News finally came through yesterday that we had gained the ISO9001 Quality Certification ('ISO') through APM Group: a first for us and a first for APMG. So we are all quietly quite proud here.
The journey over the last few months has been an interesting one. My concern has been that the ISO process did not become self-serving but actually did add value.
My colleague, Andrew Rock, is our Quality Manager and he did a superb job. Unlike me, Andrew is a completer-finisher, and is strong on consistency. I am more of a maverick, valuing innovation, ideas and agility. Andrew urged me first to grapple with a thing called Quality Policy, which he said needed to be owned by senior management. (That would be me.)
As I studied what was meant by 'Quality Policy' I began to appreciate that this was where we could set out our stall as to how we, as a company would apply ISO. We could not, as many other organisations have done, take a passive approach to applying the international standard; we hear that many that have done this have found, as a consequence, that ISO then took them places they did not want to go. In some cases, writing it became like boiling the ocean and observing it became excessively bureaucratic.
So, in little over a page, I set out our stance:
- Values-based. Our Values would continue to be paramount and non-negotiable. We've learned what our customer love about us has actually emerged out of our being consistent in living our values.
- Simplicity. 'Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler.' (Einstein) This became our design approach.
- Outcomes-oriented. Process always needs to serve the outcomes it intends to achieve.
- Value-adding. Only change where there is clear added value in doing so.
- Document on exception. Evidence is not required where the system is being followed, only where deviances have been found. We cannot become a paper-factory documenting the 'normal' to the nth degree.
- Always use best judgement. I borrowed this from Nordstoms in the USA. We live in an emergent business reality. We need to be humble enough to realise that what we codify today as our practice may be ill-suited for the demands of tomorrow. So if we encounter a novel challenge or opportunity, and the procedures are inadequate, guess what? We permit ourselves to decide as best we know how.
What I realised was that without doing this, external advisors and assessors might well bring in a culture of ISO that would be mechanistic and legalistic. In turn this could lead to some unintended consequences that would compete against what we needed to be and achieve, and potentially be disastrous.
Richard Rose, our internal auditor, and Andy Taylor, our external consultant, also deserve special mentions here for helping me bridge my intent into the strange language and constructs of ISO.
Now I am certainly not a quality expert. We are working out our salvation as we go along. If you, dear reader, feel this approach of ours is flawed I'd really appreciate hearing from you.
Meanwhile we are popping the champagne to celebrate being the first to gain this through APM Group.