What is included in the Four Tiers of Documentation Pyramid?



I've seen the famous pyramid picture several times showing the four tiers of documentation. My question is, should the pyramid contain all documents within the company or just the ones associated with quality? For example, our company typically creates requirements, design and test plan documents for each project or program. These are a fundamental part of what we do and I'm certain that ISO requires that these types of documents be written and controlled. However, from the typical description of the Tiers I do not see to which tier these belong.

Al Dyer

I would not put to much emphasis on where an individual document fits into the document pyramid as long as your documentation covers all requirements of the quality system. I don't believe the standards say we have to use the document pyramid, only that we identify, establish, approve, review etc..... the documents that we use.

The following has worked for me in the past:

Level I: Policy Manual

Although important to the overall system it is basically a document that says that yes, we do what the standard says and references the applicable procedures.

Level II: Procedures

The procedures further define how we address the individual elements of the quality system and make reference to more specific work instructions and the forms used to document compliance. The format for the procedure includes Purpose, Scope, Responsibility, Procedure, Related Documents, and Records/Evidence as taken out of ISO 10013.

Level III: Instructions and Forms

These documents are the most important. They specifically define how we do our jobs and which forms are used to documents that we did our jobs.

Level IV: Evidence/Records

These are the completed forms that are the proof that we have followed our policy by using the procedures that reference the work instructions that tell us how to do our jobs.

Not all documents in a company need to be part of the document control system, use common sense and identify those that affect quality systems and more importantly the customer. We have a vacation request form, does it need to be controlled? No, not unless you choose it to be.

Just remember that document control is one of those elements that can get out of control and come back to bite you in the rear if you do not plan, execute, and follow through.


[This message has been edited by Al Dyer (edited 26 March 2001).]

David Mullins

This is a very good question.
Let's assume that the pyramid contains all the documents that are subject to audit by a registrar (i.e. contained within the scope of your management system).
How much, and which documents, depends on what benefits the company wants to gain from having a system (and how little your registrar will let you get away with).

My version of the pyramid varies slightly from Al's, in that I include the forms in the bottom group (out of neatness, complacency, ignorance or simplicity) because a form becomes a record when you fill it in. Your requirements (specs), plans, etc slot in the tier 2/3 area. A few weeks ago I posted my philosophy about a QMS being like an egg - this makes it a lot easier:

The 3 distinct parts relate to having a quality system of work where we say what we do (YOLK), do it and record it (ALBUMEN), and compare the record of what we did against what we said we would do (SHELL). The yolk represents our policies, procedures, etc. The albumen represents the work that we do and the records that we keep. The shell represents quality control or feedback of our compliance to intended arrangements – did we achieve what we intended to and did we give the customer what they wanted.

Clearly the documents you described fit in the YOLK.

Hope I've helped?????


Al Dyer

Good post David,

I read your previous post (I'm not sure I commented) about the Egg and will probably try to work it into our training system.

I think we all agree that there is a muddled area in the structure and that if you have a working system and can back up your thought process, a system can be developed that works for the company, the auditor and the registrar. (in that level of importance)


barb butrym

Quite Involved in Discussions
my definition of the pyramid is similiar to Al's but much more basic/generic

tier 1 is where you state "Yup...i do all the stuff you (ISO), my management and my customers say i have to do"

tier 2 is where i say "ok, here is an overview of how i plan to go about doing what i already said i do"

tier 3 is where i go into detail about how to do it

tier 4 is how i provide evidence that i did it all.

The tiers may overlap, be seperate or both....as long as each purpose is met

or even simpler said
1= policy 2= plan 3=action 4 = results

[This message has been edited by barb butrym (edited 28 March 2001).]


Folks, thanks for the insight, it was very helpful. Dave, great metaphor with the egg -- I'll be sure to use it if you don't mind.

Barb and Al, thanks for your examples of Tier 1-4 implementation. Barb uses the word "Generic" and I think that this might be the key word in the answer to my questions.

EG., the writing of my company's "Requirements" document for a specific product is an "action" and belongs in Tier 3. Tier 2 would specify how we are supposed to write the requirements document, that is, specifies good quality practices for requirements analsyis. For example Tier 2 might have a "template requirements document" with all of the suggested sections applicable to a requirements document. Tier 2 documents might also talk about how, when writing the actual Tier 3 requirements document, you can be sure that the requirements are valid, complete, feasible, etc.

As for the Design documents that I also spoke of, I guess you could replace the paragraph I just wrote above and substitute the words "Design" in place of "Requirements". I.e., Tier 2 could have a Design Document Template, while Tier 3 would actually contain the actual design document, which, of course, better follow the template if we are to be compliant with our own QMS.

Thoughts on my interpretation?

barb butrym

Quite Involved in Discussions
Keep it simple. Don't read more into the pyrimid than there is.....One document can do it all you don't need 4 ....I do a seperate QA manual for tier 1, but some detail is added to avoid the extra paper on the lighter elements (NOTHING PROPRIETARY OF COURSE)...so not every element has a tier 2,3. Some tier 2 can include a bit of detail or flow chart and a form so no T 3,4 is required.

DON'T duplicate stuff just to have a tier xx document. If its a top level (professionals using it) don't do a work instruction if its not needed. Sometimes a self explanitory form is sufficient........ Put things where it makes sense to put them. AND leave the format some flexiblity.

[This message has been edited by barb butrym (edited 29 March 2001).]


Re: What is included in the pyramid?

Is this just an internal reference, is there an "official" ISO referecece associated with this pyramid?

Jim Wynne

Re: What is included in the pyramid?

Is this just an internal reference, is there an "official" ISO referecece associated with this pyramid?

Nothing official. The document system "pyramid" is a bit of an anachronism, but some still find it useful.


Moved On
Re: What is included in the pyramid?

Is this just an internal reference, is there an "official" ISO referecece associated with this pyramid?

No, it was something created as a convenient 'visual metaphor' for what was 'thought' was the right way to do things, in the early years of ISO 9000 - somewhat similar to 'say what you do, do what you say'...

QS-9000 did reference the pyramid, but that has long gone since TS 16949 and, yet, people are still wed to this (artificial) model for documents.
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