Excellence at Afnic - Our coming-out

23 May 2016 - By Mathieu Weill & Sylvie Lacep

Today we are publishing a page on excellence at Afnic. At last!

It is not really a "coming out" as we have already mentioned excellence several times (Afnic rewarded by the French Senate for the excellence of its management initiative and Afnic rewarded for its quality management approach). But for such a seminal initiative for Afnic, dating back to 2008, it was high time to explain our vision of excellence.

We have always approached the pursuit of excellence with humility, without claiming to be perfect. Our ambition however is to constantly move towards excellence. For us, it means satisfying the expectations of all our stakeholders, showing that we constantly pay attention to them, and putting our employees in a position to provide the best possible answers to those expectations.

It is better to aim for perfection and miss it, rather than seek mediocrity and find it. Francis Blanche


On the occasion of this publication, we thought it might be useful to share some reflections on the path we have taken, which has been gratifying no doubt, but far from plain sailing. Central to these considerations is the question that we have often been asked: is the initiative not too heavy, too cumbersome for a small organization like Afnic?

It may be useful here to provide a short flashback in order to understand why Afnic undertook an excellence initiative.

As the operator of the .fr TLD since its creation in 1998, Afnic has grown along with the country's ccTLD. In 10 years, we have moved from a group of pioneers with a hands-on approach to the industrialization of increasingly standardized technical and administrative processes. In 2008, Afnic was faced with a new age of competition in the .fr TLD, when the French government decided to launch a tender for the management of the ccTLD, and we realized that Afnic needed to demonstrate its capabilities and the excellence of its practices. At the time, we were the only Internet registry in France, and we had no other way of conclusively proving our competence than by documenting and illustrating our practices, and setting up a methodology capable of helping us develop them in response to the expectations of all our stakeholders. The sole argument (admittedly often used in our industry) of "if it works, there's no need to repair it," no longer sufficed.

It is true that initiatives of that scope and scale are not undertaken lightly: finding enough time is essential, changing practices meets resistance and we often come up against "sacred oxen" because "we've always done it that way here." However, no change is without risk, and for an organization in which the culture of resilience is paramount, we had to make the collective effort to persuade ourselves that no change at all would incur even greater risks. To do so, we had to document, describe, and collect outside opinions.

The obvious challenge was not to fall into the trap of writing documentation for the sake of documentation, or developing procedures simply to avoid allocating responsibilities rather than facilitate discussion. And of course we were confronted with those kinds of pitfalls.

We had to learn by trial and error, and we found that a process can sometimes be more important than its purpose if there has been insufficient discussion about its meaning and point. So, yes, we did sometimes see document templates 15 to 20 pages long to be filled in which were supposed to simplify the task for project reviews, or project monitoring tools with 175 "high-level requirements," sooner or later put to one side...

Afnic started its quality initiative by adopting the ISO 9001 type of standard. We structured our processes on the basis of that standard. In 2011, the many changes involved in the launch of our activities as a technical registry operator meant we had to decide whether to opt for certification or manage other major strategic projects.

For some the decision to go for the latter was tantamount to giving up, an admission of weakness in accepting not to be "certified". But that turning point allowed us to distinguish between what is essential and what is accessory. And in the end, the essential things are accessible at little cost, provided you keep them in sight:

  • Paying attention to the customer, for example through satisfaction surveys
  • Before jumping to the solutions, what data are available and what practical observations can be made about our current methods?
  • Forming the relevant teams so that they can develop solutions together.

And that is why we turned to the EFQM Excellence Model. It allowed us to make progress in our practices and manage all of the issues involved in change, from processes to strategy, including the human issues and the expectations of all our stakeholders.

Looking back, some will always say that another approach would have been better. Or that we have not gone far enough (the proof being that some problems have yet to be solved!). Our pride is stung each time we are criticized (especially when the criticism is justified) about the quality of our services. We have gone through periods in which excellence seemed to be the last of our concerns. But our employees are now the ones who assert that excellence, who take the initiatives, and that is our greatest pride and joy!


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