The “Creative chaos” is literal. And it’s actually not uncommon for design service providers to initially wince when confronted with the prospect of introducing a quality management system (QMS). “Quality management” may initially sound like bureaucracy or at least the limitation of freedom. But are these preconceptions justified? Or could they even be counterproductive?
Ergosign has been certified in compliance with DIN EN ISO9001 since 2014. With recertification in June of this year and adaptation to the latest version of the norm (ISO 9001:2015), it seems like a good time to tackle this topic by means of a retrospective.
Ergosign uses the processes defined within the QMS framework in order to be able to guarantee and constantly improve self-defined quality targets. Our concept of quality also includes the ability to innovate and the creativity of developed solutions. In addition to this primary goal, continuous change, the involvement of all staff and a critical examination of existing processes all promote constant improvement at a meta level. The resulting process of constant improvement becomes a thought process deeply rooted in all areas of the company. All processes are explicitly defined and clearly explained in Ergosign’s internal online handbook. Work processes, objectives, results and the right contacts are transparently documented and accessible to all members of staff at all times. It is very evident that new employees in particular are set to benefit from the introduction of this QM system.
"Along with the necessary freedom, QMS really helped me get my bearings and settle in. On one hand, I was able to recognize the actions that are important for me and make a productive start, and on the other, I found out everything about the work processes that are important for me and who I could turn to if I had questions or needed support."
Like any structural change in a company, the introduction of a QMS causes uncertainty to begin with. At first, the initiation of a QM system comes with a (perceived) increase in workload - regarding documentation, for instance. In order to promote acceptance early on, we implemented a “lean philosophy” from the very beginning and used a systematic selection of suitable methods, such as lightweight, digital Kanban boards for project documentation, that quickly convinced staff that this exercise would even result in increased efficiency and more room for creativity. The introduction of equally lightweight quality gateways and retrospectives were our major highlights. They not only resulted in the direct improvement of solutions and processes, but also helped to make palpable the immediate value added to the company - and each member of staff - by a QMS.
Allowing each member of staff a certain level of freedom, not forcing them to subject themselves unyieldingly even to existing processes but rather allowing them to react with a sense of appropriateness and a healthy dose of common sense, resulted in a high level of acceptance among all employees. This was also the case for the approach of not insisting that staff adjust themselves to suit processes proven only in theory or in textbooks, rather designing processes so that they optimally support staff in their work. Just like in our customer project, analyses were carried out in advance and processes developed and validated together with the affected employees.
ISO 9001 therefore directly supports our human-centered approach by embedding this philosophy into a comprehensive company model.
"To sum it up: no processes for processes’ sake, rather processes as tools for efficient work and as support for work and creativity while maintaining the same high level of quality."
At Ergosign, QM also means the promotion of transparency and confidence among all employees. This results in less uncertainty, both internally and in customer communication, thanks to clear and unified approaches but also a comprehensive understanding of our products and processes.
Our QMS offers another source of inspiration regarding customer-facing work. The internal “quality gateways” already mentioned, which take place at clearly defined times within a project, offer the valuable opportunity to develop and safeguard ideas and arguments. This gives our customers an internally optimized result, and the newly added requirements from the ISO standard regarding knowledge management are more than fulfilled.
Another important component of our QMS is the operationalization of structured customer feedback. Our customers have the chance to give feedback in a standardized format that evaluates our ongoing improvement process and that is passed onto the members of staff involved. Experience has shown that measuring customer satisfaction is the most suitable way to improve the customer experience and create an even closer and longer-term bond with our customers.
Defined processes and a deeper anchoring of the idea of a constant process of improvement do not oppose creative processes. Quite the opposite: a QMS allows companies in strong growth phases to concentrate on the creative and value-adding content of their work processes. Of course, the introduction of a QMS may also lead to some steamrollering, but this can be corrected. The moderate additional workload in documentation is more than counteracted by the avoidance of inefficiency, the reduction of knowledge loss and lack of clarity in standard problems, and an improvement of transparency. An important success factor regarding the introduction of a QMS is taking into account the company’s existing culture, closely involving staff from the beginning, and maintaining permanent discussion even after the introduction. Design and quality are not matters of taste - the combination of UX services and quality management is simply a matter of logic.