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They May Not Seem Sexy, but Robust Document Management Systems Make Continuous Improvement Easier

Any company that truly lives its quality management system will tell you that you must innovate to get ahead. Employees at GNP Company, the chicken processor formerly known as Gold’n Plump, live by a commitment to quality, innovation and continuous improvement— all hallmarks of a culture built on the value of peoples’ ideas.

If you think those are the words of some idealistic mission statement, think again. In 2010 alone, nearly 1,000 employee suggestions were received, more than 18 per week. More than a third were acted on, resulting in $267,884 in savings for the company and more than $34,000 in bonuses for the employees. Jill Stuber, Quality Assurance Manager for GNP says that “employees are responsible for participating in at least one continuous improvement process each year.” She’s been at GNP for eight years and estimates that she spends nearly 50 percent of her time either leading or supporting a continuous improvement effort.

One such continuous improvement has been the drive to implement a new and improved document management system. Since its inception in 1926, GNP Company has been focused on providing quality chicken to its customers. In recent years, as the need for third-party food safety audits like SQF 2000 Level II has increased, so too has the need for effective systems to manage the paperwork and document checks associated with such audits. At the ground level, employees saw an opportunity for improvement.

“If you’re involved in an audit,” says Ann Voigt, Food Safety Systems Manager for GNP, “then you understand the struggle to keep all of your paperwork in the proper shape. Implementing our document management system required an all-out commitment and was hard work, but it has been worth it.”

And they’re not going back.

Implementing the Document Management System

Improving document management at GNP required teamwork, a plan for implementation, and a committed software partner. Per GNP’s company culture, a steering committee with representation from key departments met regularly to develop policies, requirements, templates, and standard operating procedures to move the program forward.

“The question was: How do we want to manage our documents?” says Stuber. “When we saw Qualtrax, there was a collective ‘Why aren’t we using this?’ from the team in the room.”

The document management software solution gave them the options they wanted:

  • Consistency in document types, formats, and content
  • Traceability of document history and approvals
  • A single storage location
  • The ability to move documents for approvals, notifications, and access using technology
  • The ability for process owners to be responsible for documents related to their processes

Qualtrax would also allow them to amend their processes as standards, regulations and certifications evolved over time. As the steering committee conducted their work, everything they created was based on using this robust but flexible software solution.

Communicating the Need

Convincing your team of the importance of document management may be your first hurdle, as it was for GNP. The steering committee leading GNP’s efforts faced resistance. Some departments needed and wanted the system. Some needed it, but didn’t think they had time for it and others didn’t think they needed it at all. In the beginning, the committee had difficulty seeing the global view of how document management would be useful across the organization.

Ultimately GNP’s culture of quality and continuous improvement prevailed. Key players on the committee were able to take a higher-level view of the benefits the document management system offered and help the initiative along. Change is always difficult—even good change.

The quality assurance team sold the value of Qualtrax—less pain during audits, simplification of records management and documentation, and more efficiency to maintain the quality the firm had worked so hard to attain, to name just a few.

Implementation

Senior management heard their message. Qualtrax was to be implemented company-wide within three years. This was exactly the type of buy-in the committee was looking for, and it also meant that more departments wanted to be involved. Representatives, ambassadors you could say, were chosen from various departments and company locations to become the faces of document management to their teams. The steering committee (now reformed with additional key individuals on it) knew that for this system to work, training was essential. A training “strike team” fanned out over the course of a month to the company’s three locations. Employees were taught about the company’s document levels and how the Qualtrax system would make them easy to manage. The document levels are based on how the company does business and follow the hierarchy outlined in International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards.

The trainers also familiarized employees with the templates they were to use, which were loaded into Qualtrax as well, making them easily accessible at all times. Likewise, employees learned how straight forward the routing function was within the software. Folder structures were set-up to manage the information flow and clarify approval responsibility.

“As more people use the system in their daily tasks, we learn more about how to improve our process,” says Voigt.

For instance, the quality department learned that the approval process was taking too long. The issue wasn’t the software; Qualtrax streamlines the approval process. Instead, they learned it was taking longer than usual because every manager involved in a process wanted to sign-off on it. Many of them simply wanted the exposure, so they could better understand the system. In effect, the approval process became a substitute for training.

“Managers are still learning the procedures,” says Voigt, “but they are experiencing tangible benefits because it takes them less time to find what they need when an audit comes around.”

Both quality managers say that Qualtrax helps with continuous improvement. “Document management may not seem very exciting,” says Stuber, “but on a regular basis it helps us find and capitalize on efficiencies, fast.”

GNP’s 5 Recommended To-Dos to Get Document Management Right in Your Company

  1. Get executive support at the beginning: The movement within your company may start at the ground level, but a mandate from the chief executive can more than complement the initiative.
  2. Focus on the process (not the hierarchy): The best way to build your document management system could be by basing it on your processes. As our employees have told us time and time again, make it intuitive.
  3. Train your people: Invest more than you think you will need in training. To implement your document management system, you’ll need to build strong ambassadors and training is an important avenue to meet that goal.
  4. Reality-check your list of document approvers: Remember that your document management system is supposed to make your life easier. Don’t make your approval process overly burdensome. Streamline the process as much as possible. In our case, Qualtrax helped to speed the process along.
  5. Evaluate your policies and procedures: If you work for a company dedicated to continuous improvement, this is not a surprise to you. When you are starting to implement, evaluate frequently. As you settle into a rhythm, consider evaluating less frequently. Again, avoid unnecessary burdens.