Take for example ISO 9001. It is a quality framework for setting quality management systems. But in addition to this, Pipelife is using its guiding principles to improve systems throughout the firm. Launched in 2000, its quality program was gradually rolled out to seventeen Pipelife countries.
Erwin Oswald is the firm’s quality expert for Austria. “Fortunately we did not have to start from zero with ISO 9001,” he explains. “People and their enthusiasm for teamwork make these programs a success. We had already acquired a lot of know how from a TQM (Total Quality Management) program introduced as early as 1994.”
“Quality success in the office or factory requires clear responsibilities and clear process management. And for that you need people - people to create that human interface and drive towards advancement.”
“Today, the flow of data from one company operation to the next is virtually seamless. Our paperless office is almost a reality as we drive down costs and continuously boost customer satisfaction.”
“ISO 9001 enables us to win tenders for many commercial contracts. But there is another contract that is equally important: the social contract. Local authorities, local communities, customers and all of our stakeholders expect us to maintain an active dialogue with them. Quality improvements are an ideal platform for communicating right through the supply chain from sales ordering through to making, packing, stocking, picking and dispatching.”
No Dutch Uncle
Dutch employees have also been eager pathfinders in their firm’s quest to achieve ISO 9001. “We set up quality circles in the early nineties at our manufacturing site in Enkhuizen,” says Cor Slooff, Manager Corporate R&D and Techniques and former Production manager for Pipelife in the Netherlands. “We then migrated to TQM and were awarded our ISO certification in 1995. Whereas the 9001 standard embraces health and safety matters, we followed two distinct programs. Similar tools such as training, manuals and audits are common to both improvement aims.”
“In terms of acceptance, we learned very early that we could not stand there like the proverbial Dutch Uncle who tells everybody what to do. Success requires involvement and ownership. Then you get feedback and can start to measure performance.”
“We organized many internal and external meetings to inform, train and motivate our people. At first we used an external consultant to start the ball rolling. After that, it was a matter of ‘train the trainers’. Major advances have been made in how we deliver benefits to our customers both internal and external. We were particularly delighted with our safety record. Our lost time injuries are now well below the industry norm and they are staying low!”
A similar approach has been adopted in Scandinavia. Safety issues in Norway and Sweden are also handled by Cor Slooff. “Our openness to these issues has been fundamental. When we are developing new products we already take quality and safety into consideration. Most of our products are light weight and can be handled and installed with ease. However, we have to be confident through field and technical testing that our products perform exactly as we say they do.”
Jens Martins Storheil who overseas quality management is adamant that whatever the approach followed by individual Pipelife countries, the sharing of best practice is leading to economies of scale everywhere.
“Necessity may be the mother of invention but we are unlocking other creative sources of new ideas,” he notes. “Quality and safety issues are no longer viewed solely as a matter of social obligation. It is very much about innovative change, improved margins and enhanced customer satisfaction.”