The terms ‘policy’, ‘process’ and ‘procedure’ might seem interchangeable but they are three distinctly different tools which can be used to support your organisation in different ways.
Where you find them referenced in management system standards, they are important in the way that they set the tone and intent of the clause, and therefore how it should be implemented.
Here’s a guide to help you distinguish between ‘policy’, ‘process’ and ‘procedure’.
A policy document will often give a statement of intent and have less detail about how the goal will be achieved.
Policies can be used to set the direction and tone of the organisation without committing to how it will be delivered.
Example: “We will always be amazing!”
A process can be defined as something which as an ‘Input’, a processing ‘Activity’ and an ‘Output’.
They might not always be documented, as often you can observe the process in action.
But where they are documented, a process map might be used as an effective way to show a single process or a group of connected processes.
Processes are a great way to describe work activities to ensure that they are completed with predictable results.
A procedure is a much more detailed account of how an activity should be performed, including any references to other documentation that might help.
Procedures are useful for staff who need to understand an activity for the first time.
You might also find procedures referenced as SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures.
For example: “Do this…then that…then this.”
Communicating these differences to anyone who owns documentation within your organisation, can help you achieve a standardised approach to your management system documentation and help the adoption of new requirements.
This will also make your documents more intuitive to readers, who will know what to expect when reading.
Many modern ISO Management System Standards have reduced the amount of mandatory documentation they required, asking instead that you document requirements to the extent needed for your organisation.
This means that some mature management systems can streamline the documentation they maintain where it is not beneficial to the organisation’s management system, and find more efficient ways to evidence their implementation of clauses. For example by using process maps, wiki systems or knowledge bases – which take a shorter form of text.
For more information on how to structure your management system documentation, contact our ISO Consultants.