Interview by Angel Candelario
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international quality management standard. The standards provide guidance and tools for companies and organizations who want to ensure that their products and services consistently meet customer’s requirements, and that quality is consistently improved. ISO is located in Switzerland and was established in 1947 to develop common international standards in many areas.
What has this to do with Technical Communication? The entire process is documented and it may be the job of a Technical Writer to maintain the ISO documentation. Wesley Westberg has been through managing and planning internal audits to ensure ISO compliance observe and document results from internal and external audits. Very kindly, Wesley shares with members of Technical Writer In Action his experiences related to ISO and Technical Communications.
TWIA: Wesley; thank you very much for joining me in this interview.
Wesley Westberg: You are welcome. This will be my first interview that isn’t job related.
TWIA: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What is your experience in the technical communication field?
Wesley Westberg: I started out as a machinist, machine builder, machine designer, project manager, went into quality for a while, and a maintenance supervisor. Three of these positions involved writing descriptions of events, both good and bad.
I became involved with technical writing while I was a project manager. One of my responsibilities included arranging to have the manuals written for the machines we built. I had to proof read those manuals and correct some of the information. I wouldn’t get involved in actual writing projects until 1996.
TWIA: What is your current position?
Wesley Westberg: Right now, I am doing contract work for different companies.
TWIA: How many years of experience do you have in relation to ISO standards?
Wesley Westberg: In 1996 I went to work for a very large automotive company that decided to become ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environmental) certified. I volunteered to help and was put in charge of writing the documentation. We put together the quality and environmental documentation (which were completely separate a the time). For a large company, that is an enormous amount of documents to write, assemble, and distribute. It took us about two years to put the whole system together before getting certified. I learned quite a bit about writing documentation, standards, and training.
TWIA: Could you please help us to understand what ISO is and the role a Technical Communicator plays in the process?
Wesley Westberg: I can only answer to what I do when I set up an ISO system. I usually perform a gap analysis to see what documentation they have and what they need. I then make a recommendation to bring them in line with the ISO standards. Then the work starts.
TWIA: What is the official style guide used in ISO publications (if there is one)? If there is no official style guide, is there a standard style guide that closely matches?
Wesley Westberg: As close as I can come is ISO/TR 10013: Guidelines for quality management system documentation. This gives you guidelines as to what should be in the documentation. Customers usually have their own standards for formatting.
TWIA: It is necessary for a technical writer to obtain any certification or training to work on a project of ISO 9001? If so, how can you get it?
Wesley Westberg: My feeling is, yes if you have never been through the process of setting up an ISO system. On the job training is just as important, even if you already have the certification. A company will usually pay for the training. There are also classes you can take, costing around $700.00. Most likely if a company wants or needs an ISO system; it will pick up the cost of the class.
TWIA: How many certifications in ISO you currently have?
Wesley Westberg: Awareness, Implementation, Documentation, Internal, and Lead Auditing (Both ISO 9000 quality and 14001 environmental)
TWIA: What steps are necessary to manage an ISO documentation project?
Wesley Westberg: I work out a document control system that the customer agrees to. Sometimes it is a naming system or a numbering system. The document control procedure then spells it out for anyone that authors a document. I then work out a control system and apply it to all documents. Even though the system belongs to the quality department, assign someone that will have the authority to perform the updates the system. Make sure that anyone involved knows who the person is to make changes. Control the system properly and third party audits will never be a headache.
WIA: Could you describe a recent challenge you’ve been presented with at work related to ISO and how (if possible) you were able to overcome it?
Wesley Westberg: One company needed to have their ISO 9001 quality system overhauled. Many of the employees where making changes they thought should be in the documentation without concern for the related documents. Or one person thought they needed a form for what they were doing, but did not consult with anyone from quality. This company ended up with over 300 forms to control. It took nearly 3 months to go through all the the documentation to bring the system up to date and fix the errors and relate each of the documents where necessary and bring the needed forms into control for an audit for recertification. I no sooner completed that assignment, when they decided to become ISO 14001 (environmental) certified AND wanted it blended into the ISO 9001 documentation. Well, I like writing anyway.
TWIA: What are your current projects?
Wesley Westberg: Currently, I am looking for a new project.
TWIA: What advice would you give –-if any – to those looking to develop their knowledge/skills in ISO documentation projects?
Wesley Westberg: Get involved. Join forums. One forum I visit is at Marc’s Elsmar forum. Ask questions. Linked in also has several good forums. Learn what others have done successfully and imitate it. Continue to update your knowledge of ISO.
TWIA: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to members of Technical Writer In Action?
Wesley Westberg: Not only do I enjoy writing, I enjoy reading.