Stan Mitchell discusses the aspirations behind the first FM management services standard, telling Bradford Keen why it has been a labour of love.
09 September 2018 | Bradford Keen
The creation of ISO 41001, depending on who you ask, is either just another product from the international guidance standards body, or the global FM sector's crowning achievement to date. For the UK's grand master of standards, Stan Mitchell, "it's the biggest thing to happen to FM in 30 years".
"If you follow 41001, at the end of the journey, you will be better, more efficient and more effective - I have no doubt in my mind," he says.
Mitchell is the former BIFM chair who now runs the FM committee for the British Standards Institute and the ISO technical committee 267, as well as being the UK representative of CEN TC 348 at the European FM Standards Committee. With around 20 years embedded in the conception and delivery of FM-specific standards, it's safe to say that he is a staunch advocate - and a font of knowledge on the issue.
As well as his standards work, Mitchell is managing director of Key Facilities Management, in which capacity he gives the recent example of working with a company that, by adopting ISO 41001, has elevated FM from the basement to "a completely different profile".
Three key drivers
Beyond their legal, benchmarking and marketing roles, Mitchell explains that adopting standards will "improve your FM function and its operation".
However, although this is arguably the most mature market for FM in the world, Mitchell concedes that these guidance standards, which have developed through their BSI and CEN equivalents to the ISO family we see today - have not perhaps been regarded as "significant must-have products".
"There's a lot of FMs with 30 years of experience who think they don't need a consultant telling them what to do," Mitchell says, conceding that this is "completely different" outside the UK.
The BSI's facilities management committee was formed in 2003 and "it took a long time for people to get interested", Mitchell recalls. And today, "the further [from the UK] you go, the more relevant it [the use of guidance standards as a grounding for the supply of service] becomes" - something often related to economic maturity and emerging markets.
The relationship between ISO and BSI
BSI has played a major role in building credibility around FM standards; Mitchell describes the British organisation as a "world leader of national standards bodies". BIS and ISO's standards offerings are, he believes, "totally complementary".
But there are other differences too - and that's important here. Management Systems Standards (MSS) such as 41001 and the wildly successful quality standard ISO 9001, can only come from the ISO. Thus far there exist just 11 management system standards, all listed in ISO 17021-11, an ISO document that decrees how to certify an organisation against an MSS. Yes, you read that right - a standard about how to accredit a standard.
A 'bureaucracy' of standards?
Perhaps this is what Mitchell means when he refers to standards bodies as "bureaucratic". Consider also that ISO 41013, which was published soon after FM-specific standards 41011 (vocabulary) and 41012 (Guidance on strategic sourcing and the development of agreements), is not actually a standard, but a technical report.
"The only reason it exists is because, within our committee, we had an impasse," Mitchell explains. "The working group working on 41011 couldn't agree and the convenor threw the baby out with the bath water, got on a plane and went home in the middle of our meetings - so I had to jump in and replace him.
"We took what wasn't contentious and put it into 41011 and the stuff that was contentious, to try to appease everyone, we stuck that in report 41013."
These types of differences are unavoidable when busy FM professionals from around the world join a committee to write a document that tends to take as many as three years to complete. But this work, Mitchell argues, is indispensable to FM as a profession.
"Any credible profession has [standards], and if we truly believe what we do is a strategic professional discipline, we have to demonstrate that," says Mitchell. It's his devotion to elevating FM as a strategic discipline that has motivated Mitchell's work on standards, specifically with the intention of bringing people together.
ISO fosters the spirit of collaboration
Mitchell himself is a member of RICS, IFMA and BIFM . And while Mitchell commends all three for their individual contributions and guidance documents, he believes much more is achievable through collaboration. The BSI, CEN and ISO lend neutrality and non-partisanship to the industry to enable this ethos of working together, he reasons.
"People will, by default, look to BSI standards for something at a national standards body level and they will acknowledge and almost totally accept that if something comes out of ISO then it must be good.
"That won't necessarily happen with a RICS document," he continues, citing the recently introduced RICS Procurement of FM professional statement, "although they've made it mandatory across their membership".
Mitchell's extensive background in the sector includes time as chair of Global FM, the 'organisation of FM representative organisations'. On is appointment as TC 267 chair he went about a similar process of seeking engagement from other representative bodies.
"I created the forum to do this in the BSI as I did with Global FM, pursuing all the parties involved in FM and other parties that have not. Most of those in the built environment sector in the UK are involved, but it took a long time for people to get interested."
Well well WELL
Mitchell notes the place of the newly active standards organisations that have in recent years entered the fray and focused on such specifics as a building user's health and fitness. For Mitchell it's about accepting FM's inability "to fit neatly into a box" in the same way that perhaps architecture or engineering does.
"All that this market needs won't come from BSI or ISO, because of limited resources and volunteers. So when other organisations come to develop things like Fitwel, then fantastic," he says. "You either see that aspect of FM as a problem or an opportunity - and for me it has always been an opportunity."
Privately developed standards such as WELL or Fitwel can outline service, product or management standards with greater specificity, whereas ISO standards need to be sufficiently broad and, therefore, generic to cater to the various international parties involved.
For some in the UK, it's possible for standards to be seen as focusing too much on the basic deliverables when UK service provision is more advanced. And yet those basics are important to have in place first, and always worth revisiting to ensure fitness for purpose, suggests Mitchell.
"In the standards world and on the committees that participate, there's a hugely positive feeling to do this; everybody is up for it," Mitchell says. But "the nuts and bolts of what you put in that standard" can often lead to conflicting opinions.
"In the end, you have to come to a consensus. The language you use, the terminology - every country needs to feel it can be relevant to them in their culture and their market," he explains.
Meaning and applicability
Mitchell is happily prepared to labour through the debate to find agreement, as he's had to argue persuasively for the opportunity to do so in the first instance.
Indeed, it took support from the BSI and Mitchell's persistence to convince the ISO to permit him to create a facilities management committee in the first place. Once ISO relented, Mitchell and his committee worked to create the ISO 41011 and 41012 standards before turning their hand to a management system standard.
It is the management system standard that has the potential to change both the practice and perception of FM considerably, argues Mitchell.
"ISO is very protective about management system standards; they treat that very differently from normal standards. It took me three business plans to convince ISO that FM was [worthy of] a management system standard." If 41001 manages to gain the same traction as [the system standard] ISO 9001, it would, says Mitchell, represent a truly significant "stamp of approval".
The two are similar in that they both provide "guidance to improve your organisation and how you manage yourself as well as better serving your customer base", Mitchell explains.
Despite Mitchell's hope, vision and enthusiasm, as well as the marketing competitiveness mentioned previously, organisations rarely do more with their accreditations in public apart from mentioning them on their websites. Few are the organisations that talk about how they have improved how they work as a result of them.
Even the standards bodies are slow to back up the business case. In touring the world's FM exhibitions and conference to support the ISO 41001 launch, Mitchell cites the study developed by USI to promote the success of the ISO 9001 quality standard. But it remains just the one study in support of this one internationally successful standard.
Ultimately, then, demand for standards will come from, well, demand organisations. Mitchell suggests this is partly dependent on demand organisations (what most of the world would previously have termed 'clients' before ISO 41011 - the Japanese representatives did not have client organisations in their lexicon) learning about the value of standards.
For larger organisations, cost is not going to be much of an issue, but Mitchell notes the same may not be true for SMEs. Certification costs around £2,000 and needs recertification every two years. If consultants are called into to assist with implementation, this will add to the costs - expect between £10,000 and £20,000.
A 2020 vision - and beyond
ISO 41001 has been Mitchell's motivation for these past three years, but he and his commttee are not about to stop yet. Two new standards under the 14001 banner are expected to be published in 2021.
While tight-lipped at this stage, Mitchell says 41014 will deal with FM strategy, while 41015 will be something of a "curveball" dealing in how people's behaviour can influence the ability to deliver FM.
Many in the industry have asked, and Mitchell agrees they have been correct to ask, 'If FM is such a people-focused business, shouldn't there be a standard about people and how they affect what FM does and how it does it?'
"I've always said, if you're going to succeed in FM you need to understand you have at least five stakeholder groups that want something different from you and each other, and if you don't know that, you're going to miss the target."