicit knowledge). Clearly, there would be quality benefits in an organization taking steps to manage its knowledge in line with the ISO 9001:2015 requirements summarised above.
Some large companies, public-sector, and not-for-profit organizations have dedicated Knowledge Management roles. These are typically within corporate HQ, IT or HR departments. Elsewhere, and especially within smaller organizations, responsibility and authority for Knowledge Management will most likely be incorporated into existing roles. At this point, we should be clear that ISO 9001 is not a knowledge management standard – it is a quality management standard. Therefore, its requirements in this regard only relate to acquiring and managing the knowledge needed for the purposes of ensuring quality.
So, what does this mean for your QMS in practice? In practical terms, Knowledge management initiatives may take the form of:
- Computer databases e.g. for CRM, Document management, Incident management, Risk management etc.
- Information-sharing on intranet
- Social software (Blogs, Wikis etc.)
- Collaboration software
- Corporate libraries
- Professional development and mentoring programmes
- Apprenticeship schemes
- Team meetings
- Toolbox talks
- Retreats, forums, or conferences
There is a good chance that your organization already has some of the above initiatives in place. The transition to ISO 9001:2015 presents an opportunity to better systemise existing initiatives, and to possibly enhance them to the degree that is appropriate to your organization.
This article refers to ISO 9001:2015 Clause 7.1.6 ‘Organizational knowledge’.
Acknowledgement: "Idea in Brain" Image courtesy of zirconicusso at freedigitalimages.net
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Internal Auditor Training courses