Getting the Most Out of Your ISO Certification – Part 3: Check Your Gauges
Picture a small plane flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Halfway across, the captain announces, “I’ve got bad news and I’ve got good news. The bad news is that the gauges aren’t working. We are hopelessly lost. I have no idea how fast we’re flying or in what direction, and I don’t know how much fuel we have left. The good news is that we’re making great time!”
This is an analogy taken from Gino Wickman’s book, Traction. It may sound a little too familiar. Perhaps a little like the businesses we run day-to-day. We are hurling along at a great speed, but we’re not quite sure where we’re going anymore, or how we’re going to get there, because we’ve got no way to gauge the things that indicate progress.
Check Your Gauges
In the same way that we expect an airplane to have fully functioning gauge’s, we should feel challenged to consider what, exactly, needs to be measured within our organization to ensure success. Many people do have measurements… but are the truly helpful? Typically, we have a set of numbers that we look at, but is it honestly a good reflection of the health of the organization? And just how granular do we get with those measurements?
Section 9 of ISO 9001 speaks to determining what needs to be monitored and measured and how that should happen. Our first challenge is to determine what needs to be monitored and measured. So, we have to ask ourselves, especially in light of risk-based thinking, “What are the things throughout each part of our process that should be measured to ensure we are performing well?”
From a QMS perspective, perhaps we institute a series of measurements on a high-level scale, particularly in support of achieving the stated (quality) performance objectives of the organization. Further, there may be a need to ensure compliance with regulatory or statutory requirements. But we should be encouraging our teams to consider how their particular function can be measured to help support the overall effort. If we take the dashboard analogy from earlier, an accurate measurement of distance covered is going to influence the monitoring of fuel use and, hence, the overall objectives of arrival at the destination and cost management.
A Number for All
In reality, everyone in our organizations should have at least one number, one thing that indicates success. The measurement that marks the win. It’s really almost that simple. If you have an expectation of an employee, find a way to institute a measurement, which will drive an action. By instituting a measurement and then reporting on the results, we stay focused — important, because we use that information to make decisions to improve. And if each of these measurements rolls up into a company scorecard of 5 to 15 numbers weekly, you’ll be able to see at a glance how your business is doing in both the short-term (the next 90 days) and long-term (the next 3 to 10 years).
If this concept seems overly simple, think for a moment of what number, or perhaps numbers, constitute a sure “win” for you in your position. Do you have one? Two? Things that clearly and easily translates to success? Most people don’t. So, we fly that plane, hoping to reach our destination without the help of gauges, not knowing if we’re on track or dangerously close to the Bermuda Triangle.
When you’re driving your car and a dash light flickers on, let’s say it’s the light indicating a soft tire, you know you’ve got to deal with it before it becomes a flat. But increasingly, we have dashboard metrics in cars that are leading indicators, not lagging. An example would be the Eco indicator light that acts as a pat on the back when you’re going light on the gas pedal. It’s a great leading indicator to help you move forward and conserve on fuel.
So, what are you leading indicators? Do you ensure that each member of the team has a measurement that indicates an eventual win? Often times a significant challenge is in the communication of an expectation. We think we’re clear and articulate, when in fact, we’re not. An effective method to ensure that we get the point across is to measure the result. For example, you may hire a receptionist and communicate that great customer service is your number one concern. But how do you measure “great customer service?”
Perhaps a consideration is how many times the phone should ring before being answered. You might determine that three rings is acceptable, but four is not. So, the measure you’d put in place is how many calls are answered by the third ring. It helps us to clearly communicate the expectation and define the win. And when we institute these kinds of measurements throughout the organization, we find that we are more in control of what’s happening. Communication is clearer. We have a finger on the pulse of the organization and how we’re performing overall. This information then translates into data, giving us a pathway to success. After all, evidence-based decision making is critical to success, while ego-based decisions put up roadblocks.
In the words of W. Edwards Deming, “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.” So, let’s be sure to move forward with the data (and let’s ensure its non-biased) that’s going to help us stay in control of our businesses.
Co-authored by Kirsten Smith & Andy Nichols
Kirsten Smith is the owner of Made to Thrive Consulting, LLC, an organization born from a passion for excellence in business and a desire to help people and organizations reach a higher potential than they thought they could.
Andy Nichols is an experienced Quality Management consultant, trainer and author.