Systemization – The Value of ISO 9000 and Other Quality Processes
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Quality programs such as TQM, ISO 9000, Six Sigma and others originated in 
manufacturing, but are now widespread within the service sector.  In fact, service 
industries now account for the highest number of ISO 9001: 2000 certificates, 
according to the standards organization.

The focus of ISO, and the other major quality programs as well, is documentation:
doing what you say you do, and supporting that commitment with continuous 
improvement in the quality of both the end product and the process that produced it.  
Some programs emphasize detection and correction; others preach prevention.  
Each requires substantial documentation, flow charts, self-assessments and training, 
along with internal and external audits.  Becoming certified may take as little as 
nine months; more often it’s 24 to 30 months. Maintaining certification requires 
regular internal and external audits.

Becoming certified requires commitment, plus a dedication of monetary and 
personnel resources both initially and continuously.  Certification is always a positive – 
great on your letterhead - yet, as in life, the real story – the real benefit – 
is the journey, not the destination.

Is the journey worth the investment?  Speaking from personal experience, 
with the right attitude and commitment, I believe it is.

CardWare International became certified to ISO 9000-2001 in the mid ‘90s, 
and maintained formal certification until just recently.  Our staff continues to 
operate under the ISO 9000 principles and system; it has been a major contributor 
to our success and to maximizing customer satisfaction and retention.

My objective here is to outline how these quality systems produce tangible 
gains across virtually every aspect of a business.

A business colleague of mine manufacturers 500 different complex electronic 
components.  While built around a core, components are individualized for each 
customer’s specific application.  Furthermore,  orders for this relatively inexpensive 
component are one or two at a time.

Building inventory was not a practical option.  Lead-time was two to four weeks.  
The expense of manufacturing and testing was rising, and assembly and testing 
processes required highly compensated electronic technicians.

Over a span of sixteen months, the company built the knowledge and skills of the 
technicians into a system of manufacturing and semi-automated testing that 
required fewer electronic technicians.

Using the new system, hourly wage employees could build, test, and package any 
one of the 500 products in less than one day.  Quality increased and prices decreased, 
allowing the company to reduce prices.  This increased their sales – and at a 
considerably higher profit margin.

Faster, better and lower-priced, but not cheaper.  The new system necessitated the 
use of better, slightly higher-priced components, thus improving product reliability, 
while still permitting price reductions.  Both increased customer satisfaction.

What would it mean to your company if you could achieve shorter turnaround time 
with fewer people?

Another colleague totally systemized her company, which designs, builds and 
manages municipal wastewater treatment plants.  She employs fewer people for 
all aspects of the process, and has made workers more accountable, and directly 
responsible to both the company and the client. Above all, she has shortened the 
time between concept and completion.  Her system also improved the efficiency of 
the plant, saving the towns they serve interest expense for initial construction or 
wastewater system upgrade, and accelerating the permitting process.   
Most importantly her system raised the quality of the effluent, 
which dramatically reduced EPA-reportable incidents.

So how are experiences of electronic components makers, or wastewater 
treatment plant builders relevant to the electronic transaction industry?

If you know me, you know I am a stickler for checklists, particularly in the 
sales process.  That also applies to every other aspect of the acquiring business.

A checklist is a critical part of any system, be it quality, operations, or software 
development.  It is documentation, process control and quality assurance, 
responsibility and accountability -  in one convenient package.

Systems eliminate those grey areas that, left unattended, often become 
black holes plagued with errors, personal fiefdoms and excuses.

In my view, there are three steps to creating and sustaining successful systems:

Step 1 - Thoroughly understand and agree 
about current processes.

  1. Designate a dedicated person to champion the cause and the journey, 
    and give them full responsibility, with commensurate authority.  (I realize 
    the last three words are difficult.  But they are absolutely necessary.)

    To offer an analogy; the company is a bus on which very employee, manager 
    and line worker, is riding. The president and board are driving and the bus is 
    approaching a fork in the road. The left fork leads to Success Through Change,
    Systemization And Improvement.  Straight ahead is the same ole way of 
    doing things, yielding the same ole results.

    The president announces he is taking the left fork to Success Through Change, 
    and explains the journey.  He also explains that, while the desire is for everyone 
    to remain on the bus to success, some, through individual choice or action, 
    will exit the bus from time to time.

    Employees that resist or are unable to change or adapt, or don’t have the skills, 
    are given ample opportunities to remain on the bus through retraining, 
    reassignment or an attitude adjustment.

    The bus will drive toward success, irrespective of who remains aboard 
    at the destination.
  2. Document those processes
  3. Obtain current process agreement from all stakeholders
  4. Create flow charts of the documented processes, including information and 
    paperwork flows with input, decisions, and outcomes.  Flow 4 is inexpensive 
    and reasonably good for this. Understand that a system contains processes 
    that flow between processes, or to the end point itself.
  5. Use the flow chart to identify and address open connections or process gaps
  6. Edit the documentation to accurately reflect the process contained in the flow chart
  7. Create a schedule, i.e. process, for regular review and update of processes, 
    along with dissemination and management of updates
  8. Distribute documentation and train on the processes
  9. Follow the review or audit the processes or system
  10. Use corrective action reports to continually refine the system

Step 2 – Identify and eliminate bottlenecks, 
along with redundant or unnecessary steps or 
data to streamline the end-to-end processes

  1. This requires an in-depth understanding of the data received, how it is 
    received how it is used and whether or not it is “required” data.  Fewer 
    data elements lead to leaner, faster processes with less superfluous data 
    to confound good decision-making.
  2. The commitment of high-level stakeholders and managers to modify or 
    eliminate people or positions within their department is critical.  Those 
    individuals who are committed to the company and the goal of systemization 
    and are willing to evolve professionally should be retained, reassigned and 
    retrained if needed.
  3. Nothing can be held sacred; no process, no person, no department, 
    no current way of doing anything and (especially) old assumptions.
  4. Chart new steps and flows of data and documents
  5. Ask “why” as well as “why not”
  6. Test new steps and processes
  7. When completed, create new documentation and flow charts reflective 
    of the new process or system
  8. Distribute documentation, then train employees to the new processes
  9. Maintain and follow review or audit of the processes or system

What does success look like?  Success looks like dramatically streamlined, 
seamless processes for which employees have full documentation, are well-trained, 
accept responsibility and are accountable.  Success also means processes that are 
easier to follow, with no guesswork or assumptions to cloud the issue.  This 
facilitates shorter lead times without errors, and lower cost.  The end product 
is improved quality, lower prices and increased business with higher profit margins, 
as well as more satisfied clients and happier employees.

Step 3 - Embrace failure and the corresponding
Corrective Action Report as an opportunity to 
refine and improve the system.

When a failure occurs, look first to the system as the cause.  The steps or process 
may not have been fully vetted.  The 80/20 rule was never more applicable than 
it is here: 80% of the problems are in the system.

Next, look at aspects of the training - even a failure to follow documented procedures 
is a training issue.  Finally, only look to the person when all other avenues have been
exhausted.  Even irregular, though repeated failure to work within the system is a 
personnel problem.  Remember the bus, now well down the road to success, 
despite the resistance of some, who can’t or won’t go along for the ride.

A well-documented, well-constructed system permits increased automation 
requiring fewer technically skilled individuals.

It’s also critical to accept that a good system is a fluid, evolving and constantly 
improving entity that requires regular review with a goal of making it easier and 
more relevant to the business.  Earlier I noted that a system is more about the 
journey than the destination.  The journey is ongoing.

One word of caution, never permit a system - specifically a person using the system – 
to become a barrier to the goal of quality delivery of a product or service, minimally 
meeting, (preferably exceeding) customers’ expectations. Systems are not excuses 
for hiding behind.

Systemization leads to success across every aspect of your, 
and the customers’, experience.

You ask what is the use of classification, arrangement, systemization? 
I answer you: order and simplification are the first steps toward the 
mastery of a subject – the enemy is the unknown.

Thomas Mann



Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc, the parent company of 
CardWare International.  He is one of 12 founding members of the ETA, 
serving on its board, advisory board and committees.  (740) 522-2150