Knowledge Center

Getting a Boost From Quality Tools

By Tiffany Darabi

Chemonics’ mission is social responsibility. We exist to help people around the world lead better lives. We do this by implementing 117 international development projects in 61 developing countries. Throughout our history, we have managed more than 1,079 contracts across 145 countries. Our work includes helping Afghan farmers export pomegranates to increase family incomes, improving the business climate for small businesses in Georgia, and strengthening the capacity and transparency of the judicial system in Rwanda. We are united in our purpose—it’s why we show up to work.

Our mission, and the intrinsic corporate citizenship it reflects, has driven us to strive to provide top-quality services over the past 36 years, continually improving how we organize ourselves to best serve others.

As Chemonics has grown, more robust structures have become necessary to ensure that company values and behaviors remain strong and to take us to the next level of client service and impact in our international development work. To do this, we looked to quality. In the fall of 2007, our executive management team decided to develop a quality management system (QMS) certifiable to the requirements of the ISO 9001 standard. In May 2010, we launched a Web-based QMS through a custom-designed intranet portal. In September 2010, Chemonics received ISO 9001:2008 certification, a unique distinction among international development companies.

Looking globally to our project offices, we are beginning to work with our projects in Afghanistan, from municipal governance capacity building to financial sector development, to apply our customized quality approach and increase our development reach and social impact. In Kenya, we are applying the approach to our supply chain work, serving affected HIV/AIDS patients across the country. Gaining the extra edge through the QMS in our home office has allowed us to be of greater service and more socially responsible to all of our key constituents—our beneficiaries, clients, staff, and shareholders.

The USAID-funded Kenya Pharma project delivered critical high-quality antriretroviral drugs for the treatment of 199,000 adult HIV/AIDS patients.

Our Approach to Quality and SR

It's all about service.

Chemonics’ quality policy, shown on page 2, reflects our commitment to SR. The QMS is an innovation that provides an extra edge in how we serve key constituents and how we achieve our four corporate key results: development impact, client satisfaction, staff satisfaction, and growth. Our SR and commitment to quality are further supported by Chemonics’ status as a 100 percent employee-owned company through an employee stock ownership program. Shareholders are members of staff who join together in the service of development.

Developing the QMS in accordance with ISO 9001 requirements clarified the structure of our work to allow us to serve constituents more effectively. It will allow a gradual shift in focus, reducing the time staff spend on administrative aspects of work to ensure greater development impact. Our 132 procedures and work instructions document a series of relationships along the value chain that ultimately lead to client service.

Documenting these relationships increases transparency and clarity about roles and responsibilities throughout the organization, allowing us to work more efficiently toward our mission.

To measure the development impact of work, we use our own AIMS (achieve, innovate, measure, and share) standards for project excellence. The QMS provides a rubric of processes and resources to support projects in raising their AIMS scores in every aspect of work: achieving contract deliverables, bringing innovation to work, measuring the impact of projects, and sharing successes. 

Make it customized.

From the start, an important goal has been to fit ISO 9001 to the culture at Chemonics, not the other way around. Rather than developing new quality objectives or renaming them to match the ISO 9001 terminology, we kept the focus on our four corporate key results, which are our quality objectives.

By convening interactive process mapping sessions, we developed a bottom-up approach to documenting processes. Representatives from each of our regional divisions and support units counterparts (such as human resources) brought consistency and clarity to our work. Together, they blended variations on individual processes—which had developed over the years under a decentralized structure—into unified processes to which all can adhere.

We introduced process mapping as a new approach to capturing and consuming procedural information, developing a unique documentation structure with elements as basic as process map templates and standardized icons. We created a rubric of supporting documents—templates and forms, sample documents, and guidance documents—to augment process maps, based on documents staff were already using in their work.

The payoff was consistency and clarity gained with a system that maintains Chemonics’ corporate culture and decentralized organizational structure while incorporating many different voices on how to execute a process—from recruiting staff to work long-term on projects overseas to developing a project work plan—into a robust QMS with a unified voice.

Make it replicable and sustainable.

Another goal has been to use proven quality tools to create a model for increased operational effectiveness in Chemonics’ headquarters that would be replicable, scalable, and sustainable for use across project offices overseas.

Across multiple projects in Afghanistan, our customized quality approach has allowed us to better manage risk, increase efficiencies, and build the capacity of staff, who have expressed enthusiasm for the QMS development process. In Kenya, we are applying the model to give a $550 million HIV/AIDS commodity supply chain project an extra edge in effectiveness, efficiency, and service delivery to populations in need.

The USAID-funded Accelerating Sustainable Agriculture Program (ASAP) distributes goods to agricultural workers throughout Afghanistan, selling more than $10 million in agricultural supplies and reaching more than 550,000 farmers nationwide.








Gaining That Extra Edge Through Quality

Document control.

The ISO 9001 approach to document control has provided version control and clear ownership for each of the more than 1,000 documents in our QMS. This simple concept has been of tremendous value to staff in their day-to-day work serving clients. For the first time in Chemonics’ 36-year history, we have a system that is managed
and designed to provide this level of assurance and clarity.

Continual improvement.

The ISO 9001 focus on continual improvement has created an environment where all have the ability to suggest new ways of working that the organization captures, examines, and addresses. To date, we have received 1,000 suggestions for improvement and addressed long-standing areas of risk that now provide greater clarity on operations. We have also seen staff adopting process-based thinking in departments eager to improve their internal operations through the use of quality tools. As the QMS moves to project offices around the world, we are creating a global network through which all staff can be part of the improvement process.

Staff training.

In our industry, attrition is generally high, with staff continuously changing positions within the organization or moving overseas. The ISO 9001 requirement to train all staff on the management system has provided the greatest advantage to our work, creating a culture of quality from the ground up and shifting the pattern of corporate learning to add value and reduce waste.

Feedback received from across the company indicates that new staff are taking advantage of the QMS as their first source for information. One employee stated, “As a new employee, the QMS makes me feel more confident to work on my own and ask more informed questions.”

Going Global

Though the scope of the QMS currently covers Chemonics home-office operations and oversight and management of project offices, from the beginning the vision has been to extend its reach to all projects. We seek to have a truly global QMS, inclusive of all home-office and project-office processes. Going global with the QMS will build greater project management and technical capacity among local staff, ultimately enabling them to offer more effective development assistance in their home countries.

The QMS framework resonates across the organization. In addition to focused efforts in Afghanistan and Kenya, we have seen grassroots demands from project teams in countries such as Serbia and Libya for quality tools to assist their work.

Chemonics’ primary client, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has used ISO 9001 for years as a way to strengthen the capacity of local organizations in developing countries across the world. Today, we are in a unique position to practice what we preach. By giving ourselves an extra edge through quality, we are able to better serve clients, staff, and beneficiaries around the world. 

At Chemonics, having an ISO 9001-certified QMS goes far beyond the documents we use for our day-to-day transactional work. It is now a vital set of tools that allows us to better fulfill our mission of improving the lives of people across the developing world. Introducing a robust quality system has expanded our effectiveness as an organization whose core mission is a socially responsible one.

For More Information

About the Author
Tiffany Darabi is the director of the Quality Management Unit at Chemonics International Inc. She has worked for Chemonics since the fall of 2003 and spearheaded the development of Chemonics’ ISO 9001-certified quality management system.

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