Implementing an integrated management system that encompasses food safety and quality standards is a complex process that requires careful planning, team buy-in and good communication. If an organization fails to plan properly, these large-scale projects can fall by the wayside.
The planning process will help to identify risks and potential roadblocks. Keep expectations realistic by considering the stakeholders’ needs and expectations. Reach out to those impacted for feedback before the project launches. The information gathered can be helpful in identifying stakeholders’ concerns, unforeseen issues, and resource constraints that may impact the project.
It’s also important to understand the certification process when working through the planning phase, as processes may vary slightly between certification bodies. Factors such as the need for single site vs. multi-site certification, number of standards included, the organization size, geographic location, and auditor availability can all impact the timeline. Meeting with your certification body to walk through these details will aid in setting a realistic project timeline.
Develop a Communication Plan
Communicating project details is critical to project success. This can be done in a variety of ways; often the development of a communication plan will help to set things into motion. These plans describe the who, what, when, and how of the project. Larger companies may need a more in-depth plan while smaller companies can take a more informal approach.
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Work with your management team to develop messaging for the larger organization around the project that fits into the overall strategic vision of the organization. The message should communicate the plan for fulfilling the goals and objectives of the project as well as the strategic connection to the overall vision or mission of the company. Remember, there is no one size fits all for communication plans. Feel free to get creative and do what works best for your organization.
Once the plan has been outlined, engage top management to build a strong foundation for success. Get their buy in on the timeline and agenda. Look to them to provide overall support of the project and act as advocates for implementing the change. Seek out their advice when issues arise or when delays are encountered. They are often the key to helping move the project forward.
Planning an official project kickoff as well as milestone events is a great way to give the project momentum. Encourage top management to attend the kickoff, and keep everyone engaged by providing frequent status updates. Highlight success stories and small wins throughout the life of the project.
Encourage implementation team members to communicate regularly with their internal groups. Utilizing communication boards and site wide meetings to keep everyone apprised of progress is helpful. Implementation projects often take several months, so it’s wise to continuously share information to keep motivation up.
Intentionally Select Team Members
Identifying the right people for the implementation team is a critical step in the project development process. Integrated systems often require collaboration between a variety of groups. When building your implementation team consider current activities and identify processes that are within the scope of the standards being implemented. The individuals who manage these processes are the ideal candidates for the implementation team. Pulling from a pool of subject matter experts will help to streamline the process, as the team will be able to spend their time aligning current business practices rather than mastering the subject. Utilize your team’s expertise and influence to drive change. An understanding of the standards requirements will help identify the specific expertise needed.
Review the standards within the scope of the project and identify differences and commonalities. This should be relatively simple due to fact that ISO standards are all based upon a High-Level Structure (HLS) format, which harmonizes the standard format and requirements. The standard creators adopted this approach with the understanding that many organizations intend to integrate management systems. Similarities often lie within management system activities such as context, leadership, document control, management review, internal audit, and corrective action.
In each of the standards there are sections that will be unique depending on the specific focus. For example, ISO 9001 has extensive requirements around customer focus and operations, while ISO 22000 is tailored towards food safety with specific requirements around HACCP and PRPs. Identify who within the organization has the skillsets needed for the project and create an outline for the roles and responsibilities of each team member.
When establishing roles and responsibilities seek input from the team members and take into consideration their workloads outside of the project. Implementation projects require an extensive amount of time, so you want to ensure you don’t overload them.
Consider allowing team members to establish their own deadlines to provide them with a sense of ownership of their identified areas. Use small, focused teams to help break the project down into segments to make it easier to manage. Team members will be able to focus on their individual tasks and not be overwhelmed with the overall scope. If workload is a concern, consider splitting responsibilities between team members or reaching out to those in your organization who maybe underutilized.
Building the project around current processes and process owners will save time and reduce the need to sell the idea of implementing an integrated system. Many times, organizations are unknowingly meeting partial requirements and only minor modifications will be needed to close the gap. By utilizing internal subject matter experts, gaps can be identified and corrective actions established with minimal effort.
Utilize Auditing Throughout Implementation
Gap assessments and internal audits are an excellent way to ensure the implementation efforts are going as intended. Conducting a gap assessment of the management system provides an overview of the full system and highlights where gaps may lie. This is a great tool to use for project planning and timeline development. The quantity and complexity of the gaps will help guide the team to the areas that need heightened focus.
Develop a team action log to track status of specific actions and identify responsible parties. Keep it simple with clearly identified project milestones. Consider incorporating these milestones into communication plans for awareness across the organization.
Once the team has begun to close the gaps identified, the next step is to verify that the changes are effective. Internal audits can be used to confirm that changes are being rolled out as intended.
Establish an audit program early in the implementation process to help clarify the requirements across the organization. The format of the audit schedule will be unique to each company. Consider aligning with the current processes or departments for a streamlined approach.
As integration activities are rolled out, conduct focused audits a few weeks after launch to verify proper adoption. Work with the team to build a checklist tailored to the process or department being audited. This customized approach will provide a detailed look at current activities.
Take time to accurately document the requirements and any nonconformities. Document the findings in a formal report and set aside time to discuss the results with the auditee. Be sure to include any positive findings that are encountered. Lastly, come to an agreement on the timeline for corrective actions and set a date for any follow-up audits.
When working through corrective actions be sure to work with your stakeholders to help them understand the ISO requirements and how the organization can adapt to meet them. Encourage them to ask for operator input on corrections. Their firsthand knowledge of day-to-day operations provides great insight on current processes.
Utilize team huddles or site wide meetings to spread awareness of the audit results and status of the implementation project. Be sure to allow time for questions and provide follow up as needed. With proper planning, leadership buy-in and consistent communication throughout the process, implementing an integrated management system can become a more manageable and positive process for the entire team.