Value and benefits of ISO 9001

Q: My company is struggling with the decision to spend any more money on the ISO 9001:2008 Quality management systems–Requirements registration.  How many of our peers believe that the continuation of this certification is worth the cost? I have been trying to find statistics on the number of revised certifications that have been accomplished since the release of the 2008 version and am finding that there is little to no information available.  This leads me to think that the whole agenda has been identified as not a worthwhile cost effective exercise and companies are dropping out of the program.

Does ASQ have any relevant information regarding the “added value” of certification?  I have proposed to my management that the money spent on certification and all the wasted effort to make some auditor happy is not in the best interest of the company and would like your feedback on this position.  I watch as we struggle for 1.5 months before the dreaded audit to make it look like we are compliant, watch the auditor fumble around looking for some minor discrepancies that will make it look like he was worth having in for tea and crumpets and then watch the organization sigh a big relief when we get away with the lack of compliance or caring about compliance for the next two years, as the real task is making money and not wasting time meeting perceived compliance to perceived “requirements”.

The Toyota debacle makes it hard for me to even stand in front of my peers and preach this as useful.  It is clear that the bottom line is dollars and the need to support compliance to some document is merely wasteful effort that has been passed over like all the other historical (hysterical) quality programs—zero defects, statistical process control, total quality management. What do you say?

A: I would like to answer your questions in three part harmony. First of all, I’ll mention a brief history of ISO. Much of this you will be familiar with but it helps to reaffirm the legitimacy of ISO as an international organization rather than just an abbreviation for a place to throw your money. Second, I will express a few of the many benefits of ISO certification. Finally, I will share my own perceptions. Things I have personally witnessed resulting from ISO certification.

History-benefits-perceptions are a three-part harmony which can improve organizations and strengthen communities.

I would like to share a bit about ISO – What it is, as well as what it is not.

So what is ISO?

First of all, let’s consider the letters “ISO.” Because the “International Organization for Standardization” would have different abbreviations in different languages (Like IOS in English, or OIN in French for Organisation International de Normalization), it was decided at the beginning to use a word derived from the Greek isos, meaning “equal.” Therefore, whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of the organization’s name is always ISO.

ISO is a network of the international standards institutes of 162 nations with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland that coordinates the system. The ISO organization officially began in February 1947. ISO is not a governmental organization. It is not like the United Nations System with delegations of national governments. So, although many of ISO’s members are part of the government structure of their countries the members have their roots in industry and the private sector.

Also, ISO is not a quality standard. That is, ISO isn’t a tolerance level we must make parts to. It is not a high quality standard we must meet just to stay in business.

ISO 9001 refers to a type of ISO standard. ISO 9001 is concerned with “quality management.” This means what the organization does to enhance customer satisfaction by meeting customer and any regulatory requirements and to continually improve its performance in this regard.

ISO implementation in any organization introduces the many values of team work as well. I realize those bits of history can seem a bit lengthy but it is of extreme importance to recognize the time and combined efforts put in by so many individuals from so many nations. It is that dedication which helps to make the ISO Standards as useful and beneficial as they have become.

With regard to benefits, the positive reports are almost endless. I will share just a few of which come from reliable sources such as Dun and Bradstreet, Dallas Business Journal, and others.

Simply noted, ISO certified companies reap:

-Improved consistency of service and product performance
-Higher customer satisfaction levels
-Improved customer perception
-Improved productivity and efficiency
-Cost reductions
-Improved communications, morale and job satisfaction
-Competitive advantage and increased marketing and sales

D&B notes:

-85% of registered firms report external benefits
-Higher perceived quality
-Greater customer demand
-95% report internal benefits
-Greater employee awareness
-Increased operational efficiency
-Reduced scrap expense

Other reports note:

-30% reduction in customer claims
-95% improvement in delivery time
-Reduced defects from 3% to 0.5%
-40% reduction in product cycle time
-International acceptance and recognition
-Estimated return on Investment for companies with consistent compliance have been reported +30% to +600%

I could go on with statistics but I am sure you can research and find many more such positive reports. Therefore I will turn now to third member of the harmony I mentioned. That is perception.

The various feedbacks noted above show all of the remarkable “exterior” perceptions. Increased business, customer satisfaction, less downtime, etc. So I will take a moment to mention some things about “internal” perceptions.

It is said that changing a culture can take from several years. Introducing ISO into an organization is indeed introducing a new culture. Individuals are encouraged to do some things they did not and to change some of the habits they have formed.

It has been my experience, with several companies, that the culture change associated with ISO implementation is multilayered. The first and most obvious benefit is quality awareness. The most experienced machinists, fabricators, administrators, all employees suddenly take acquire an appreciation for quality which they did not have, no matter how good they may have been. This quality awareness does not fade away easily. Even those who offer strong resistance to change learn to respect and very much appreciate all the practical value in a good quality management system.

ISO certification does not ensure success. It does not ensure profit. Nonetheless, I have seen companies with little to no quality system grow to be world class quality organizations with the guidance of a strong ISO based QMS.

If failure is experienced, it can be due to lack of understanding on the part of management. They may have failed to act or provide preventive actions when needed. People are often interested in quick and simple solutions and are not willing to practice even simple self-dicipline. Most often, the greater portion of their interests are in getting a certificate to hang on the wall of their office and an addition to their letter head.

I firmly believe, and have witnessed with my own eyes, that following the ISO Standards in implementing a quality management system results in satisfied customers, repeat business, increased profits, satisfied employees and continual improvement. That three part harmony, history-benefits-perceptions, when joined with top management commitment can lead to another benefit not yet mentioned. That is pride.

Bud Salsbury
ASQ Senior Member, CQT,CQI

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