ISO certification: The quest and journey to quality

ISO certification: The quest and journey to quality

Raphael Orenday Cada and Monique Isidro Adalem

“The essence of the certification process goes beyond the annual audit exercise and that regardless of the type and number of ISO certificates, quality has been, is, and will always be in the genetic footprint of the Center.”

 

RAPHAEL ORENDAY CADA

“The Center is well-positioned to be the provider of education solutions, the model of education solutions providers, and the standard-setter for other education solutions providers in Southeast Asia and beyond.” – Dr. Erlinda C. Pefianco, former SEAMEO INNOTECH Director

The story of the Center’s journey to quality did not begin until mid-2000 when then Director Erlinda C. Pefianco felt the need to have an independent, external validation to assess the quality of Center programs and projects, which eventually led to the start of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) implementation in the Center. Prior to ISO certification, quality has been deeply embedded in the Center’s programs and projects. Internal controls and systems of checks and balances far pre-dated ISO implementation to ensure that the outputs are responsive to the education needs of the 11 SEAMEO member countries.

In effect, the decision to pursue ISO certification paved the way to institutionalize quality management systems and processes that have long been existing since the inception of the Center in 1970.

What exactly does it mean to have quality programs and projects? To those who still recall the early days of the Center, it would mean three- or six-month training programs where they are introduced to the most recent, innovative, and technology-driven solutions that can be used to address education issues and concerns in their countries. Others would consistently cite their stay at the International House, the second home of those who undertake programs for months. Others would recall how each meal was passionately prepared and checked by the staff to ensure participants’ satisfaction, or the school visits where they would have the chance to interact with local counterparts.

The Center’s journey toward ISO certification was not easy. The first challenge came in early 2000 when the decision was made to pursue ISO 9001:2000 and senior staff of the Center buckled down to work and document existing quality practices. The prevailing sentiment then was that the Center need not pursue any certification because client satisfaction and the quality of the programs and projects can be gauged by the testimonials of those who experienced the INNOTECH brand of learning programs. Everything was working perfectly fine and the act of introducing ISO seemed to be a burden; an additional step in completing one’s work.

A number of reasons surfaced and challenged why such decision should be repealed, such as the increase in overtime pay, the cost incurred by the Center for the ISO certification cycle, the reams of paper requested when audit approaches, the cost of consultants who were tapped by the Center to assist in the ISO implementation, and the number of man-hours that could have been allotted to projects and programs. Despite challenges and issues raised, the INNOTECH spirit of taking on challenges prevailed.

In October 2005, the Center got its first ISO 9001 certificate. Along with it was a system that the staff has known, and hopefully, owned and embraced. Prior to ISO certification, all processes and procedures were with respective offices; and while some were documented, others were merely guided by practice. The quest for ISO has compelled process owners to band together and compile all procedures to document existing processes and procedures and come up with the Operations Manual. Forms were adopted and compiled to show compliance to declared processes and procedures. More importantly, a system of controls and checks and balances was instituted to ensure that the most recent and relevant data were being circulated and those who were empowered to document, review, and approve processes were identified.

Two committees were born: the Quality Management Systems Committee (QMSC) and the Internal Quality Audit Committee (IQAC). These two committees used to meet separately until sometime in 2006 when joint meetings were initiated. Members of QMSC were the focal persons in the implementation, review, and revision of processes while the IQAC was tasked to assess the readiness of the Center and the level of compliance against ISO standards and declared processes.

In 2010, Dr. Ramon C. Bacani was appointed as Head of the Center, who, just like Dr. Pefianco, championed quality. In 2012, the Center reorganized, creating a new office to lead the process of planning and quality management: the Quality and Systems Management Office (QSMO). It was also during Dr. Bacani’s time when the Center has secured another standard: ISO 29990, in September 2014. This was in response to the decade-old issue that ISO 9001 is best suited for manufacturing organizations and that the Center should be certified against a standard for learning organizations. With two ISO certificates, the Center has fully concretized its commitment to quality by ensuring that robust management systems are in place.

The Center’s journey toward quality still continues as it strives to provide a better future for every learner in Southeast Asia. Processes and procedures are constantly being revised to ensure timeliness and responsiveness. More than being pieces of paper hung in the wall at the Office of the Director, the two ISO certificates are proof of the tenacity and commitment of the Center staff to produce researches and learning programs that best respond to the needs of the region. The essence of the certification process goes beyond the annual audit exercise and that regardless of the type and number of ISO certificates, quality has been, is, and will always be in the genetic footprint of the Center.

     

MONIQUE ISIDRO ADALEM

My involvement with ISO started in 2004 when I was part of the ISO core team that helped the Center prepare for and achieve its first ISO Certification.

I have been with the Center for almost 10 years at the time, and I envisioned that such a move would entail a big paradigm shift among Center staff and even management. The initial fears and apprehensions were understandable as it was a major undertaking that would somehow validate the Center’s advocacy and initiatives towards organizational excellence.

Though it entailed significant preparatory work that involved the entire Center workforce, everybody eventually rallied behind the undertaking as they realized that the benefits far outweigh the difficulties and challenges. It was an opportunity to push ourselves and affirm our commitment to excellence.

It was during this time that I experienced how people with the same vision, passion and commitment are able to help and lift each other up to make a seemingly daunting task doable, enjoyable and fulfilling.

As I was one of the Center’s ISO “pioneers,” I was the natural choice to be our team’s representative in the QMSC through the years. In the early years of ISO, I even served as both a QMSC Representative and an Internal Quality Auditor. QMSC representatives make sure that the Center’s quality management system is working in their respective units, while Internal Quality Auditors help check respective units’ compliance with ISO standards and organizational policies and procedures.

I experienced the Center’s transition to different ISO 9001 versions, the birthing pains and eventual fulfillment of our ISO 29990 certification, leadership under different Quality Management Representatives (QMRs), QMSC and Internal Quality Audit (IQA) chairs, the Center’s reorganization that included the establishment of QSMO, and of course the numerous discussions relating to observations and corrective actions during internal quality audits.

Through the years, the Center’s quality management system has evolved to make it more responsive to the changing times, to be more focused on discovering ways to be more efficient and effective.

Being part of the QMSC and the IQA Team is a privilege and responsibility that I take pride in, and therefore take seriously. These roles continue to provide me with experiences that help me grow professionally, see things more clearly from different perspectives, and develop a deeper commitment to continuously help steer the Center towards sustained organizational excellence.

But these are just Committee work — I still had other responsibilities in my regular post with the Learning and Training Development Unit, the team I have been with for more than 20 years.

Around 2018, I evaluated where I was and how I wanted to proceed with my career at the Center. I took stock of my strengths, skills and interests, and eventually realized that a career shift towards quality management was a viable option. I have actually been doing it part-time through my QMSC and IQA work since the start of the Center’s ISO journey. I was enjoying it, and I now have the opportunity to do it full time.

Looking back, it seems I have always had a keen interest in quality management. In one certificate program I took more than 10 years ago, I gravitated towards ISO as my practicum topic. In addition, quality management was my research topic for my mini thesis in my graduate studies. I looked forward to QMSC/ IQA meetings, and I even apply quality management principles at home!

To now be a part of QSMO feels like such a natural thing. Pursuing full-time the work that I enjoy and have been immersed in for the better part of my 25-year stay in the Center, having an amazing mentor like Ms. Carolyn Rodriguez, being able to pursue graduate studies, being able to apply key concepts even in my personal life, and having a sense of purpose — all of these make me feel like I found my true home.

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