Amid coronavirus crisis, look to ISO

ISO Standard documents.

By Tracy Puckett

Published April 7, 2020


Buffalo, N.Y. - Standard operating procedures are an integral aspect for any business adhering to an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard. Yet here we are, dealing with a pandemic that has upended every facet of life, and we have no detailed work instructions to pull our businesses through such harrowing times.

We can look to the rigor of ISO for some guidance. The framework, after all, was designed to exponentially improve business performance through standardized processes, and manage risks and opportunities.

At the University at Buffalo Center for Industrial Effectiveness (UB TCIE), we advocate businesses embark on a “proactive reboot.” Quality management standards are bursting with methods to retool your operations and adapt to supply chain disruptions, and thus support efforts to contain the negative financial impact.

We recommend the following ISO tools to help you grow revenue faster than cost:

  1. Review stakeholder needs. Your stakeholders are your customers, employees, suppliers, regulatory bodies, and investors/shareholders. Catalog these interested parties, and identify how COVID-19 is impacting them and their needs. Then prioritize your actions.
  2. Monitor issues and react appropriately. This refers to any factor that affects your company. Externally, economic turbulence is certainly driving actions. Internally, it might be customer demand and satisfaction, or core organization competency. We see companies using the current downtime to train employees. 
  3. Set the foundation for your quality management system (QMS) processes if you haven’t already. And determine how you measure their performance. The aim is to maximize the value-added activities that customers will pay for, like design and production, while sustaining the necessary supporting processes, think legal and accounting, that enable what the customer wants. The end goal of prioritizing metrics: obtaining the elusive “golden triangle” of quality, competitive pricing and on-time delivery.    
  4. Leaders, calculate your “financial runway” to decipher how quickly you’ll run out of cash. Take note that what follows is an extremely simplified version and most helpful for start-ups and small companies. First, define your “burn rate” by subtracting the balance of the current month from the balance of the prior month. Then, divide total money by the burn rate to estimate the runway – how many months your money will last.       
  5. Address risks and opportunities. There is uncertainty everywhere, and never so pronounced as now. Therefore, risk management is critical. Let’s use an analogy. You make a trip to the grocery store. You could buy a ticket and win the lottery. Or, you could hit a deer while driving. What is the impact of either? Minimal? Extreme? What is the likelihood of it happening? As a team, examine your business and processes in this light. For the highest risks, are there preventive or mitigating measures in place?
  6. Document your organizational knowledge. The Wright brothers were successful in inventing the first operational powered airplane because they conducted thousands of tests and took meticulous notes. Some companies have time and resources for small experiments that will lead to something great in the long run. Don’t squander the opportunity to record results and capture the lessons learned.   
  7. Appraise your supply chain. Evaluate performance of your vendors through such measures as quality assurance, inspection and transportation. If your company is seeking alternate vendors because of current circumstances, screen candidates to ensure they meet your expectations. Assess them with a supplier quality survey.    
  8. Consider a remote, subcontracted internal audit to gauge whether your company is ready once the pandemic subsides and we emerge from social distancing. UB TCIE has been conducting audits for companies in this way over the last few weeks, leveraging technology like file sharing and video calls. There certainly are some obstacles to circumvent – noise from the factory floor, or issues with Wi-Fi dead zones – but the virtual service is working.

During these trying times, lean on some ISO tools that are trusted by millions of companies around the world. They might just help open the door to new opportunities.

UB TCIE guides organizations of all types and sizes in pursuit of ISO compliance, from gap assessments and QMS development to training and subcontracted internal audits.