SEARCH FOR QUALITY : ISO 9001 QUALITY ASSURANCE
(OR ‘HOW TO AVOID THE PAPERCHASE’)
Bolton Metro Legal Services successfully concluded one of its two local Best Value Pilots on 3rd December 1998 by securing ISO 9001 Quality Assurance Accreditation. This brief article outlines:-
WHAT IS ISO 9001 QA ?
This is a European Quality Assurance Standard that is secured only after external accreditation by an approved certification body. Bolton selected SGS Yarsley International Certification Services Limited (of Oldham) after receiving quotations and quality submissions from various certification bodies.
The Quality Standard ISO 9000 is divided into three standards (ISO 9001, 9002 and 9003). For Legal Services only ISO 9001 or 9002 are applicable. The only material difference between the two is that ISO 9001 is all embracing, whereas ISO 9002 does not contain the ‘design control’ element covered in ISO 9001. This article explains ISO 9001, which has the following 20 different elements:-
The philosophy behind ISO 9001 is that if the process for a particular matter (i.e. provision of local government legal services) is codified, understood and consistently applied by all then the final product will meet the standards specified. If not, one continuously revisits and refines ‘non-conformances’ out of the process so that the end result / quality standard is consistently attained. In the right hands, therefore:-
WHAT WAS DONE TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS ?
In order to succeed, the external auditor will need to assess that any internal procedures, systems and processes established to deliver a quality service comply with appropriate elements of the ISO 9001. Accordingly, no system will be complete without addressing each element of the ISO 9001 (even to the extent of saying an element does not apply).
Bolton Metro Legal Services had a multitude of quality systems and documents generated as a result of its CCT Contract success in 1995. A Quality Policy Manual was, however, necessary in order to address paragraph by paragraph the 20 elements of the ISO 9001 Quality Standard (identified above). The existing Quality Manual, CCT Quality Plan, CCT Quality Method Statements and Customer Care Plan (to mention but a few!) were all incorporated into a new Quality Office Manual. ISO 9001, therefore, proved to be a most useful umbrella for the various quality initiatives under a unified ‘Best Value’ quality banner.
In addition to the unification exercise, all existing procedures, systems and procedures were thoroughly reviewed to ensure compliance with the ISO 9001 quality standard. Having succeeded means that those procedures will continue to be audited regularly and systematically to ensure compliance and relevance to changing circumstances. Raising the quality threshold should, therefore, be easier and audited regularly to ensure there has, in fact, been a move in the positive direction.
The following chart shows how the various quality initiatives were brought under one umbrella:-
THE QUALITY OFFICE MANUAL
In addition to the Quality Policy Manual, a Quality Office Manual was, as indicated above, proved necessary. The Quality Office Manual contains, inter alia, the following Sections:
The ISO 9001 paperchase
Clearly, codifying existing practice, auditing the same and keeping the records for the same for internal and future external audits is undoubtedly time-consuming pre-, during and post-accreditation. Team effort at all levels, as opposed to effort by one individual only, must be in place, therefore, to ensure success. Legal Services’ concerted efforts for ISO 9001 started around April 1998 and built upon, at least, four years of experience with quality system innovations.
Keeping the paperchase to a bare minimum was an important objective in our preparations as some other Quality Assured systems inspected left the author with many questions about the ‘liberal’ staffing levels in those local authorities. A certain amount of clear-headed leadership and direction was, therefore, required in order to ensure the mistakes of others were not replicated. One way to ensure this was for the manager to ensure that the focus remained on quality improvements as opposed to devising inward procedures, processes and systems that gave the impression of ‘compliance’ with the ISO 9001 Quality Standard but did not actually deliver or enhance quality.
Experience shows that the paperchase can be kept to an absolute minimum by focusing on the ‘value adding’ results and putting appropriate procedures, processes and systems to deliver the same as opposed to concentrating on the procedures, processes and systems that do not add value to the results.
Having secured ISO 9001 Quality Assurance, it does not stop there!
Further developments were identified and actioned prior to (and as a result of) the external audit. Appropriate action has already been taken to further improve the Quality Assured System and reduce even further the paperchase. With time, it is clear that a finely tuned ISO 9001 Quality Assured System with an ever reducing level of minimal paperchase will be secured and the quality threshold continuously raised in accordance with the regular supervision and audit review procedures.
Mirza F. N. Ahmad, MBA, Barrister
Chairman, Bar Association for Local Government & the Public Service
Assistant Director of Central Services (Legal), Bolton MBC
(01204) 522311 ext. 1111 December 1998
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