Saturday 6 July 2013

We all (can) love QA

Whilst working at Hugh Broughton Architects, I was responsible for setting up and implementing the office's Quality Assurance (QA) system, and certifying the practice to BSI British Standard BS EN ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System -Requirements.  Since establishing DesignBox, I have been asked by a prestigious architectural practice to assist with re-working of their QA system.  This is something many people run away from, but when formulated properly it should assist the efficiency of any office and allow employees to spend time thinking about more fun and creative issues.  These are a set of initial sketches, prepared to help employees buy in to the idea of how a QA system can work for them, in 10 easy steps...

Babel fish
QA is meant to demonstrate good practice in business management, but it is an international system which BSI had to interpret in different languages.  The term 'QA' is not particularly engaging to architects, partly because quality in this context does not directly refer to quality of design.

Babel fish - lost in translation

Business management 
But business management is meant to relate to lots of progressive areas, where directors and staff can see a common vision and aspirations to the practice.  Staff should be able to see career and development possibilities and be confident in handling their roles and responsibilities.

To meet the requirements of ISO 9001:2008, there is no requirement to use the word Quality.  Instead, calling it something like a Practice Management System is more identifiable with people's work responsibilities and potentially more engaging.

The Business Management System (or Practice Management System)
should offer something for everyone to relate to and engage with 

Road map
The system is meant to be a road map for project and business development so that goals can be achieved efficiently.

Ideally projects should be completed successfully and economically without un-necessary drama or errors.  The practice should be able to focus on and realise its short and long term aspirations for growth, development and market share.

The system should act as a road map or guide to reaching project and practice goals

Work-flow and empowerment
Lots of documentation bogs everyone down, but dilute the essential items in to the work-flow of the office and everyone should feel confident, empowered and in control of their work responsibilities.

Evidence shows that this is proven to reduce client complaints and internal problems.

An intuitive helpful system adds to the quality of the working environment
and can help make he office feel a brighter place 

QA in a nut shell 
The best place for QA is to lock it away and make it invisible.  Studio managers need to have a system which works best for them and architects need a system which assists project work flow.  Pure QA documents should act as supporting reference material, accessible as required only.  Ideally everyone should be thinking in their work zone with a 'toolkit' recognised as being relevant and direct to their work responsibilities.

QA in a nut shell

The problem of QA
The problem with a lot of practices is that items classified as QA become over inflated to the detriment of proper practice procedures...

Don't let the perception of QA rule the work place.
It quickly becomes seen as a chore

That is why it is important to keep the system running efficiently.  Only use forms where needed, and where possible allow scope for personal input.  Architects are creatives.  Let them know this is recognised.

Use documents which are necessary.  After all the system requires time for maintenance and revision.
You do not want to be revising un-necessary documents which have no real consequence.

Engaging with the office
A scheduled set of meetings are essential for a good number of reasons.  Office meetings to discuss workload, share news and achievements, pin up projects or have informal chats are a must.  They assist greatly to help everyone feel part of the office team, especially if there are opportunities to voice ideas or opinions.

Review projects at key stages to ensure control of the product and key items of the practice management system.

All these items help buoy company morale and (invisibly) meet the requirements of ISO 9001:2008.  The timings illustrated here show how bottom-up feedback can give the board of Directors all the information they need for their high level meetings, where the direction of the office is discussed.

Map out the office meeting structure to engage with staff,
review projects, check the management system
and inform the progress of office growth

Working with the RIBA Plan of Work - Getting down to business
This diagram shows how documents and tasks can be set up to support the work flow of an architectural project for both the RIBA 2013 and 2007 plans.  Project reviews at key stages show due diligence that all is correct going forwards.  As a result, job running becomes the dominant activity, and the requirements of the standard are automatically (and invisibly) met.

RIBA project plan and work-flow 

Realising the aspirations of the practice
QA should also assist the practice in realising its goals.  This diagram shows how the measures above can help direct the development of the company, with focus on what clients and projects are targeted, what size the company should become and what market share of an important sector or specialism it should acquire etc. 

Set out the goals and aspirations for practice growth, specialist areas of work and market share

QA might be considered the lowest form of innovation (see The Economics of Industrial Innovation by Chris Freeman and Luc Soete), but when set up sympathetically to the operations of an architectural practice, it offers the base structure from which a business can grow and innovate.  This is done by allowing staff members to free their minds to creative tasks, with a system which efficiently points in the right direction without appearing to monopolise peoples' time.  That is why we all (can) love QA.

If your practice requires assistance with its QA system, please give me a call and lets talk...

Related posts:
An Integrated Management System (IMS)