QMS Documentation Essentials


Quality Management System (QMS) documentation lies at the very heart of an effective quality management process.


It not only serves to articulate the procedures and responsibilities within an organisation but also acts as the pivotal point for compliance and continuous improvement efforts.


Detailed documentation is the cornerstone for passing rigorous quality audits and ensuring that quality objectives are met consistently. This guide will help you understand the following: 


Overview of the QMS Documentation Hierarchy

The QMS documentation is typically structured in a hierarchical model that ensures easy navigation and clear delineation of information.


The hierarchy ranges from high-level documents that define the quality policy and objectives, down to records and annexes detailing everyday operations.

Flowchart depicting the hierarchy of QMS documentation, starting with the Quality Manual at the top, branching into Procedures, Work Instructions, and Forms & Records, and further expanding into Policies, Process Maps, Training Manuals, Quality Objectives, Performance Reports, and Audit Reports.
QMS Documentation Hierarchy Diagram

The Quality Manual


The Quality Manual is the apex document, setting out the strategic intent and direction of the quality management system.


It encompasses the scope of the QMS, the documented procedures, and the interactions between the processes of the quality management system.


Procedures Documentation


Procedures documents define the ‘how-to’ of key processes.


They outline the steps necessary to complete tasks by regulatory requirements and company policies, thus assuring standardised outcomes.


Work Instructions and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)


Work Instructions and SOPs offer detailed guidance to execute specific tasks or processes.


They are essential in maintaining quality standards and ensuring operational consistency.


Forms, Records, and Reports


Forms and records are tangible evidence of QMS compliance. They provide documented proof of the performance of the system and are vital for audits and reviews.


Policies Documentation


Policies serve as the governing principles that underpin the QMS. They set forth the organisation’s commitment to quality, compliance, customer satisfaction, and continuous improvement.


These documents should communicate the organisation’s stance and intentions regarding quality to all stakeholders.


Process Maps


Process maps are visual representations of the sequence and interaction of processes within the QMS.


They provide a bird’s-eye view of how processes interlink and flow, which is crucial for understanding the systemic nature of quality management and identifying potential areas for improvement.


Training Manuals


Training manuals are critical to ensuring that staff are competent and capable of performing their roles in compliance with the QMS requirements.


These manuals typically include instructions, procedures, and standards pertinent to different roles, ensuring that all team members are equipped with the knowledge to maintain quality standards.


Quality Objectives Documentation


This documentation delineates specific, measurable quality targets that the organisation aims to achieve.


Quality objectives are aligned with the company’s quality policy and are essential for setting direction, measuring performance, and driving improvements.


Performance Reports


Performance reports are documents that record the outcomes of processes and activities against the set quality objectives.


These reports are fundamental for tracking progress, identifying trends, and making informed decisions related to quality management.


Audit Reports

Audit reports provide a formal record of the findings from quality audits.


These documents are essential for evidencing compliance with external standards and internal policies, and they play a critical role in the continuous improvement process by highlighting areas that require attention.

QMS Documentation Best Practice

Create Effective Document Control Procedures


Effective document control is vital to ensure the integrity of QMS documentation. It involves establishing a document life cycle from creation, review, and publication, to eventual retirement. Document control procedures should include the following:


  • Identification and indexing
  • Review and approval processes
  • Revision control and history
  • Distribution and access control
  • Archiving and disposal methods

Ensuring Accessibility and Readability


QMS documentation must be readily accessible to those who need it. This implies utilising a digital, cloud-based repository that allows for easy retrieval.


The readability of the documents is equally crucial; they should be written in clear, concise language understandable to all intended users.


Integration with Business Processes


QMS documentation should not exist in a vacuum but be seamlessly integrated with business processes.


This process approach ensures that quality management becomes a natural part of operations rather than an enforced protocol.


Regular Reviews and Updates


To maintain relevance and efficacy, QMS documentation requires regular reviews and updates.


This practice ensures continuous improvement and helps to capture changes in compliance requirements or operational practices.

Software for QMS Documentation Management

QMS documentation management can be significantly enhanced with document management software solutions. These tools facilitate better control, distribution, and tracking of documents, and support compliance with standards such as ISO 9001.


Key Features of QMS Documentation Software


  • Centralised document repository
  • Version control and audit trails
  • Permission-based access
  • Automated workflows for document review and approval
  • Notifications and reminders for document updates
  • Integration with other business systems

The Next Steps

The meticulous structuring and management of QMS documentation are imperative for the success of quality management systems. 


By adhering to the outlined practices and leveraging modern technology, organisations can ensure compliance, drive quality, and foster continuous improvement.


Begin the transformation by auditing your current documentation, integrating software solutions, and committing to ongoing excellence in your documentation practices.

More insights

Picture of Peter Shields
Peter Shields
Peter is a Quality, Risk & Compliance expert with extensive experience working with process-based management systems in the Energy, Nuclear & Defence sectors since 1979.
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