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Document or Record? Does it Matter?

January 30, 2016

 

One of my clients recently asked me "What's the difference between a document and a record?" I gave him my understanding of the difference between the two, but it got me thinking.  Can a document also be a record?  Can a record turn into a document?  Does it matter? Why am I even thinking about this?  Where's the remote?  But my mind keeps revisiting it, like that good night song from the Lawrence Welk show.  So I thought I would take a look at the ISO 9001 standard to better understand the difference between the two.

 

ISO 9001:2015 no longer differentiates between a document and a record, referring to both as "documented information".   The only section where I might infer a difference is in section 4.4.2, where the standard says "the organization shall a) maintain documented information to support the operation of its processes; b) retain documented information to have confidence that the processes are being carried out as planned."  To me, part a) refers to a document, and part b) refers to a record. A document, then, is something you maintain.  A record, is something you retain.  In the world of ISO 9001, there is a big difference between the two.  

 

A record is a snapshot of a process at any point in time.  Some people call them artifacts.  Wikipedia calls them "a collection of data". You could think of them as breadcrumbs that a value stream leaves behind.  In a manufacturing process, one of the first breadcrumbs would be the customer's PO, or a sales order.  The next breadcrumb would be a work order, then maybe a completed traveller, test results and/or inspection results.  Then a packing slip and finally an invoice.  Another example would be meeting minutes, or the results of a design review.  These kinds of documents provide a snapshot of a process at a particular moment in time.  They provide evidence, or proof, that work was done, an agreement was reached or a decision was made.  They are something that you would retain, perhaps to refer back to in a dispute with a customer, supplier, or a moment of amnesia.  These kinds of records are something that you would not update with new information.  It is mostly considered off-side to go back and update a completed quote, sales order, traveller or meeting minutes with new information. To do that, you would generally produce an entirely new revision or record - a new snapshot in time.

 

So then, if a record is a document, perhaps it's helpful to look at what defines a document once a record is removed from the definition.  Usually, in terms of ISO 9001, a document provides guidance to users.  Wikipedia calls documents "written, drawn or presented representation of thoughts".  Since an organization's thoughts on a topic evolve over time, documents then evolve over time, so they need to be maintained. Reasons for that evolution might include new market information, new technologies, new competitors, new customers, new processes and new people.  Sometimes documents are referred to as "living", or "evergreen", whereas records would be "static".  Documents generally provide guidance on how to do something - e.g. design a new product, service a customer, complete a sales order, or maintain equipment. In ISO 9001, documents are usually manuals, procedures, work instructions, drawings, shop aids, templates and forms.

 

Documents and records often go hand in hand.  Taking preventive maintenance as an example, a company might have a procedure describing how to conduct preventive maintenance on which pieces of machinery.  Then there might be several work instructions on Machine A, B and C detailing how to actually conduct maintenance.  After maintenance is done, records are produced showing what was done, on which date, by who.  The procedure and work instructions would be considered documents, that would be updated as new information is made available. The records of maintenance would be static - frozen in time after they are created.  Kind of like this blog.

 

Back to (one of) my original questions - does it matter?  Well, yes.  The focus with records is how they are retained. Where are they stored?  Who is responsible for them?  When can you dispose of them?  The focus with documents is how they are maintained.  How often are they reviewed?  How do people know when they've been updated?  And as for the question of whether a record can become a document - well, no, a record cannot become a document (in ISO 9001 terms). Documents are used to plan and operate a process, and records are used to provide proof that the process happened. 

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Sara Haynes

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