When it comes to three-letter acronyms in the business world, few signify a company’s embrace of continuous improvement as profoundly as ISO, shorthand for the International Organization of Standardization. Two of the best-known ISO certifications are ISO 9001: 2008 and ISO 14001: 2009, the leading globally recognized quality management system (QMS) and environmental management system (EMS) standards. While many successful firms have been awarded these ISO certificates individually, it’s rare to find a company like Enphase that has achieved both standards simultaneously.
After more than a year-and-a-half of interdepartmental, cross-functional efforts and the successful completion of a rigorous third-party audit by VDE, Enphase was awarded ISO’s QMS and EMS certifications in July. The internal team that ran point on the full-court press of management system process definition, documentation and auditing became known by its three-letter acronym—MMG, which stands for Mastermind Group, a term originally coined in Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich, that team leader Mageshkumar Venkatesan appropriately implemented as the audit’s code name.
A culmination of company leaders, the MMG team acted as what Magesh explained as “a single mind, driven by a single mission, and with a strong belief that inclusiveness would lead to success.” The active involvement of each member was critical in establishing a maintained trust that allowed them to work collectively throughout their entire mission.
Eric Zimmerman, an engineering hardware manager, has been involved since the initial formation of the Enphase ISO team in early 2013. “The first part of the development was to go through the ISO standards,” he recalls, “apply them to the processes we already had, and then formalize our processes into documentation, since some of the processes were less than formally documented.”
Ciaran Fox, VP of quality and reliability, points to the documentation formalization process as a key benefit of the ISO campaign. “One of the big things that came out early in the effort was a scoping of what would be the best document management system for Enphase. In the course of building up to the certification, we took what were disparate depositories of documents and unified them into one software system. It has quickly become a standard within the company and really worked out well for us.”
MMG team member Allen Helvajian, who works as a program manager, explains that he “came on board when we were doing internal ISO auditor certification training. I was certified as an internal auditor and started my involvement with the Mastermind Group.” Also members of the MMG team, Bruce Hagen and Sue Gerssing played an instrumental role in the certification process.
Bruce’s strong passion for sustainability helped him to successfully lead the EMS efforts, during which he established high conservation standards for the entire company.
“Looking back at the first internal audit, it was clear that we were going in the right direction,” Allen continues. “That knowledge reinforced the message that what we were doing was taking hold, that our fundamental preparedness was on track.”
“The part of ISO that provided the most benefits to the employees was how the process reinforced some of our core values, where all employees understand their part in the greater picture,” Allen explains. “Leadership talks about how you contribute to the success of the organization; ISO takes it one step further and says, document it. Workflows are documented, your place in that process is documented. You can go point to a document and tell people, this is what I do.”
When the big moment came and the VDE team arrived to conduct its audits, MMG kicked into another gear.
Sue was fundamental in managing the external audit, ensuring that all ran smoothly in the Petaluma offices.
“Even when they were done, and the auditors went to their hotels, Magesh was on his laptop, sending out updates to the team on how that day’s audits went, with requests for assistance or things that he learned,” Allen says. “The auditors were very fluid in what they wanted to see. They even called an audible, asking to see our distribution center in Milpitas, which required some quick hustle and follow-through, great responsiveness and cooperation on all parts to make that happen.”
After the ISO team members finally found out that their hard work had paid off and Enphase had successfully “implemented and maintained a management system in accordance with the standards,” Eric lobbed an appropriate one-liner during the celebratory meeting: “We always knew we were certifiable.”