ISO 9000 - Benefits and Problems
ISO 9000 has received much publicity. Some managers see it as a prerequisite for conducting
business. For others, it substitutes for the difficulties and vagaries of Total Quality
Management (TQM). Some see only a needless bureaucratic boondoggle. Depending on the situation,
any of these views might be correct.
Sensibly applied, ISO 9000 is a qualifier for international markets or specific domestic
customers. Certification can be a valuable marketing tool. The standards are a sound blueprint
for a quality system. They can lead the way to the more difficult and sophisticated approaches
of Total Quality Management. ISO 9000 can improve a company's cost structure by 5%-20%.
Approached unwisely, ISO 9000 can be costly and unproductive. It may create a quality
bureaucracy which adds to the cost structure and slows product development. It can focus people
on paperwork instead of customers. It can divert management concentration and energy from more
What Is ISO 9000?
The ISO 9000 standards define minimum requirements for business quality assurance systems.
These are "consensus standards" promulgated by the International Standards Organization in
Europe and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in the United States. The ANSI
standards are officially titled the "Q90" series. They are identical to the ISO 9000 series and
people use the names interchangeably.
Conformance is voluntary. However, many European firms use them as a requirement for
suppliers. Within the United States, some firms also use the standards for supplier
ISO 9000 (Q90) is a guideline for selection and use of quality system standards. It provides
insight for various situations and conditions as well as definitions and explanations.
ISO 9001 (Q91) defines minimum quality system requirements for design/development,
production, installation and servicing. It is the most complete standard. It applies to
manufacturing and service businesses engaged in all these activities.
ISO 9002 (Q92) is essentially a subset of 9001. It applies only to production and
ISO 9003 (Q93) applies to final inspection and test.
ISO 9004 (Q94) is a guideline for quality system elements. It is like a textbook which
describes, explains and recommends.
The standards use proven management principles:
Clear Responsibility & Authority
Capable People & Equipment
- Adequate Resources
Conformance requires that firms apply these principles to areas which impact quality. It
further requires consistent practice which is usually most difficult.
Under section 4.4, for example, ISO 9001 requires that product design projects should be
planned, that design input parameters shall be defined and at design completion, the resulting
design is confirmed as meeting the input requirements. It requires that the design, as well as
any changes, be documented. The standard also requires that design changes be approved by the
organization or persons who made the original design.
Experienced product design engineers recognize these requirements as common sense-- taken for
granted in successful design organizations. Product design disasters can usually be traced to
violation of one or more of the above requirements.
The American Society for Quality Control has organized a Registrar Accreditation Board (RAB).
This board oversees the training and activities of assessors and certifies conformance. Certification is evidence to customers, potential customers and
others that a business meets the standard's requirements.
Assessors typically spend 1-3 days at a site. They examine documents, interview employees and
observe processes. They look for evidence to confirm compliance or non-compliance. To obtain
certification, a business may contract with an accredited assessor. An important customer may
wish to assess as part of their supplier certification. Management may wish a self-assessment
for internal evaluation.
Who Should Use ISO?
Any firm whose customers make their buying decisions on quality issues should consider using
these standards. Firms whose customers require conformance and certification as a qualifier will
need a certificate of conformance from an approved Assessor.
Firms who perceive quality as a marketing tool may obtain certification as part of their
In markets where quality is not a dominant issue firms may use the standards as a guide, but
not attempt certification.
Firms may use the standards for their own suppliers requiring certification as a condition of
An important implementation issue is speed. Most firms require 18 months or longer to achieve
certification. Another issue is the current state of quality. Those with severe quality problems
may need a maximum effort.
Is certification necessary for your firm? Is the need urgent enough for a maximum effort? Or
should the standards be used internally for their intrinsic value?
The first step is awareness. Management must convince the organization that conformance is
important. People within the organization must know the basics.
Special purpose teams are an effective implementation tactic. They establish procedures and
practices for various parts of the organization or for certain requirements of the standard.
An especially important requirement of the standard is ongoing self-assessment. The authors
consider self assessment and correction as essential for continuing compliance.
How TQM & Six Sigma Fit
Total Quality Management emphasizes leadership, management, worker involvement, low-level
responsibility, process control and continuous improvement.
The standard requires clear responsibility and authority. It emphasizes decision procedures,
their documentation and implementation. The standards will enhance and complement either TQM or
conventional quality systems.
Conformance does not guarantee world-class quality. An organization can conform and still
have a mediocre output quality and a high quality cost.
Your Competitive Edge
ISO 9000 can be many things to many organizations. For sound decisions, management should
know what it requires and, equally important, what it does not require. The implementation
should consider each firm's size, markets, and current quality position. A knowledgeable and
experienced assessor is vital.
For many firms, ISO 9000 can be part of a competitive edge. It can contribute to marketing,
reduce costs, and be an qualifier for certain markets or customers. It is a strong foundation
for Total Quality Management and Lean Manufacturing .