Creating an action management system: five points
Phil Chambers BSC, CMIOSH, Strategic Safety Systems Ltd.
For about 20 years, I’ve watched people get into a state over managing actions that arise from quality, health, safety or environmental issues. What tends to happen is that there are lots of forms, meeting minutes, audit reports and all the other stuff that seems to accumulate.
Typically, people file the meeting minutes, only to get them out just before the next meeting and realise that there were actions they should have taken. Quite often, people create spreadsheets to manage actions, and then you end up with a collection of spreadsheets which just add to the problem. People get overloaded with work (which is often additional to the work from their primary role) and often important items get missed.
In short, there is the tendency to fail to have a coherent approach.
Done properly, you can easily overcome this. There are some systems on the market, but there is no reason why you can’t do it yourself.
So, if you are going to do it yourself, here are the 5 tops tips for setting up your own action management system. In order to be readable in an on-line format, this is an abbreviated article and a more in-depth technical paper is available here.
1. Recognise that issues and actions are all the same, no matter their source.
Rather than putting issues into safety or quality compartments, an enlightened approach is to regard these as all being part of how you manage your company. Rather than having lots of records all over the place, have just one database. Use a database, not a spreadsheet. So this database can store your incidents, inspections, internal problems, customer complaints, meeting minutes, audit reports and so on. That way, we can have an integrated system where we can see the complete picture. Don’t worry if this sounds unwieldy; we address this later.
Create an “Issues” table, with a method of stating the source of the issue. Then have another “Actions” table linked to the “Issues” table. This allows you to have multiple actions for each issue should the need arise.
2. Keep it simple
Don’t try to guess every situation. What you will find is that as it gets used, you will see other features that you will need. The old 80:20 rule applies, where you get 80% of the benefits from the first 20% of the system. So start simply, but have in mind the ability to develop the system.
3. Within reason, give as much access as possible and have individual TO DO lists
This is probably one of the biggest benefits. As soon as information is shared and made available, you will be surprised how many ideas for improvements arise. There are security features and restrictions that you may want, such as limiting who can sign-off issues and who can edit certain bits of data, but in general, encourage multiple access.
Set up a filter so that you can list all the incomplete actions for a single person. Because we’ve put everything into one database, then instead of having lots of reports, minutes, etc., that a person needs to refer to, they only have the one TO DO list.
4. Characterise each issue by its source and have simple filters
So, we’ve got one big table for issues but this would be unworkable without some filters. I suggested a field call “source”; this is some identification of how the issue arose, such as incident report, inspection, meeting, customer complaint, etc. Rather than entering data in a table, enter it through a form and make the form specific to the source. So you’d have a form for indent reports which would be based on a filter for incident reports and have a default setting of “Incident Report” for the source.
5. Have meaningful management reports
Create a filter so that you can see reports of incomplete actions and group these as overdue and not overdue.
Get the system to do the work for you. For example, if data is being entered for customer complaints, set up reports that give you breakdowns such as counts and cost of complaints for each customer. It would also be worth ensuring that you have a field for complaint type, such as “Goods received late” so you can also get an analysis on this. Have these fields as drop-down boxes to ease data entry and to ensure that you avoid situations where a difference in spelling would give 2 different categories.
Finally, because people can respond to their TO DO list and record the completion of their actions, you can transform meetings. Meetings are no longer bogged down with people reporting their actions; that has already been done. They can become a forum for discussing problems arising out of actions and all the other issues that have arisen.