Standards ain’t what they used to be

Is there anything to be gained from winning a British Standards award?

Confusion surrounds the status of quality standard BS5750. After much publicity – and much debate – the standard has dropped from sight and a new one seems to be emerging in its stead: the equally cumbersome BS EN ISO9000. So what is the difference and, more to the point, does the new standard benefit design consultancies?

ISO9000 is effectively a straight replacement for BS5750, though a few minor changes have been included in the new standard. The British Standards Institute, which awards the quality standard to companies which have registered, states that the adoption of the internationally known ISO9000 is based on the success of BS5750. “The naming is a harmonisation of the terms used across the world so that the standard becomes internationally, rather than just nationally, recognised,” says a BSI spokesman. “Companies can use it as a tool to promote their business, with the award serving as proof that the business is professionally run with efficient systems.”

What was formerly known as BS5750: Part One – the standard that many design consultancies have registered for – is now known as BS EN ISO9001. Subsequent parts of the old BS5750 are then correspondingly numbered.

But is the standard even worth having? The BSI spokesman says that the standard is a measure of

quality, but he adds: “Quality has a number of different meanings. ISO 9000 asks the question: ‘Is the service or product designed and constructed to satisfy the client’s needs?'”

By and large the standard is client-focused and to be awarded it a company must document a quality system which details the procedures involved in producing the service, in accordance with the various clauses of the standard. In essence, this means documenting what the company does and how it goes about doing it.

Three consultancies which have recently been awarded ISO9001 all agree that the internal benefits to their businesses are significant. Design Bridge, Edward Briscoe Design and Uffindell & West have all revamped internal company procedures to comply with the new standard.

“The process has helped us to take an inward look at our procedures and at our methods of documenting them,” says Uffindell & West director Erika Uffindell. The standard covers many business areas including management responsibility, purchasing, process control and corrective action in the event of something going wrong. Uffindell says that the consultancy has always had a client-focused approach and the standard has had only a limited impact on developing this.

“However, it has provided us with motivation through the clear identification of a common goal and the individual’s role in reaching this goal. It has already brought a direct benefit to our bottom line through increased efficiency and a competitive edge in a pitch,” she adds.

Design Bridge managing director Richard Williams agrees: “The standard provides a company way of doing things rather than an individual’s way – how you brief freelances or artworkers, whether your filing system is as good as you think it is. While your company becomes revolutionised, it doesn’t become alien because you write up the systems yourself.”

Williams adds that as well as having an internal effect – by rationalising Design Bridge’s systems and making sure that these systems are efficient – the award is also a “mark of our professionalism. Ultimately, it serves as a signal to all our clients, especially our European ones”.

Phil Jones, operations director at Edward Briscoe Design, says that the quality system provides a framework “that helps focus creativity and deliver results”. But he adds: “You have to lead the standard and make it work for you, so that it really is geared towards meeting clients’ quality requirements.”

The ISO9000 standard certainly encourages consultancies to be client-focused in the way internal systems are implemented. But the old idea that more clients will demand that their suppliers have a quality standard before they are even considered for a pitch no longer applies. Erika Uffindell comments: “It is important to note that very few companies have requested that we have ISO9000 as a prerequisite for being included on a shortlist”.

Hints and tips

Be aware that the process of gaining the ISO9000 award is time-consuming. Design Bridge was involved in more than 20 meetings in the initial months.

Sell the qualification to your staff. Employees have to be involved and understand why systems are being overhauled and why there may be more seemingly bureaucratic paperwork initially.

Be prepared to be assessed continually – and therefore devote some time to maintaining the systems set up. Uffindell & West has a member of staff appointed as a quality manager who undertakes their review of the system, including regular auditing, and attends the assessments every six months.

Be aware that most consultancies appoint an outside assessor to help you through the process. Edward Briscoe Design made use of an Enterprise Initiative grant to help meet the costs.

Being awarded ISO9001 does not mean that your creative output will increase in quality. But a spokesman for the British Standards Institute claims that the standard provides the guidelines within which the creativity and innovation can and should flourish.

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