When Chemonics embarked on our ISO 9001 certification several years ago, we didn’t know what we were getting into. Not exactly anyways. We knew that ISO 9001 would certify us as an organization that values quality management. We knew it would launch us into a class of companies and organizations that can proudly claim a focus on customer service and a commitment to continual improvement. And we suspected that it would benefit our business operations by providing more consistency, transparency, and organization to how we work.
For the uninitiated, ISO 9001 is a standard for quality management that is based on several key principles, including strong customer focus, engaged leadership, a process approach to business practices, and continual improvement. ISO-certified companies implement management systems that reflect specific requirements to reinforce these principles in the company’s culture and operations.
What we have discovered over the last seven years — two in preparation for our certification and five with certification — is that we drastically underestimated the impact this framework would have on our business. The benefits (and, let’s be honest, the growing pains) of implementing a quality management system have pushed us in new and unimaginable directions from just a few years ago.
Chemonics has always been committed to excellent service delivery, both for our clients and our many beneficiaries over the past 40 years. We have also invested consistently in our people, knowledge, and systems in order to deliver excellent project implementation and management services. It’s what makes Chemonics an amazing place to work. We are not afraid to push ourselves to grow in new and different ways if it means we are able to better respond to the needs of our client and to be at the forefront of the development field. Those values were embedded in the fabric of Chemonics by founder Tony Teele, and have been carried on by the organization and leadership since his passing more than a decade ago.
When we received ISO 9001 certification in September 2010, it simply set us down a path of honing those values and realizing their full potential.
The implementation of a quality management system afforded us the opportunity to look at our business practices in totality, and to set a standard of excellence for our core services. It has connected us around the concept of continuous improvement and pushed each of us to think about what exceptional looks like for those services, and then to set even higher goals for what we can achieve. It has laid the groundwork for creating global operations systems that support our technical and operational work in the field, and that build the capacity of our staff and partners world-wide. And it is broadening our understanding of what continuous improvement can mean if we apply it in targeted ways for greater operational efficiency and development impact.
The reality is that ISO 9001, like any quality management methodology, is simply a framework for good management practices. What we’ve realized on our quality management journey is that our ISO 9001 certification has empowered us to better walk that path and to think big for our future, knowing we have the framework in place to achieve it.
Lauren Behr is director of Chemonics' Quality Management Unit.