At Purple Crane we recently implemented a Quality Management System for our business. Whilst we are proud to have achieved ISO 9001 accreditation, more importantly, we believe that the process has already improved the service we offer to our customers and will benefit our business and the people who work in it for years to come.
What is it?
The ISO 9001 standard directs you to follow guiding principles that are applied to both the QMS itself and the activities carried out by the organisation to which it applies. The seven principles in ISO 9001 are:
- Customer focus
- Engagement of people
- Process approach
- Evidence-based decision making
- Relationship management
Each of these introduces benefits and comes with guidance on the actions to address them, but core to them all is the focus on processes.
On starting the QMS ‘process’ we were encouraged to find that for many of our daily activities we had already defined a process to be followed. For example, the steps to safely deploy changes to a customer’s software. However, on defining the QMS, we discovered how much we could improve their benefits by considerations such as:
- Who was responsible for keeping the process up to date?
- Is it available to everyone (or just in someone’s head or written on a napkin under their coffee cup)?
- How does a new team member know where it’s documented, and which is the latest version?
- Can we measure its performance and, if so, can we improve it?
- Can we improve the documentation of it?
As you get used to thinking in this way the ‘process’ itself can become somewhat overwhelming. We could see processes to be introduced everywhere and at every level of our business. The key (another aspect of the standard) is to make improvements in manageable stages, by prioritising the next set of objectives and making them achievable within the time you have available whilst still running the business. They should be SMART:
There is a huge amount of information (of varying quality!) on-line or in books to help with the process, but we found that our initial assessor helped to keep our targets within the realms of possibility.
A broader perspective
It is also important to accept that building a QMS for an existing business is a journey to be taken step-by-step but as the system begins to take shape it not only drives you to improve the service you offer to your clients, but it also forces you to spend more time actually thinking about how your business works.
In our experience, as business owners, the more we do this the more we learn to work on the business and systematise the activities of the company to improve the services we offer. Our customers benefit from a better service, the business benefits from more effective operation, and we benefit from the freedom to drive the business forward, knowing we’re improving the service we’re offering. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that influences the separation of the strategic, tactical, and operational roles in the organisation.
Whilst we acknowledge that this formula for business is nothing new, our experience has been to be guided to it by our decision to undertake the ISO 9001 QMS process. There remains a long road ahead, but we believe the outcome will make the effort worthwhile.