ISO 9000 for Window Cleaning
Back in the 90’s, while I was going to graduate school the company I was working for saddled me with the responsibility of ISO 9000 certification. I didn’t even know what it was. I’d never heard of it. But they sent me to a 2 week training course so I could come back and undergo the grueling process of improving our quality and getting us through an expensive audit.
Before the course I read everything I could find on the program. It came from Europe and it was a process that was supposed to ensure that your business maintained the highest possible quality and gave others, like your customers and your vendors, the ability to come into your business and do an audit anytime.
The problem with the program was that it was an empty shell. It was a magic trick and once you figured out how the trick was done, you could never see it the same way again.
I’m going to tell you the trick though, and give you the most valuable lesson that came out of it. The basis of the entire program rested in two sentences:
“Document what you do. Do what you document.”
We’ll come back to that and analyse it a bit later.
I returned to the factory equipped with loads of knowledge and reams of instructions, manuals, and examples. My first task was to interview each and every person who worked there and have them describe in detail what it was they did. The bosses wanted to set me up in a conference room and bring people in one at a time, but I thought that was a terrible idea and I talked them into letting me just wander through the plant, asking questions, taking notes and recordings and also a lot of photographs.
As you can imagine, the people on the floor didn’t like it. They thought I was going to eliminate their jobs or force them to do things a whole new way. “You might screw everything up,” said one old veteran. I spent a good deal of time trying to convince them that I wasn’t going to do anything they wouldn’t like and that they were going to be really happy when it was all done. Naturally, they didn’t believe College Boy. I can’t blame them. Every new program is change and with change comes pain.
I went about my interviews and documentation day after day.I boiled everybody’s job down to a set of simple instructions with photographs and slowly I created manuals.
Then I went out and showed sections of the manuals to the crew members I had interviewed. I let them look it over first, before I gave anything to the bosses.
“Oh hell, what do you have there?” was usually the first thing out of their mouths but by the time they went through the 4 or 5 pages the reaction was far different.
“I already do it that way?”
Now let’s get back to the core of the program. Document what you do. It’s not a change, it’s just putting down set instructions for how things work. It’s a system that is repeatedly, trainable, and can be looked at by anyone. But it isn’t a new system. That’s where so many companies back then really screwed up. They took the opportunity presented to change everything they did to a brand new system that would supposedly make everything higher quality and more valuable. But let me tell you, if you change everything, quality is always going to suffer because people don’t like change and they resist it and they make mistakes.
Document what you do. Do what you document.
Now I had them on my side. They were happy because they were telling management how things were done. It was their program.
I took all the finished manuals to a meeting with the foremen and the president and I gave them a presentation of all these pretty printed digital pages in fancy binders.They were really excited and they tasked me with training the entire company on the new system not even realizing that the company really didn’t need training because it wasn’t a new system.
It wasn’t really a change. Or was it?
Here’s what surprised everyone, including me.Accidents went down. Quality went up.It went way up.We had a fraction of the problems we previously experienced with motors and transformers going out into the field. And training time went so much faster.
I conducted some conference room presentations with Powerpoint, but what I really did was tell them that these manuals would be at their stations and if they had any questions, they could just look in them and see how things were supposed to be done. If they came up with a better way, they could just write it on the page and give me a copy so I could change it in the master set.
It was their program. No one knew better how to do the work. And they really liked the fact that someone listened. I had even credited each of them in the sections where they had given input.
I don’t doubt that if you made it this far you’re asking what this has to do with window cleaning. Thanks for sticking with me.
So many people are trying to teach systems, sell systems, give you advice or coaching, and generally making a lot of window cleaners feel like they somehow are less than complete. You aren’t. And my advice is to start by writing down what you do and how you do it. Guess what? You have your first system.Then you can look at it and think about it and figure out if there’s a better way or a small change that makes things safer, faster, or produces better quality.
Systems aren’t commandments in stone. Change them a little here and a little there. Make them your own and start small. You don’t have to write your whole company manual this week. But maybe a page. Then next week another. And by next year you’re going to have something that’s a training tool and a quality gold mine.
Why did quality go up in that factory? It turns out that if you document what you do, then when you find yourself doing it wrong, you have a reference to go back to what works. It turns out that if you think about your job in a new way, by writing it down or reading it back to yourself, you are more conscious and diligent. You just do it better.The bonus: new team members have a guidebook and the learning curve is shorter.
I’m here if you have questions.
- Rick Wren