Focus groups: an interview with employees of FSR

Table of Contents:

The Government Construction Contracting Agency (the FSR) is a state agency directly under the Ministry of Finance. It administers government construction projects and provides consulting on technical matters, procure- ment and project preparation. The interview was held in 2014-

In the year 2004, the agency started to think about implementing a QMS according to ISO9001 and a contract was agreed with a certification body. The main reason for this decision was that the agency works according to procedures and there needs to be a certainty that all employees are abiding by these procedures and that customers don’t perceive the services differently depending on the different employees of the agency. The customers of the agency are public organisations. Contractors and consultants are defined as suppliers.

Implementation could have taken less time

In a period of eight years, 2004-2012, three major overhauls were done on the system; different consultants were called in and the vision for the system was changing during this period. Through the application of the system, valuable and important experience was gained and this was used in the continuous improvement of the system. The information system for the QMS was also replaced once in this period. The QMS has therefore gone through many extensive changes and it looks quite different from what it did in the beginning. The implementation could have been much more effective.

A quality manager and a consultant

In the last major overhaul of the system specific attention was given to ensuring that all requirements of ISO9001 were fulfilled. The QMS turned out to be far from ready for certification. Some organisational changes were implemented and a quality manager was hired—this was a project manager from the staff. In addition, an external consultant was hired to lead the agency through the final steps towards certification. During the last six months before certification, all employees were actively participating in the process. A number of changes regarding human resource management had to be made, such as regular employee interviews, formalising the hiring process, planning for a continuous education, to give a few examples.

The work of developing the system was, to a large extent, placed in the hands of focus groups of employees, but they were active in many different areas and all employees participated in at least one focus group. The responsibility of these focus groups was to develop and maintain the procedures that fell under their responsibility.

To say nothing is to agree

The agency coordinates construction projects on behalf of clients—typically the ministries or official institutions. A formal decision to do a project is made by the client and sometimes it is difficult to get formal confirmations, despite such confirmations being essential in a certified QMS. A solution to this problem has been—for the agency, when a client has made an, often informal, decision—to send a formal statement to the client for confirmation. For example, if confirmation of a work order is sent, the client can either confirm or comment on it. If the client doesn’t respond at all, it is assumed that they have given their approval.

Top managers are members of the quality committee

The organisational structure of the agency is such that there is a director and an assistant director, as well as project managers. There are no departments. For each project, a specific project team is defined. The agency’s quality committee consists of five people, including the assistant director and a representative of the employees. The quality committee meets every month and confirms all changes and improvements to the QMS.

Every year the quality committee meet for a strategic planning session, defining a vision, assessing how effective the QMS is and making strategic decisions. This is quite useful and the outcome is an annual action plan that the quality committee then executes.

Annually, an audit plan is developed. The audit team is made up of four audit managers and an additional five employees serve as auditors. This means that a large part of the workforce is involved in the auditing process, which is a deliberate decision in order to increase awareness and engage as many employees as possible in following the QMS.

Law on public construction provides the framework

The framework for the operation of the agency is the official law on public construction. This legislation stipulates that the main phases of such projects are preliminary study, planning, construction and final assessment. The part of the QMS that deals with ‘production’ is built up in the same way and it is a more detailed description of the official law on public construction. The QMS contains 19 formal procedures and six of them refer to processes that have to do with the law on public construction. More detailed guidelines and checklists have also been created and are part of the QMS. A vital part of the system is to define measurable objectives to assess the efficiency of the operation. The objectives are defined according to a contract that the Ministry of Finance has outlined for all governmental institutes regarding performance management.

Change of mind regarding coordinated storing of information

In a pre-audit of the system it became evident that the agency was dealing with problems regarding information storage. It was difficult to find data and the storing of information was not coordinated. It took a lot of effort to make the necessary adjustments and conclude the certification process, and not everyone was ready to change his or her work habits in line with the more disciplined processes of the QMS. However, through a focussed joint effort with the employees, this attitude changed and a new practical and straightforward methodology was implemented. Each procedure contains all locations of all data that is somehow connected to the procedure. This has turned out to be a good change and, by engaging all the employees, has now become a standard procedure with benefits that have become clear to the entire workforce. It is now much easier for people to find the data that they are looking for. This change is very positive for the staff, there is less tension and workload—for instance, in connection with audits—and everyone knows what is expected. It is also much easier for new employees to get acquainted with the operation of the agency.

A comment system demonstrates the effectiveness of the system

Most of the employees are supportive, interested and perceive the QMS as a positive tool in the operation. A comment system for staff has proved to be useful here. Employees are encouraged to submit their comments and suggestions on what could be done better to the quality manager, who can direct such comments to a formal procedure. However, some employees still have the notion that the quality manager is responsible for quality. Engaging staff and explaining to them the structure and function of the QMS is a continuous effort. Communication with the clients is more effective and better defined than before and the responsibility of the project managers is well defined. The system contains a lot of standardised forms and checklists and this is a real time-saver for the employees.

In this industry there is not much of a tradition for formal QMSs, but the requirements regarding such systems are on the rise for contractors and consultants. The QMS of the agency is being continuously scrutinised and reviewed and there are plans to put more emphasis on environmental management and have the QMS certified according to the ISO14001 standard.

Reflection points

  • • Look at the system description of the ISO9001 standard and explain it based on two different organisations. On the one hand, the computer game developer CCP Games and, on the other hand, the Doctors Without Borders association.
  • • In Chapter 2 the PDCA cycle was introduced and the idea behind the cycle explained based on process management. The PDCA cycle was also mentioned in this chapter. Imagine that you are managing a small contracting company in a rural area and you’re going to use the PDCA cycle to implement a procedure for communicating with the clients. Where in the cycle would the focus on risk-based thinking be most relevant? Why?
  • • Many studies have tried to demonstrate the financial benefits of implementing a QMS based on ISO9001. Should there be such benefits, based on your perception? What should such benefits be? How should they be measured?
  • • The ISO9001 makes a distinction between review and audit. Explain this difference by using the example of the governmental agency, FRS, introduced in the case study.
  • • Is it a hindering factor for a creative organisation to work within the framework defined by the ISO9001 standard? What are your arguments?
  • • A production company has implemented a QMS according to ISO9001. What conclusions can be drawn about the properties of its products?


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