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Using a wiki for QMS documentation

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A wiki can be a very useful tool for documenting your Quality Management System.

But using wikis require breaking deeply ingrained paradigms. One such paradigm is the perceived need to have a sequential occurrence of authoring-editing-approval-publication. Another is the perception that when a document is published, its information is correct, complete, permanent and authoritative. A third is that naive or malicious contributors will ruin documents. But these paradigms are simply outdated and wrong.

The trick to using a wiki is to empower the whole work-group or organization to edit any document. The distinction between author and editor disappears and any change in the documentation is published immediately.

Contrary to expectations of folks not familiar with wikis, their use results in continuous improvement of documents. This happens because of several virtuous mechanisms working together:

  1. Ease of access results in frequent consultation of the documents by the users to learn or verify their knowledge.
  2. Ease of editing allows “minor” corrections and improvements that in a conventional system would simply not be done, for the corresponding errors are “tolerable”. Whoever knows a topic and reads its documents detects any shortcomings and can correct them immediately.
  3. The aggregation of many small corrections and improvements results in very significant changes. This is known as "wiki magic".
  4. Information is not repeated. The ability to include other wiki pages allows information to be in a single location. However, careful monitoring and tweaking of the system is critical to achieve this, as there is no built in mechanism to avoid the repetition of information. This monitoring and tweaking is called "wiki gnoming".
  5. There are several incentives that prompt positive cooperation of wiki users within a closed group:
    • Every user works for the same organization and is identified with name and password.
    • All changes to the wiki, as well as their authors and times, are logged. The information is available to all through a page-history link, and to the administrator by user or date.
    • Changes to any, or all documents may be monitored by any user through email or RSS.
    • Reverting to prior versions of a document is easy and quick, for those rare occasions where that would be needed.
  6. A complementary database of bug/corrective actions may easily be implemented.

A couple of case studies of wiki use for QMS are:

Motorola and Geometrica.

The following areas of ISO 9001 compliance illustrate the great value of the wiki approach:

  • 4.2.1. Documentation of the quality system. The wiki allows all documents to be stored in a place where everyone can view and review them.
  • 4.2.3. Control of documents. The procedure states that documents are updated when needed, and the wiki sends an email notification to the quality committee and anyone who subscribes whenever a page is updated. The wiki ensures that current revisions are identified because it allows all versions, with date and author, to be stored and shown when needed. The wiki keeps all documents in the point of use and also stores all data in a legible and identifiable way.
  • 4.2.4. Records can be easily controlled, stored, retrieved, retained -- and there is no need to dispose of them. Typing information directly into the wiki's pages (or scanning and uploading it) saves space and archives information in such an easy-to-find manner that there's no point in printing or copying. Even though anyone can access and modify wiki information, records are safe because prior versions are automatically stored for at least six months.
  • 5. Management responsibility involves several steps, on which a wiki can help focus:
    • 5.1. a) The wiki allows management to communicate customer, statutory and regulatory requirements throughout the whole organization very quickly. As soon as the manager finishes typing, the wiki sends out email notifications of change to everyone who needs to know. This enhances customer focus, because customer demands are immediately cascaded to the correct organizational levels (5.2).
    • 5.3. d) The wiki communicates policy to the members of the organization, as well as allowing anyone within it to check or change it. Thus the wiki promotes reviews and continuing suitability (point e).
    • 5.4.2. The wiki helps maintain the integrity of the quality management system. In a paper-based system, all documents would have to be revised to ensure that a change in one is reflected in another. The wiki does this job automatically.
    • 5.5.1. The wiki helps ensure that all responsibilities are communicated. Posting an organizational chart in the wiki allows instant access to roles and responsibilities.
    • 5.5.3. In an era of "opened doors", a wiki is an invaluable tool because it can perform internal communication at its best.
    • 5.6. The wiki simplifies and enhances management review. The standard requires inputs to be presented, outputs to be derived and both to be recorded. Here's how we accomplish this with a wiki:
      • Prepare the review on the wiki, posting all inputs (and their graphs) in the wiki, as well as the order of the day.
      • During the meeting, take notes and post them beneath the graph pictures in the page described as the "register" for the meeting.
      • Record the number and comments for each corrective action reported.
      • Post a small summary of findings at the end.
      • Scan and post signed attendance sheet.
  • 6.2.2. All competence reviews, from employee evaluations to their comparison with needed competences, can be recorded in the wiki and isolated in a page protected by password-access (for confidential information). Employee activities and allotted times can be also maintained in this area. Records of all grades in training classes can be maintained here, which makes planning for follow-up courses very easy.
  • 7.3. The wiki helps manage design development planning, inputs, outputs, review, verification and validation, as well as change control. Using the wiki, a team can brainstorm ideas, process information, review output, and present feedback for verification and validation. Now a process that previously might have been reviewed by only one or two people can be reviewed and commented upon by the whole team, with no need to pass papers or send personal emails.
  • 7.5.1. The wiki helps control production. Using the wiki, all registers and work instructions can be carried out online, updated easily, and printed (if needed) in the production plant. There are no worries about copies unless it's a copy being used in the plant. A list of places where documents are posted can allow the owner of a document to eliminate previous revisions and post new ones.
  • 8.2.2. The wiki simplifies internal audits. In a wiki you can plan audits, fill in the forms, print them, sign them and scan the document, all in a matter of minutes. The wiki eliminates the need to print a document, write comments on it, clean it up, type it again and print it out again. The wiki also stores signed audits; it's easy to keep all records in one cyber-place where everyone can access them through their computers.
  • 8.5. The wiki promotes continuous improvement, including both corrective and preventive actions. The combination of Bugzilla and wiki allows Geometrica to pinpoint areas for improvement, especially in documents. As a result, improvements take place almost instantaneously, since any mistake caught by a user can be reported and corrected. Any change initiates an immediate email to the person responsible for the document, alerting him or her of the change.


The following are a few simple rules that will help implement a successful QMS on wiki.

Train Users: Critics have cited employee training in the use of a wiki as a deterrent in implementing a wiki QMS. Although wikis are very easy to use, don't assume that this ease will be inviting. There are three new concepts to learn: (1) there is only one copy of a document, (2) anyone can edit it, (3) log of changes is kept and anyone can see it. A few skills need just a little practice: wiki markup language (much easier than Word, and many wikis have WYSIWYG editors), your procedures (for document creation, editing and control), wiki search, document history. As with any tool, most folks learn best when taught. An hour or two of training for every user will pay handsomely as the wiki shortcuts their workflow drastically and improves quality by perfecting the documentation.

Ease of Access: Having all documents easily accessible at every time can be accomplished by having two menus in every document: (1) a main menu linking to every process, and (2) a secondary menu linking to all documents in the process to which the present document belongs. In most wikis you can also use Categories, keywords or tags, and remind folks about "search".

Keep Formatting Simple: Writing content of a document and making the document look pretty compete for the author's time. A disguised advantage of wikis is that their formatting options are relatively simple, allowing users to concentrate in content creation. The simple formatting features in a wiki editor are usually more than sufficient for QMS documentation.

Make Content Visible and Editable: Wikis allow users to upload pdfs or word files. While such feature helps users to start using the wiki, it is best to convert text to the wiki text format. When you post a file instead of posting the text itself, a reader must take two extra steps to see the information - downloading the file and opening it in another program. Then he has a file on his computer that essentially is an uncontrolled copy of the document. And an editor must take three extra steps to do his or her work: downloading, opening and uploading the changed file. Text in the wiki format encourages continuous improvement. It is easy to copy-paste from word to a wiki edit window. Encourage the use of wiki text whenever a new document is created, or an old one is revised.

In cases where you must post a file because it contains information in formats not available in the wiki, such as CAD drawings or schedules, always post a screenshot of the information in addition to the source file. This saves readers the extra steps, but still makes the information accessible to the editor.

DRY principle -- Stands for Don't Repeat Yourself: One of the most effective ways to maintain control over a particular document is to only have one controlled copy. Of course such method is wholly impractical with conventional systems. But with a wiki, this is exactly what you get. Further, when a particular bit of information needs to form part of several documents, this bit may be easily extracted from all those documents into its own wiki page, and then included in all the docs that require it.

Trust and Review: Empower everyone to make changes to the documents, and compel process owners to subscribe to RSS feeds of changes in their documents to review and approve them.

Approvals: Different organizations have different requirements for reviews and approvals. At least three alternate ways of handling approvals are practical with a wiki:

  1. Changes go live immediately. Empower users to approve their changes, and ask for a parallel review by process owners (this is the method we use).
  2. Have "draft" document pages. When a draft document passes the review/approval, the doc controller updates the links and makes the draft current.
  3. Use a workflow plugin that holds back availability of a page until a trigger (such as a particular user's approval).

Links and Network Effects

The ease with which wiki pages are linked to each other creates another benefit: simplification of processes and their documentation. Wikis naturally evolve into small world networks. In such networks, all information related to a node is reachable within very few clicks, most often a single one. The simplification of the documentation occurs from a distribution of the information through the network:

  1. long documents break up, becoming short and easily understandable, with links providing more detail where required.
  2. "cliques" of documents develop, often by process. Appropriately, all documents in a clique are linked with each other by a single click.
  3. "hubs", such as process descriptions and indexes, provide links to, and are linked by, large numbers of documents. These hubs provide short 2 or 3 click paths even between unrelated documents, and even when the wiki contains tens of thousands of pages.

Thus the small-world-network characteristics of a wiki make the management of extensive and thorough QMS documentation easier than sparse documentation handled with traditional paper or office-software-based tools. The additional detail in the documentation allows for much faster process improvement.