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Room for Innovation – Change makes Progress Possible

Steinbeis helps medium-sized enterprise with the ISO 9001 certification process

Graf-Syteco GmbH & Co. KG, a traditional company from the Baden-Württemberg city of Tuningen, has been an expert in operation and control technology for more than 30 years. It places particular focus on automation, a company philosophy that has been successful in fuelling growth and innovation. To lay the right foundations for further expansion and keep up the momentum, the company methodically implemented new structures and systems during the last year with the aim of focusing more strictly on process optimization. The underlying idea was to gain certification under DIN standard ISO 9001:2015. The medium-sized enterprise was helped to prepare for certification by the experts at the Gosheim based Steinbeis Transfer Center TQI Innovation Center.

Graf-Syteco serves clients in construction and agricultural machinery. It also produces operation and control systems for fire departments and maritime use. To get its process underway and fire the starting shot for the company’s new “culture of improvement,” Graf-Syteco started by approaching the European EQ ZERT institute in 2015 to work alongside it as a certification partner.

The auditing officer, Elisabeth Mehl, conducted a preliminary audit to look into existing certification processes, interviewing employees to gain an impression of the specific nature of internal procedures and organizational structures at the company. It became clear that there were already a number of weaknesses, which, unnoticed by some, regularly kept things from running smoothly. On the positive side, Mehl was surprised to find that the management structures had been carefully agreed, there was a clear organizational chart, and the business plan drafted by the managing director Jurgen E. Muller and his management colleagues for 2016/2017 was well prepared.

Mehl felt motivated enough by what she had ascertained to go ahead with certification at the company and she was successful in her endeavors. The managing director, Muller, understood the challenges involved but also saw the benefits and subsequently decided to go full steam ahead with a project dubbed “Graf-Syteco Goes ISO.” The quality management officer, Bianca Benne, was made responsible for managing the project and supervised measures as they were implemented, coordinating any outstanding tasks and documenting each stage according to prevailing standards.

To cope with the many complex challenges and hurdles encountered during the project, and to add professional support and advice to the equation, the Steinbeis Transfer Center expert Petra Ohlhauser from the TQI Innovation Center in Gosheim was brought on board. Working in close collaboration with the company and its employees, Ohlhauser organized regular visits and workshops for the project. This ensured that everything was carried out as required, not just efficiently but also within the stipulated timeframes. One exciting aspect of working individually with the people at Graf-Syteco was the number of times they discovered new things and “the penny dropped,” especially when people could interact directly and talk openly about their experiences and work practices. Often, simply by reducing things to individual, rudimentary steps, it became clear what the underlying ideas were and how logical correlations make the difference in a work process.

Some of the things that need to be in place for processes to work smoothly are that documentation has to be accurate, procedures have to be captured, and reliable catalogs of measures have to be in place. One easy way to start with this is to simply grab a pencil and sketch things on a piece of paper, and sometimes that is exactly what happened with the people at the company. The resulting sketches provided a basis for systematically planning new processes and documenting recurring processes. By carefully collating, analyzing, documenting, and evaluating data, facts, and processes used in different parts of the business, quality management officer Benne walked through every required change and improvement step by step. The top priority throughout was to ensure measures were understandable and sustainable. In keeping with the idea that processes are often more important than the ultimate goal, going through measures was sometimes like an internal cleansing process, like “cleaning out the closet” and not just about gaining certification. Nonetheless, to the outside, it is a visible step and a reflection of how things work within the company.

Processes dovetail with one another like cogs, making it possible to organize a business like an agile, well-functioning machine. But it takes discipline and the willingness to question what one is doing and practices that may sometimes have become entrenched over time. Getting it right takes the required dose of motivation to take on new ideas and apply them in the long term. To round off several months of detailed coaching sessions and prepare everybody in the best possible way for the impending certification audit, Petra Ohlhauser questioned people and took random samples to see how the measures were working in practice in different parts of the business.

The big day arrived in June 2016 and Graf-Syteco once again went to the factory gates to welcome the official auditor from EQ ZERT, Elisabeth Mehl. Although everyone was quite nervous, they did a great job of answering all of the questions and giving a respectable presentation of the results. Mehl was impressed by the extent to which changes had already been implemented and the progress that had already been made in all areas within such a short timeframe. The company, its employees, and all internal systems and processes were put through their paces for the audit and particular credit was due to Benne for going beyond the call of duty and investing endless energy in the project, which ultimately ended in the company successfully gaining certification.

“I’m proud of my workers – it was their openness, their willingness, and their motivation that was so decisive in moving forward with the development and improvement process. It’s essentially a joint honor we’ve earned, something we mastered together on the last stage of successfully gaining ISO certification,” says managing director Jurgen E. Muller. Commitment to the team, with everyone focusing on making their own contribution and playing their part in keeping things moving forward as a whole – in a nutshell, that’s the key to success for Graf-Syteco. Change first happens in the head – it’s the realization that experience and a positive outlook pave the way for progress and improvement. Graf-Syteco is now strongly positioned as a company and is enjoying good growth. It has taken things to a new level as an organization and this will help provide the room it needs to innovate in the future. Now nothing should stop the company taking on any kind of new challenge!