Quality assurance was originally conceived to document a set of procedures aimed at ensuring that quality standards and processes were adhered to by a business; but has now moved beyond the tick box concept and can play an integral part in improving business performance.
Specialist contractors are increasingly expected to demonstrate independent certification to the ISO standards of Quality Management (ISO 9001), Environmental Management (ISO 14001) and Health & Safety Management (OHSAS 18001), especially if they want to work for the better customers at the higher levels of the industry.
No modern construction project is free from the demands of quality, environmental and health and safety concerns. Implementing the standards, especially when done so concurrently within an integrated management system (IMS), will provide a management framework for:
- assuring your customers
- managing your risks
- improving your business whilst also opening up new markets and customers
ISO Certification will also get you recognised and help you stand out from the crowd; every good contractor deserves recognition. Having successfully implemented these standards I have become a passionate believer in their power to control, improve and grow a specialist construction business. But often, implementation is bureaucratic, irrelevant and inappropriate to the business needs, and offers nothing for the future. This is where ISO gets a bad name.
Every business, however small, can benefit from ISO implementation. When done properly – via a process of fitting ISO to your business; not expecting your business to fit to ISO – a lean and practical integrated management system evolves.
The process starts with what the business needs, enshrining best practice appropriate to that business, making the business easier and less stressful to control and instilling business improvement processes that build long-term value.
Analysis by the International Organisation for Standards has shown that ISO 9001 certification enhances financial performance. At first this comes mainly through increased sales; it is believed that certification itself signals the quality of the organisation. Bottom-line enhancement then follows through getting things right first time from increased process control and improved quality assurance, productivity and efficiency. All of which also increase customer satisfaction of course!
It is worth noting that the motivation for implementing ISO 9001 can influence its effect on financial performance. Often, the initial impetus to seek certification is external; it comes from a customer. A main contractor may tell a subcontractor that to work for them either generally, on a particular project or within a particular sector, they have to be certified to one or all of the management, environmental and health and safety standards mentioned above.
Successful certification can allow an accredited subcontractor additional tender opportunities. However, the long-term value of ISO certification lies in embracing the standards and driving real and permanent improvements into your business, which ISO compels you to do. Research has shown that those who seek certification because of internal motivation, a genuine and determined reason to improve their businesses, gain the most.
Studies have further shown that organisations with external motivation tended to implement measures prescribed by the standard as a quick fix to quality problems, which does have short-term value in itself, but those with internal motivation were more likely to use the standard and the underlying principles in day-to-day operations and decision making to really improve quality. To achieve the most significant performance benefits the standards and their underlying principles should be embraced.
The process should not be costly, drawn-out, or divert you from other business pressures. Any business serious about enhancing customer satisfaction can achieve ISO certification quickly and cost effectively. On average it can take between eight and twelve weeks, quicker if necessary, from start to finish. Progress can be made in bite-size chunks to avoid staff taking hours and hours away from their normal activities. As far as costs go, triple certification to 9001/14001/18001 can be secured for less than the price of a couple of mid-range laptops!