ISO:9001 - What is it and why does it matter?

What is ISO:9001?

ISO:9001 is an international quality management system standard.

Clear as mud? Let’s try that again!

Setting up your internal processes and procedures to follow the ISO:9001 standard helps a business to:

  • Focus on quality and customer satisfaction
  • Document and streamline business processes
  • Continuously monitor and improve all aspects of the business
  • Demonstrate strong corporate governance
  • Reduce errors and complaints

Getting certified is a straightforward process that starts with an initial audit by an accredited assessment company. The audit looks at a business’ existing practices and compares them to the ISO:9001 ‘ideal’. The business then develops their internal processes and management system to comply with the standard, and has a second audit to assess whether the new systems and processes are now up to scratch. Assuming they are, the business receives its certification, and is then audited annually to make sure that the standards are upheld. Simple!

How and why do we do it?

At Minerva we’ve always been passionate about customer service, and we take pride in the fact that we get fantastic feedback from our customers. Part of how we achieve this is by having very rigorous processes in place that means we reduce errors and ensures that everything we do, all the documents that we produce, and all the projects we run, are reaching our own internal standards (and we set the bar pretty high!)

Two examples of how this works:

  1. We have an extensive ‘Precedent Bank’ full of template documents that cover every aspect of our business from proposal documents to tender scoring spreadsheets and internal meeting templates. Having these templates ensures that we are all using the same starting document: we don’t have to create things from scratch each time and no element or minor detail is forgotten. Templates are regularly reissued (and given a version number) so any errors that are identified can be corrected and future copies of the template will therefore be correct.
  2. We use keap (formerly called Infusionsoft) to semi-automate our processes. Once we start a new tender project, or get a new enquiry, the details are entered into our contact management software called keap. Using a lot of behind-the-scenes programming (which I won’t bore you with here!), keap will automatically generate a series of tasks for the Minerva team at every stage of a project. The task might be a reminder to follow up with a potential customer regarding a proposal document, or it may be a task to issue invoices for a new project, or a reminder to send our customer feedback form once a project is complete. Again, the focus is on ensuring that no errors are made, no task is overlooked and no processes are forgotten, to make certain that our customers receive the best possible service from us.

Our ISO:9001 certification requires us to regularly audit our processes, and to be looking to continually improve. We do this through scheduled internal audits and also at our monthly team meetings where we discuss things that we think could be improved, and also things that seem to be working well!

I could lie and say I always look forward to our annual audits with our external assessor, but frankly every year I am filled with dread and panic as the date approaches. Is there anything I’ve forgotten to do? Are there any documents I’ve forgotten to update? Are our processes still compliant with the ISO:9001 standards?

But of course, the whole point is that, because we do actually follow our own processes, there’s really nothing to worry about, and I’m pleased to say that we continue to pass the assessments each year. We been ISO:9001 certified since January 2015.

What have the benefits been?

As described above, ISO:9001 is all about Quality Standards. But how do you measure quality when we offer a service rather than producing an ‘end product’? Well we look at our customer feedback. Our current Net Promoter Score (NPS) is 99 (on a scale of -100 to 100) – a score of above 80 is described as ‘world class’, so we’re pretty happy about that. So one benefit has been that our customers are definitely happy with our services.

Internally, it means that our jobs are easier – we can rely on good template documents that have been regularly reviewed, we have automated reminders to help us avoid forgetting key tasks, and we have good systems in place to allow all staff to reflect on our processes and consider what improvements can be made.

It also means that new staff should have an easier time of it. All our processes are carefully documented so that new starters can see the various stages of projects and what they should expect to be doing. Staff also have clear visibility of what standards Minerva expects to achieve for ourselves and for our customers.

Why does it matter to schools?

For schools working with Minerva, you can be confident that we are diligent about maintaining our business processes and quality standards.

As part of your own procurement processes or tenders, you may consider asking your suppliers (or potential suppliers) if they hold ISO:9001 accreditation. As mentioned above, it’s a good measure of how a company operates and that they have good, robust processes in place, including how they deal with customer service issues. Some suppliers may not have it yet, but might be working towards their certification, as it can take a bit of time to transition your ways of working to methods that are compliant.

Certainly, ISO:9001 certification can be a good way to differentiate between potential suppliers as it may give you peace of mind that (if they follow their own processes) the company should be operating smoothly, and with a focus on quality and customer service.

Some suppliers, especially smaller ones, may indicate that they can’t get certified as they are ‘too small’. Given that Minerva only had two members of staff when we were first certified, this is definitely not the case! And, I would argue, rather missing the point, as the ‘hoops’ that you have to jump through for certification can certainly help a smaller company establish really good working practices and processes that will help them as the expand. Much better to get your processes sorted out when you’re a small company than wait until it becomes an unnecessarily large job.

Really, if a supplier says they can’t get certified, it is more likely to be because they aren’t willing to commit the time and effort to it. And that may be all you need to know about them!

Plum Garland is Executive Assistant at Minerva Procurement Consultancy Services Limited. Find out more.

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