We’re pretty big on standards at Symphonic
We value the role that they play in helping us deliver compliance, reduced waste and costs, as well as creating growth opportunities and driving innovation. This is not the case for most SMEs though, where standards are something to be avoided, an overhead at best, or relegated to a single staff member to look after while others get on with the real business.
We beg to differ. We find that standards can create focus and drive innovation.
We use our standards both strategically to increase the value of our business, and operationally to precisely define a customer’s requirements, enabling us to develop an offer to satisfy them.
Why do we think standards are so important?
Because standards define value.
We use standards to identify exactly where the value-adding activities are in our business and, of course, the non-value adding activities, i.e. the waste and added costs. We think this is essentially what quality management in our business is about.
Do you want to be doing business with a company whose policies, processes and procedures do not include standards – making them really only intentions without any substance?
When we began to grow as a business by attracting large institutional clients we were ill prepared for the changes that were required of us as a business. Having these clients made us realise that we needed to focus on our standards to deliver the consistent quality expected. We recognised where the skills gaps were in the business and we ensured that we brought in people with the required experience and skills to both close the gaps and take the business forward, however we did this without placing a huge overhead on the business – more of this later.
Today we are able to demonstrate to our large institutional clients that we have a robust, well developed and understood business management standards, rooted in ISO compliance. By undertaking and delivering on our business management standards we have implemented a key factor in small business growth.
“A key factor that is prominent in determining ultimate success or failure in business is system resources, in terms of the degree of sophistication of both information and planning control systems.”
Our top do’s and don’t of Implementing Standards
As we moved through the process of implementing we learned (sometimes the hard way) how to get the best out of the standards and what works well for SMEs and what doesn’t
- Find and engage a good auditor. These guys are worth their weight in gold to you as they will help you with understanding the process and they will do pre-audit checks to ensure you are ready for any certification audits. We use QMS.
- Decide early what standards you need in your business – where do you want to add value?
- Create Management System Standards (MSS) this will save you lots of time and effort regardless of the number of standards you are looking at implementing.
- Map your processes – we use we are lean and agile this will allow you to understand every process and have a library that can change as part of your continual Improvement.
- Take your staff with you – get them involved in agreeing the standards and most importantly how they will be implemented.
- You can’t do this without top management support, get them to agree an internal audit and management review process and schedule, ensuring that they are involved on an on-going basis.
Now for the Don’ts
- Don’t outsource the implementation of the standards. You might be tempted to as it will be quicker and easier – however nobody knows your business better than you. The learning from the process is key to growing and getting all the benefits from using standards.
- Be unrealistic – they are your processes and they may be new and untested but they work for you. The auditors want to see that your standards are helping the business not a perfect set of documents and processes that only exist on paper.
- Produce a pile of documentation – work smart and make sure you only create the documents you need to support your management standards and staff in doing their roles. A good rule is to write it down if you want it done.
- Forget that training your staff is vital – making sure that your staff are trained and understand your standards should be your main driver for implementing business management standards.
A practical route to Implementation
So you have all the understanding and concepts in hand, how do you bring them together in a coherent, practical way to improve the way you run your business.
ISO management standards use a common framework, however they can be very different in approach. We therefore recommend using a simpler approach to implementation that addresses all aspects, no matter what standard or regulation is being considered.
This approach is a modification of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model and it is aligned well with the ISO Management Standards. The starting point establishes the purpose of the management standards. You then need to assess how you can, most appropriately for your business, meet these objectives taking into account any constraints. The key stage is to plan your system, processes and services, together with how and with what resources you will deliver to your aims. Finally, this is followed by the implementation of your processes and procedures (mapped, recorded and agreed) and verification of the results.
Having a clear and simple plan to implement is key to avoiding complexity and undue overheads when embedding business management standards in your SME.
So why does all this matter?
It matters because good governance is key to successful business. We strive to provide value to our customers and this subjective notion is always predicated on how well we meet the customers requirements.
Unfortunately, there are many examples of lack of management control and good governance – Kodak (commercial failure), VW (technical failure), banking (reputational failure), etc. These are large companies but this happens on a daily basis for SMEs so don’t let an absence of a management system cause you those issues. Like Symphonic you want to be a business that provides assurance to your customers and other stakeholders that your business is achieving its objectives. We also believe that good governance attracts good governance and that our customers appreciate that we are a business that looks after and controls all its functions.
The care we take with our standards means that our customers get that solution they need, not some generic product – we know this because we only have value-add processes aimed at efficiently understanding and meeting their requirements.
Profit is the result of consistently delivering value through an effective and efficient business management system.
If you think we sound like a company worth talking to then get in touch because we can give you control in what can be an out of control world.
Post written by : Steve Sutherland – Senior Project Manager at Symphonic