Trench warfare, especially from WWI, involved a harsh and unforgiving environment where often the lives of troops depended on the location and quality of the trench they happened to be in.

There are some interesting parallels between trench warfare and the implementation of management systems.

During the height of WWI, the average soldier was less preoccupied with strategy and military objectives than he was about surviving the day. It was the role of senior officers to determine strategy, and then to ensure this strategy was translated into operational imperatives.  Part of planning involved digging of strategically and tactically placed trenches. Technological advances in weaponry during WWI meant that that whilst trenches were initially viewed as temporary defensive structures, they became an integral part of each army’s strategy and were part of the long-term war. The placement of trenches became critical to winning battles and ultimately winning the war. However, to the soldier on the ground, digging a trench was a largely thought-free activity just enabling him to get through one more day.

All too often when reviewing or auditing a management system, whether it be health and safety, quality, environment or risk, one gets the impression that whilst there may be a significant amount of ‘trench digging’ taking place, there is often lack of overall direction from management.

This results in people working hard, and often doing their job well – digging their trench well – but potentially without a master plan or goal in mind. The ‘trench’ might be in the wrong place and or not be to the correct specifications.

While a trench system was intended to assist in the achievement of strategic objectives it also had to provide for the semi-permanent living arrangements of soldiers, and the overarching objective could easily be forgotten in the daily struggle. Similarly, with business management systems, the intended end result can be lost in organisational bureaucracy over time. This translates to workers undertaking tasks that seem important but have little bearing on the end goal. This is especially often the case with older management systems that have been through many iterations and audits, where great ideas have been added and no one has stepped back and asked if the management system is achieving what it set out to achieve.

The objective of any management system audit is to assess whether the management system continues to meet the organisation’s own requirements, relevant Standard and industry code requirements (if applicable), and legislative requirements, and to assess whether the system is effectively implemented and maintained.

An audit should then be looking at the management system as a whole, assessing whether the ‘digging’ that is being undertaken is in alignment with the organisation’s overall goals and strategies.

Management system audits should not be aimed at simply finding gaps that all too often are filled with additional or more complex documentation; rather they should look at the system from an holistic perspective to assess whether it is ‘going in the right direction.’

Are your workers ‘digging trenches’ in the right direction? Do your audits focus on the key areas that they should, or do they simply find gaps? Does your management system make provision for a meaningful and effective management review?

Please contact QRMC for independent management system audits or an objective review to determine whether your management system is achieving its intended goals.