Documenting Standards: Q&A on Quality Manuals

Posted December 11, 2020 at 11:35 am

January’s Textile Services magazine will feature an article on developing quality manuals, a key element of certification programs, such as TRSA’s Hygienically Clean program. An abbreviated version of the article, written by Audrey Carmichael, senior client consultant for Six Disciplines, appears below.

Audrey Carmichael

Is having a quality manual helpful or necessary for a textile service business?

The typical drivers for creating a quality manual are often external – a customer requires you to produce one, or you are pursuing a certification that requires it. Or internally, there may be a need to help support a growing business to create consistency and high quality of work processes. At the root is a recognition that writing and maintaining a quality manual can be important for your business. There are many benefits to creating a quality manual, including: reassuring customers on quality, aiding management by documenting work requirements, assisting in employee training and demonstrating professionalism to prospects.

Why develop a quality manual?

A quality manual could serve multiple purposes: marketing, fulfilling customer requirements, or documenting work processes and standards. If you don’t yet have a quality manual and are considering creating one, give some thought to what purpose you want it to serve. You can start with a purpose of documenting processes to solve problems that you have had in the past and to make work instructions very clear. On the more ambitious end, you can make a quality manual the backbone of your overall Business Management System, which means creating a set of tools for executing business plans and strategies.

What parts of the business will it cover?

At a minimum, a quality manual should cover the processes of the organization that align with the purpose of the quality manual. A quality manual whose purpose it is to document and show records regarding compliance to HACCP requirements, or a Hygienically Clean program, may only document the processes related to producing compliant textiles: Laundering, Facilities Management, Housekeeping, Delivery and Transportation, and Health and Safety. A quality manual that is supporting a more comprehensive program such as ISO 9001 or an organization’s Business Management System will naturally be more comprehensive. All key processes will be covered, as well as support processes. Key processes are simply the steps you go through to give your customers what they want.

What should you include in a quality manual?

The structure and content may be defined by the purpose and scope of your manual. If you are seeking a certification based on a standard, such as Hygienically Clean or ISO 9001, there are specific requirements of the standard that the quality documentation must meet. Note here that I used the term “quality documentation” not “quality manual.” This is because the latest (2015) ISO 9001 standard does not require a manual at all, but rather requires processes to maintain and retain “documented information” – which can be in any format or media. Its emphasis is on a “documented quality-management system” and not a “system of documents.” However, most ISO-certified companies, especially those certified prior to 2015, maintain a quality manual for their high-level policies and procedures because it benefits them and helps them communicate their commitment to quality to their customers. Quality management systems generally have four levels of documentation:

  • Level 1: Quality Manual – includes policies, references to standards and the regulations it addresses, organizational structure, procedures for updating and maintaining other documents (where stored, how, approval processes), the organization’s Mission, Vision and Values as guiding principles, and an overall Quality Policy.
  • Level 2: Procedures – Department-level and interdepartmental interactions. Key and supporting processes described such that inputs, outputs and main process steps are documented.
  • Level 3: Work Instructions – Work instructions are very specific and answer the question – How? Consider using technology and creative ways to document work-specific tasks. Videos, photos, interactive machines, operator feedback mechanisms like productivity indicators, signs, all can be considered work instructions.
  • Level 4: Quality records – documentation that provides evidence that procedures are being carried out. The purpose and scope of your quality manual will determine what records you need to keep.

Levels 3 and 4 are often referred to, but not contained in a quality manual. Unless a standard you are seeking to comply with requires it, you can decide how many levels of documentation are contained in your quality manual.

Unfortunately, the only real way to reap the benefits that you originally sought in creating a quality manual is to regularly review and update it. Too many organizations consider this to be a “one-and-done” activity. However, it must be an ongoing part of running the operation. Make a review of the quality manual part of your annual-planning process. When a process undergoes a major change, for example, due to new software or equipment, update the procedures and work instructions as you implement the change. Using a quality-management system and keeping it updated with a quality manual will help your organization run more smoothly and with better results.

Readers may contact Carmichael at