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Quality and customer satisfaction Measured and quantified

In the children’s movie ‘The Incredibles’ the villain states that when everyone is special no-one is special. This is a rather negative way of looking at life, because being special is about more than just being better than everyone else it is about accountability. To quote another movie – Spiderman – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

The sentiment of these two statements forms the basis of the decision by Ren-Form and Ren-Flex to opt for the adoption of the ISO 9001 Quality Management System. Accountability and responsibility form the backbone of the service these two companies seek to provide to their customers. As leading players in the printing and packaging markets in South and Southern Africa, Ren-Form and Ren-Flex respectively have to take extreme measures to ensure customer satisfaction.

Part of this involves meeting the requirements of those customers who, themselves, have achieved standardised accreditation. The process of adopting a standard such as ISO 9001 is quite a lengthy one and requires considerable attention to detail, dedicated operating procedures and strict control. Given the fact that achieving accreditation requires external oversight means that it is not good enough to do the bare minimum, you have to meet all of the requirements – no matter how stringent.

In the fast-paced modern world there is hardly enough time in a working day to get everything done which is scheduled, never mind looking for extra work. Workplans and production schedules have to be strictly adhered to in order to accomplish everything which needs to be done. Interruptions, delays and error-based repeat jobs are simply not acceptable. How can these issues be prevented and overcome? Simple, through the addition of extra work.

This seems to be a bit of an oxymoron – improving work efficiencies by adding more work. Surely simplifying work processes should involve doing less work? This was exactly the dilemma which Ren-Form and Ren-Flex faced when the decision was made to implement the ISO 9001 standard. What followed was a two-year process of identifying, dissecting, scrutinising and improving every single task, step and process which takes place in the company, from management all the way down.

To say that this was an arduous task would be an understatement, in fact Damien Du Sart, General Manager of Ren-Form described the process as being ‘A nightmare.’

The process began with the appointment of a specialist consultant – Charles Palm – who assisted in explaining the process and commencing the official tasks associated with achieving ISO Certification. Charles stated, ‘There is the perception that ISO accreditation is simply related to improving efficiencies with a view to reducing costs. While this is one of the benefits which can be accrued from the process, it is not the only, or even the most important, benefit. In actual fact the main benefit is not felt by the company itself, but rather by its customers.

‘The company will obviously reap the benefits of smoother operation and the reduction of risk resulting from lower levels of waste, improved performance from all players and satisfied customers, but it is the customers who will see a more efficient service provider, faster turnaround of their jobs and improved quality in every aspect of their work.’

Initially Charles began the process using the ISO 9001:2008 standard. However, the decision was soon taken to rather adopt the 2015 revision in order to be fully up-to-date. The extensive process began with all department heads working closely with their team members to define the various processes in their departments and to create work instructions for every task. Damien added, ‘Initially this received some very negative reactions from staff members who viewed it as management wanting to use this as a means of imposing greater restrictions or even a method of eliminating certain staff members. This was despite the fact that we explained the process to all of the staff right at the beginning.’

Olga de Jager, HR and Training and Development Manager added, ‘Contrary to the initial beliefs of the staff, this process of closely scrutinising every task proved very valuable. It brought to light areas where additional training was necessary, as well as allowing us to identify staff who needed refresher courses or who had leadership qualities. In general, it resulted in an almost immediate improvement in quality, not only of the working procedures but also of the products which we were turning out. The result was that over time the level of buy-in from staff increased to the point where everyone is now fully on-board and benefitting from the implementation of these systems.’

While the external processes of achieving certification were handled by Charles, it became clear that a dedicated person would be required internally to manage the accreditation process. This saw the appointment of Elton MacKenzie in the role of Quality Manager. Elton commented, ‘This has not been an easy process. Every step of the system generates large volumes of data which has to be analysed and investigated to ensure that the correct procedures are put in place. Then there are the Non-Conformance Reports (NCR) which arise. Although these can result in disciplinary action being taken – in extreme cases or in the event of multiple contraventions – the aim of an NCR is to find ways of improving a specific process to optimum levels for the benefit of the specific employee and the company.

‘It is important to recognise that accreditation is not the goal, it is merely a part of the journey. Once accreditation has been achieved there is the need to, at least, maintain the standard or preferably to achieve continual improvement.’

At the end of the process is the entire supply chain. This comprises all external players including suppliers, outsourced service providers and customers. Suppliers and service providers are required to provide certain information and to undergo audits on their processes. This gives customers peace-of-mind knowing that they can expect the very best service and quality from every stage of the production cycle, irrespective of whether it is handled internally or externally.

Damien commented, ‘While this process has certainly been time-consuming, it has also allowed us to look at the company with fresh eyes. We have seen areas where we can improve things, not for the sake of change but because it makes sense. Overall it will allow us to exceed customer expectations and improve working conditions for our staff. If everyone knows precisely what they must be doing at any given time or stage in a process then no one is subjected to unnecessary pressure.’

The result of all of this hard work is that Ren-Form and Ren-Flex have become two of the first companies in printing and packaging industry to achieve the ISO 9001:2015 accreditation.

So what now? Ironically, with all this process, work, dedication and achievement now under their respective belts, the real work starts in earnest. As previously stated, ISO accreditation is not a destination but a journey and one which has very clearly marked milestones. Each year the companies will have to face a new audit to determine whether the standards are being maintained. Charles stated that achieving re-accreditation is often more difficult because it is easy to fall into old habits or to become complacent.

It is for this reason that one of the many steps required is management review meetings where processes throughout the course of the year are revisited and scrutinised to ensure that standards are being adhered to.

Damien concluded, ‘As the management team we are very happy, satisfied and proud of the efforts of every single one of our staff members at Ren-Form and Ren-Flex which have resulted in both companies being presented with their ISO 9001 Certificates of Accreditation. Thank you for your hard work, perseverance and understanding throughout the process and congratulations for the respective roles each one of you have played in making this possible.’

Having achieved such lofty heights, Ren-Form and Ren-Flex are now in the ideal position to reap the rewards associated with accreditation – including attracting new customers who want to be linked with quality of the highest standard. Will you be one of them?

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