Right up my quality street

16 Apr 2020 | Legislation, News

The world of AutoDrain is a hectic one at the moment. As I mentioned in my piece at Christmas it has been a brilliant couple of years for us up in West Yorkshire, if somewhat frantic at times. For the bulk of 2017 and 2018 we enjoyed unprecedented growth and had to work hard simply to keep up.

It’s always a hard one to face up to but we also had to cut our cloth in terms of resource and some jobs got postponed, some opportunities went begging, and a lot of ideas ended up in a very large file marked “When I Get a Round Toowit”. The one thing we did do, no matter what else came up though, was to maintain steady and determined progress on our internal quality system.

We have been an Iso 9000 accredited business for many years now, but the advent of the new standard in 2015 led us to look again at how we approached quality assurance. The 2015 standard is a significant departure from earlier systems with a far greater weight placed upon the standard as a management system and a huge emphasis upon continuous improvement.

Now this would be a good time for me to offer up a little personal confession. You see, I’ve been involved in a couple of Quality Standard accredited companies that, well, being brutal, weren’t very good. In fact they weren’t very good in the same way that the Sinclair C5 wasn’t a raging success and Jedward weren’t as good as the Beatles.

The old BS5750 system appeared at times to me to be a system not designed to prevent errors, but instead to allow for the persecution of whoever was found to be guilty of them. This being so I approached the re-accreditation of AutoDrain with all the enthusiasm of a mouse approaching a hungry looking cat.

Thankfully I was able to bring in someone with real world experience of this system in a large organisation on an ad hoc basis and without the “death by jargon” approach favoured by some specialists. Working with my MD Paul we were able to commit to the standard and the veritable mountain of work that faced us.

Red tape gone mad, a million forms, a bloody waste of time… at times I could have been heard describing the system as all of these things and it’s certainly taken time to get aligned with how QA can work across our business but I’ve got another confession to make. I’m a convert.

The new standard demands high levels of record keeping; yes. It takes a lot of setting up; yes. But it makes you stop, take stock and think things through. If you think you truly understand something, try writing it down for someone else to read. This applies doubly to the processes and procedures that you follow as a business.

Our QMS now pushes us to review, and then drives us to act upon the outcomes. Close examination of our systems has revealed gaps and inefficiencies. Remember, we are, and have always been, a profitable company and have a lot of years of being so. Nonetheless, the blending of the formal structure of the Quality System with our own ideas has begun to produce some very interesting results.

The system also provides a natural route for our team to communicate problems without placing blame or having to face down colleagues or bosses. This has already fed some changes to how we organise and manage and will continue to do so.

When people discuss investment in business, they usually talk of acquiring equipment, or buying new buildings or competitors. In the last 18 months we have invested heavily in, on the face of it, a load of internal paperwork. But look more closely and you can see the shape of a business management system that regards continuous improvement as natural and that is where I have always been as a commercial manager for more than thirty years now.

As we have begun to see the benefits, unsurprisingly our commitment has increased and our progress has accelerated. Our increasing experience has made us able to work faster and improve, continuously. I now see the continuing implementation and refinement of our Quality Management System as central to our business development. A few years ago that would certainly not have been the case. The standard itself has won the argument for me.

When I began to write this article I titled it Right Up My Quality Street. In hindsight perhaps something about old dogs and new tricks would have been more appropriate?


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