Back in the early 2000’s, we noticed an increase in customers wanting to audit our operations. A team from the customer’s organization would pay us a visit and spend hours asking questions about everything from how we decided which suppliers to use to how we traced inventory to how we knew that what we were selling matched their specific requirements. We were able to answer those questions and show that we routinely performed as expected, but consistently were told “you have things in place- you just need to document it.” That was generally followed by some version of ”encouragement” to consider getting ISO- certified.
Our impression of ISO certification was it was a costly process to prove you were consistent, not to be confused with consistently good, and that ISO-related processes generally got in the way of taking care of your customer. Often companies used the preface “ISO makes us”, followed by something like “have five people sign off on this before we can…”, generally ending a very unsatisfying discussion. So what about that scenario was a good thing??
Eventually we came to the conclusion that the suggestions to gain certification were going to become requirements. Addressing this on our timeframe was preferable to greater external pressure, so we dove in with the help of a local consultant. She learned about our processes and helped us to frame them in ways to meet the current ISO Standard. She also guided us through the areas where we lacked a formal process, taking us out of “seat of the pants” mode and making us define and document good business practices. The concept of a Quality Management System (QMS), which the ISO Standard required, became more meaningful as we came to understand it as a Business Management System rather than something specifically tied to the Quality Department. We learned that moving from tribal knowledge to formalized systems wasn’t a bad thing!
Fast forward fifteen years or so and you’ll see an organization that has embraced ISO 9001:2015 as how we live. Without question, we are a better company than we could have ever imagined becoming. Our customers and suppliers see on a regular basis the results of the strong, yet continually improving, system we have in place. The talented members of our staff are supported by a QMS that has been successfully tested time and again, but that can also adapt as business needs warrant. We’ve been through many years of internal and registrar audits, giving us the opportunity to be measured just like companies much larger than ours, with positive results.
Perhaps you recognize your firm in this story. There are many of these shared experiences, regardless of industry or geographic location. No question there are costs involved with earning and maintaining ISO certification, but what are the costs incurred by not going down that path? What limitations for your future have been created?