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"Melted Snow Flushed My Toilet"

The recent storm in Texas left millions without power and water, for nearly a week. "I had to melt snow in my bathtub to have water to flush the toilet," said Hubert Tien, an Austin resident. Learning to live without basic amenities was people's reality. Water needed to be boiled prior to use, even when the water was restored.

According to several news reports, for Austin, TX, some of this was preventable. When a tree took out a power line, the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant, which supplies 1/2 of Austin's potable water, was left without power. The plant was shut down for 10 hours and the drinking water was compromised. The reason why? Nobody knew how to operate a 52 year old switch to turn on the backup generator.

Seriously? A lack of available instructions caused a significant issue for the residents of Austin, TX. I can't imagine how furious those residents must be. Documented procedures and regular training on those procedures would have prevented this issue. Creating a robust quality system takes time and effort, but is an effective way to avoid a disaster.

According to ASQ, "A quality management system (QMS) is defined as a formalized system that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives. A QMS helps coordinate and direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements and improve its effectiveness and efficiency on a continuous basis."

Simply put, a quality management system keeps organizations on the same page. A well constructed quality system documents the procedures, trains the organization of these procedures on a regular basis and drives improvement to these procedures over time.

A quality management system should remain relevant to the organization even as it evolves. One best practice is to audit against the procedures on a scheduled basis. I recommend no more than 3 years between audits. If the audit discovers that the process is not following what is documented, you have an opportunity to change the requirements, if it makes sense. That keeps your QMS vital.

I've seen organizations drive business transformation through the quality management system. First, the desired state is documented in the procedure. All functions involved in the process, approve the document. When the key leaders sign off on the procedure, then it becomes an expectation. Audits are useful here to reinforce the new behavior.

Documenting all of the business processes is a good practice. Use a RASCI (Responsible, Approver, Supporting, Consulting, Informed) to define who needs to do what actions. Process flow diagrams explain a process in a visual way. Document what data is important and what the record retention requirements are.

Documentation doesn't have to be a perfectly crafted Microsoft Word document, especially at the "how to" level. Videos are a great way to demonstrate a procedure and take minutes to make. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly more likely to check YouTube before my owners manual when I need to fix the lawnmower.

What makes your business function? Is it documented and understood consistently throughout your organization? Take the time now before your customers are stuck with a boil water scenario.

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