Managing quality can be likened to assembling scaffolding; if the components and construction of the frame are not of sufficient quality, then the higher you build the more risk there is of it all tumbling down. On the flip side, overengineering or introducing components that you don’t need will lead to delays and unnecessary costs, at best disappointing the customer and at worst making the whole endeavour pointless. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot.
I’ve learned that creating a system for quality management is essentially a balancing act; one that has been tackled many times over, leading to standards such as the ISO 9001 and methodologies like Lean Kaizen being formed. The general idea is you have a business system in place to keep everyone safe, efficient and effective and ensure that you aren’t overdoing it; wasting time, money and effort in the process. To remain effective in a changing environment, all structures need maintenance. This takes the form of continual review and improvement.
This is a short story of RedEye’s journey to ISO 9001 certification.
It’s always been in our DNA to try and improve; as it is for any business that is passionate about what they do. However, it was recognised that simply desiring to improve was not enough. Even tackling problems and creating solutions wasn’t enough. For us to successfully bring cutting edge products such as our Customer Data Platform and Predictive Analytics to fruition, as a growing technology business we need to ensure that we constantly evaluate how we manage quality and execute improvements; from understanding our clients (and their customers) needs, to the development of our products and people.
This inevitably led us to taking on the challenge of achieving the ISO 9001 standard and developing a Quality Management System (QMS). The standard provides a framework for us to review, communicate and improve our processes. It also shows the world that we care about quality. It does not however, provide the solutions for implementing one. This is down to our people and requires management support in spades.
It was recognised early on that one of our primary missing links was a centralised single point of truth for all of our departmental process documentation. We had processes in place, but in many cases, they weren’t critiqued regularly, weren’t transparent or communicated effectively and weren’t easily located. Even simply ensuring that the latest version of a document was always referenced was historically a challenge, something a lot of SMEs struggle with.
For this we turned to SharePoint, primarily a SharePoint document library with customisable metadata properties, document approval and versioning. SharePoint was fairly new to me at the time but a little bit of research led me to a great article “A QMS Solution in SharePoint Anyone Can Build” by Melissa Jones, which provided an excellent starting point for a solution that nicely fitted our requirements. Supplementing this with notification workflows implemented in Microsoft Flow and reporting managed in Power BI and we had a solution for managing and maintaining a single point of truth for all departmental process documentation. All without having to hire a team of people just to manage it all!
With a QMS documentation site in place, it made the task of implementing a formal process for improvement a valid one. Regular changes to processes could be formally documented, which in turn meant they could be trusted, shared and measured.
Following this we formed our Quality Policy and supporting documentation for the QMS (our Quality Manual), which as you might expect, was stored in the QMS documentation site. Our Quality Manual summarises our Quality Management System and neatly links to an ever-evolving collection of documents. A system designed to change and grow with the business.
The next step was to train our employees in the concept of a QMS and ensure everyone was onboard and up-to-speed with what this means to them and their teams. For this we developed an accreditation module using Sway to communicate the module content; a survey tool to validate understanding; and Power BI to report on results and ensure completion by all employees.
With everyone trained, it was time for teams to review their processes and migrate their core documentation and policies to the QMS. Support was required to assist with some of the quirks of SharePoint, but it’s generally been a very successful exercise with minimal support required.
The final piece of this puzzle, and a major theme behind all quality management systems, is continual review and improvement of the system against a set of business objectives. Our management team showed great support in a project to upgrade our objectives framework, and the result is a clear and transparent hierarchy of departmental objectives feeding into our core business objectives.
With objectives in place, management reviews, audits and tools for continual improvement are required to ensure they are reached. Audits for our system come in two primary forms:
Audits of the system against the sections of the ISO 9001 standard
Process audits which focus on our department’s core processes and how they are functioning
These audits, combined with some established reports and key measures, provide the management team with an overview of how the system is performing. The whole process highlights the risks which are posing the greatest threat to our objectives and identifies opportunities for improvement.
Investing time and effort early on in creating a structured and controlled document repository for our QMS made it much easier to document, communicate and control the remaining processes that the standard requires. The steady growth of this repository over the past 12 months is proving its worth.
Due to the broad nature of this standard we found designing audits to be a reasonably challenging part of the process. It took a fair amount of research and gap analysis to form the audit programmes that were the right fit for our agile business.
Going through this process has cemented our understanding of our system and made it possible for teams and management to critique and improve our processes in more a structured way. Ultimately leading to better products and services for our customers.
The result - we are now an ISO 9001 accredited company!
Our QMS will evolve along with the business processes it supports. We may use different tools to manage different aspects of the system, but the fundamental framework will stand. Our QMS will be there to help us overcome the key challenges that face us in the future.
It’s been an interesting journey getting accredited and understanding what makes a good QMS; more importantly, implementing it in a way that provides real benefits to employees and top management and isn’t too rigid or cumbersome. As an agile technology business our ability to flex and change is one of our strengths, so this has been in the back of our minds constantly during the development of our QMS. We still have plenty of room to improve, but thankfully we’ve got a good foundation in place.
Lastly, I owe a big thanks to all the people who have listened to my mad ramblings about quality management systems over the past few years. Being able to talk through concepts and their implementation with individuals across the business has been invaluable.
Have you been through this with your business? What approach have you taken? Feel free to share your challenges with us through our Twitter or LinkedIn channels.