Sandia LabNews

Labs departments become ISO-certified

Journey toward improved business systems continues at Sandia

Journey toward improved business systems continues at Sandia

The journey toward improving business continues at Sandia as two more organizations become ISO (for International Organization for Standardization) certified.

Certified in May was Telecommunications Operations Dept. 9334. In July the International Contracts and Import Export Control Dept. 10257 received notice it has been recommended for ISO 9001:2000 certification.

Two other organizations have been certified in the past several years — Manufacturing Enterprise Departments 14181, 14186, and 14111 and the Material Processing and Coatings Laboratory.

The organizations sought ISO certification as one way to improve their business management systems — a fully integrated, well-understood, data-driven system that enables delivery of products and services that meet customer requirements.

ISO was established in 1947 as a nongovernmental worldwide federation of national standards bodies from some 140 countries. It promotes the development of standardization and related activities to aid the international exchange of good and services. It also bolsters cooperation in intellectual, scientific, technological, and economic activity. ISO’s work results in international agreements that are published as international standards.

ISO 9001:2000 — the latest version of ISO 9000 — is used by companies seeking a management system that provides confidence their products conform to established or specified requirements.

"A robust Business Management System (BMS) that can be certified to ISO 9001:2000 means everyone in the organization understands how their work contributes to successfully addressing customer needs and requirements," says Felipe (Phil) Rivera (12142). "It also acknowledges a system is in place that addresses identified problems or issues to assure sustainable improvements. ISO certification comes at a considerable effort."

He adds, "However, being certified is not the end. It’s the beginning of a journey that never ends to improve business. Our philosophy is to offer organizations a method of improving their business by using the criteria of the ISO 9001:2000 standard. As the organization matures and improves, a by-product may be ISO 9001:2000 certification."


One Thursday in July two people in Media Relations and Communications Dept. 12640 were scheduled to swap offices. A little before 8 a.m. a telecommunications representative was on hand to change phones and take care of networking.

What lies behind such prompt service? Possibly ISO 9001:2000.

Telecommunications Operations Dept. 9334 officially became ISO 9001:2000 certified on May 13, a feat that involved more than two years of documenting and streamlining work methods, trouble shooting, and improving ways of doing work.

"As a result of our efforts, we have greatly improved how we deliver our products," says Mike Gomez (9334). "We can now respond faster to requests and problems."

The concept of adopting ISO 9001:2000 was first mentioned in the department in the summer of 2000. Several department members took an ISO class in December 2000, and over the next two years all 130 employees in the department were bought into the concept.

Mike says that before life with ISO, the department did its work well. Procedures, although written, were not used or valued by the staff.

As part of improving its business management system, the department defined seven processes to document and formalize: change management, trouble resolution, asset management, documentation and communication, quality improvement, design and evaluation, and human resources. They wrote down what the department did in each of these areas and then looked at ways to make improvements by developing a database for tracking corrective and preventive actions. They improved their use of Web FileShare and Sandia’s internal web site. During each monthly staff meeting, they discussed how to improve their processes and systems.

"The entire time our focus was on improvement, not certification," Mike says. "We had to make ISO work for us and focus on our goals. We didn’t do ISO for the sake of doing ISO."

In November 2002 the department had an internal pre-assessment audit performed by Bob Campbell representing the Performance Review Institute, followed in March 2003 by an official certification audit. It received certification to the 9001:2000 standard on May 13.

Mike says auditors noted that on a scale of 1 to 10, the department rated a 9 in the area of staff commitment. Some of the comments from the auditors at the closing meeting included:

  • "You guys have one of the best systems I’ve seen and probably the most difficult ones I’ve ever had to audit."
  • "I concluded your design process is pretty darn good."
  • "The overall process from the time the customer communicates with you to the time you finish the work and communicate with them is pretty darn good."
  • "You guys have become my benchmark on two things: one is you have the best handle on measuring customer satisfaction I’ve seen yet, two is you have probably the most complex system to understand."

International Procurement

The International Procurement Team’s contracting effort with foreign suppliers around the world means they constantly work within a variety of different systems, regulations, and cultures. As a recognized worldwide quality management standard, ISO 9001:2000 provides the International Procurement Team (IPT) the ability to provide quality assurance to partners and suppliers around the world while meeting or exceeding customer requirements at home.

Aware of this and the opportunities ISO provides for continuous improvement, team members decided to seek ISO 9001:2000 certification.

"We first tried to understand what ISO was all about and how it would apply and help us conduct our business," says Roy Fitzgerald, Dept. 10257 Manager. "We quickly found that ISO would allow us to structure and implement a robust management system that was focused on continual improvement and made good business sense."

Roy and his eight-member team started the ISO journey about a year ago by mapping out existing processes and then determining where there were gaps in their system. They then put together comprehensive business policies and business objectives for their organization.

Roy notes that everyone in the department "became engaged" in developing objectives and procedures and took on ownership of their business management system — something necessary in order to improve the business and sustain their system.

After formalizing their processes, procedures, and objectives, the team performed a comprehensive internal audit followed by a comprehensive management review. The management review proved particularly beneficial to the team. It gave the team an opportunity to identify and address system deficiencies, customer evaluations, and feedback and then establish action plans and goals for the future. Roy was able to communicate to customers exactly what actions the team would be taking to address any concerns or deficiencies.

After the identification and correction of findings and deficiencies, the team engaged the services of an independent accredited third party registrar for two days to review the organization’s operations and business management system.

"They interviewed everyone in our group, reviewed contracts and systems documentation, and talked to our customers," Roy says.

During the exit conference, the registrar commented on the high quality of services the team was able to provide and referenced recent comments obtained from the department’s customers: "These people work above and beyond what I have experienced in most private-sector companies. Jet-lagged, working almost all night several nights in a row, and then still being able to negotiate with fresh adversaries on their home turf is exceptional. This doesn’t happen on the outside!"

At the end of the two-day visit the registrar notified the team that they would be recommended for certification.

Roy says he is already seeing measurable benefits and anticipates even more in the future as the department adopts corrective actions, preventative actions, and best practices in order to continuously improve IPT services. The benefits will come in the form of cost savings, efficiency, and better customer service.