Well, a simple answer is no, you don’t need a consultant to achieve ISO 9001 certification. In fact many companies achieve ISO 9001 on their own, by appointing key employees to the task. The implications however of trying to implement a system on your own can be a set back to your business if resources are stretch too thin and can quickly outweigh any money saved by not hiring a consultant.
Let’s say you are the Production Manager of a cables company. You are an expert on cables and so are your people. One day you are asked to look for a better Health and Insurance Benefits Provider for your employees because the current provider is not working well. What would you do? Well, your employees are your assets and their well being affects you indirectly, but are you the right person to do it? It will probably take you an enormous amount of time to research and investigate what is available out there and what kind of questions to ask in order to get a better health and Insurance provider. The time and cost factors are probably best optimized when assigning this task to an expert on employee benefits matter.
Same concept applies to ISO 9001 certification and hiring a consultant. A good ISO consultant is an expert in the ISO standard, has extensive experience implementing quality management systems and has worked in a variety of industries. A good ISO consultant can, therefore rapidly understand the processes that are part of your company and how best to approach ISO implementation. The cost of hiring a consultant and the time he/she will take to implement your quality management system will definitely pay off in the long run. The following story is a good example of ISO 9001 implementation the hard way.
Northside Parts is an auto part manufacturer located in central Maine. Charles, the CEO, has appointed Pete, the Production Manager, to implement the requirements of ISO 9001 standard and take the company to full ISO 9001:2008 certification. Pete, the Production Manager is an expert in the auto parts industry, has been in the business for over 10 years and has a full plate already with his own duties. Pete knows he counts with the full support of Charles the CEO, but he also knows he has project- a-plenty. Needless to say, he is familiar with ISO and knows its benefits, so rather than asking for outside help, he agrees to spearhead the project.
Pete’s experience in ISO 9001 is mostly with the older version of the standard back when he was an entry level Engineer and he is not in tune with the latest revision. His first step is to get trained. So he orders a copy of the ISO 9001 standard and other reading material online with the goal of getting himself up to speed on this area.
Weeks passed before he completes his self training and arranges for global training. Of course he wants everyone in the company to know ISO 9001 as much as he does, so he makes a real good effort to explain the ISO 9001 standard in its entirety to all employees. Some employees understand what he is trying to teach and some don’t understand anything at all. He makes sure to schedule make- up classes for all those employees who could not attend the first round of training.
For now, a lot of time and little cash have been spent by the company. Pete of course continues to spend more of his time in learning about ISO and hence puts some other “production projects” on the side. He gets help from some of his direct reports and together they scrambled to figure out what to do next and how.
A few months have now passed and finally they start working on the ISO requirements by asking all department heads and key employees to do their part. Although everyone had training, many of the department managers understand very little of what is actually needed from them. But rather than saying they don’t know what to do, these managers basically procrastinate and ignore Pete’s emails until Pete begins crafting emails demanding they turn in their assignments and escalating his emails to Charles the CEO.
Several months have passed now since Charles gave Pete the important task of achieving ISO 9001 certification. Besides training, however, there aren’t any other palpable results of ISO 9001 implementation just yet. The only thing palpable at Northside Parts is the tension between Pete and the rest of the managers. In fact, conversations between Charles and Pete revolve around the fact that the managers are “not turning what is required from them”. Pete himself is a bit frustrated with the ISO project because he has not been able to take care of other important projects in his department. Although Charles is backing Pete fully in the ISO endeavor, he is also aware that other projects are falling behind and he is starting to show his unhappiness about it.
Finally after months of waiting, Pete realizes that nothing will get done unless he does it himself. Since he feels he knows a lot about the company and the other departments; and he also knows the way things “ought to be done”, he begins writing the policies and procedures himself and gives it to the managers for review. Since most managers don’t want to cause more aggravation to Pete, they refrain to offer much input and agreed to all the new documents created by Pete, which are promptly signed by Charles and posted on the “z” drive of the company servers.
A year has passed since the whole ISO project started, and now that the policies and procedures are finally approved, Charles and Pete are feeling a lot better. Binders are printed and more training is given to employees to show them how to behave and what to say during an audit. Pete selects a few employees from his department for some additional Auditor training. After weeks of studying auditing techniques and developing comprehensive checklists, they conduct the company Internal Audit. Although they lack of internal audit experience, they are able to find some systemic issues, such as the fact that most procedures do not accurately represent what is actually being done. Once the audit is complete and the Internal Audit Report is issued, they go back at it for a few more months, trying to correct all the nonconformities unveiled during the audit.
Pete has put so much effort into the entire process and plans a day-long Management Review to address all issues related to the business. He makes sure all the managers are there and that there is enough food to keep everyone happy. As more action items are derived from the meeting, Pete takes a few more months to resolve all of them to ensure that everything is ok for the External Audit.
At last, after almost a year and a half of long working hours developing the system, the External Audit is here. The company succeeds albeit quite a few findings. Pete feels good that the ISO 9001 project was accomplished however now he realizes that months of neglect have stockpile production projects. He hasn’t had much time off, but this is not a good time to ask for such. Projects need to get started and his input is indispensable.
While this story has a successful ending, it also depicts in a simple and succinct way, that when you assign your own resources to implement ISO 9001, tasks are accomplished but not necessarily the optimum way. In addition, daily activities and important projects are neglected, perhaps setting you back in other important aspects of your business. Furthermore tensions are exacerbated during the duration of the project. Unless you have dedicated internal resources and the much needed expertise, things will definitely be smoother and accomplished much faster when you hire a good consultant.
If you decide however to use resources from within, be careful who you select to spearhead the ISO 9001 project. While some employees thrive in new environments, others are not equally amused when taken out of their comfort zone. Do not assume engineers are the most appropriate to do this either. Implementing ISO requires a concerted effort by all departments and you need a strong leader than came energize everyone and get them to contribute to the common goal. Finally, I could not stress more than support from upper management is absolutely essential to ensure the success of the ISO 9001 endeavor.
If you decide to select a consultant to get your company certified, you would be making a wise decision. Most consultants are great leaders and have the expertise and experience to make things happen fast. Depending on the size of your company and the complexity of your processes, a consultant will take 1/3 to ¼ of the time if would have taken your own resources to get your company ISO 9001 certified. Also most consultants like why they do and are not interested in creating a position for themselves in your business. They want to do their jobs, get your certified, get paid and move to the next project.
Not all consultants are created equal however, so do your homework and make sure that the consultant you are hiring has the expertise and experience in the ISO 9001 standard as well as in helping companies get certified. Always ask for references and make sure to call on them to learn firsthand their impression. Also look for consultants that offer additional services, such as Internal Audits or training. Chances are you may be looking for such services in the future, so think of consultants as partners for years to come, rather than just a one-time vendor. Finally, while cost is not everything, see what else they offer with their business, perhaps they offer tools such as software that can host your quality management system electronically rather than on binders.
With some patience and an open attitude you will find excellent consultants or consulting companies, providing reputable services and great tools to benefit your organization and help it in its journey to world class quality.