ISO 9001 and other quality standards don't work - Comments?


Don Winton

Marc, With your permission, I would like to post your reply here at the referenced post.

Don Winton

Found this recently and would like comments.

ISO 9000 and other quality standards don't work.

Not a very popular sentiment in this forum I bet, but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise.

I'm owner and manager of three companies that have been exposed to a range of quality standards. We were registered to ISO 9002, recognised as an Investor in People, (three times) and registered to the Scottish Quality Management System (a specialist training and education quality standard). After 3 years and some £100,000 (sterling) later, I'm convinced that the whole exercise has been a waste of time and money. This is why:

ISO 9000 focuses every ones' attention on internal processes rather than on external results. - "Say what you do and do what you say" is the basis of the Standard, but who says that what you do is OK? It's often said that ISO 9000 is a standard for crap - but consistent crap. It is a conformance standard, not a performance standard and tells you nothing about the standard of the product, or service, only that it's consistent. I can't honestly say that the services that we have provided have improved one iota as a result of all these quality initiatives.

ISO 9000 focuses on minimum standards. - What about marketing and adding value? OK, so an ISO 9000 company may be able to promise you x number of defects per million widgets, but what about innovation? While they are spending all their time with SPC etc, someone else is out there innovating. And if you do innovate and it's not in the procedures, then God help you.

ISO 9000 develops its own cumbersome bureaucracy. - Just look at the subject headings of this forum. Is this bureaucracy, or is this bureaucracy? Most people in an ISO 9000 organisation do their job and then do the paperwork for ISO. If they want to change anything, forget it, 'cause it's too much hassle to go thru the system of document control, etc.

ISO 9000 is a quick fix solution. - Big customer writes to you one day and says if you don't have ISO 9000 by x date we won't deal with you. So you get ISO 9000. Probably costs you a lot of money for consultants, nothing changes except your cost base, you deliver exactly the same service as before, only now more expensive, but your client is happy because he's got a "quality" supplier. Your staff continue to do the same job, then they do the ISO paperwork. (see above)

ISO 9000 stultifies innovation in the corporate culture. - Once it's implemented the ISO system becomes sacrosanct. How many times have you heard "I can't do that' it's not in the system."

ISO 9000 delegates quality to quality "experts" and managers rather than to real people. - The only person without any direct responsibility for quality is the Quality Manager. S/he makes sure that everyone else does it. Then of course the "experts" from the certification body come along and tell you how you should do it. You ask yourself (never them) what they actually know about your business, but in the end you do what they say anyway, even when you believe it to be wrong.

ISO 9000 does not demand radical reform. - If you study all the Gurus of quality, Deming, Juran, Crosby, et al, they all sing off the same hymn sheet - quality is about change. Monitoring operations/services, identifying improvements, changing to meet customer requirements, etc. ISO 9000 goes against the grain of this, 'cause to change anything involves a mountain of paperwork

ISO 9000 does not demand changes in management attitudes. - OK, commitment from the top and all that, but quality is a journey, not a destination and most CEOs get paid by (short-term) results. Quality pay-back is a highly questionable concept.

ISO 9000 does not demand new relationships with outside partners. - Partnership resourcing, strategic alliance, JIT, etc. forget it. ISO 9000 is about navel gazing. Demand ISO 9000 conformance from everyone else, but don't give a damn whether or not they can add value to your business. Perhaps more to the point, ignore business's that could add value, but don't have ISO 9000.

All the other Standards are the same. They are not interested in the final product/service/employee relations, they are only interested in the process. For example the Investor in People Standard (only applies in the UK. Count yourselves lucky all those elsewhere, but watch out, it could catch on internationally like BS5750/ISO9000) expects you to treat the development of everyone in the organisation equally. It doesn't take account of the differences in importance of the role, or of the individual's attitude to the job, all internal navel gazing.

After this diatribe, my point is quite simple. Can anyone give me a model for the success of a Quality Management System? A model that says if you do x, y and z, you will achieve a, b and c. In other words, something measurable. ( Remember the old quality maxim: if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.) All the books, articles and forums such as this extol the virtues of ISO 9000 and other standards. Surely someone out there is asking why the Emperor is wearing no clothes? Or am I alone?

[This is not mine. I am only looking for comments] Don

[This message has been edited by Marc Smith (edited 05 December 1999).]


Fully vaccinated are you?
Uh, oh... The ISO bashing argument rears its ugly head.

I agree the arguments you present have some serious merit. The problem is that with each element of the argument it is the same old story - you can take any argument and refute it. For example - If I say education is the only answer to the drug problem you can refute it even if the evidence is on my side. One of the Clinton administration (some lady) recently stated that Holland's legalization of marijuana was/is " unmitigated disasater..." while the evidence shows this is simply not true. Go there and see. Read international publications. You will see the woman is wrong.

Another example is second hand smoke. You can come up for some good arguements against second hand smoke but the studies taken as a whole (including a report by the International Health Organization which the US promptly objected to and tried to suppress) do not support the thesis that second hand smoke is dangerous. That the EPA's report is based on 'Bad Science' is to some degree supported by the recent tobacco company court victory. I know from international publications the second-hand smoke issues rampant in the USA (apart from personal irritation) are in no way proven nor do the studies as a whole point to second hand smoke as a 'significant' cancer cause if at all.

In short, I can object to anything. I can point out the 'bad' or 'good' side of anything. The question becomes is my hypothesis bullshit or not.

To me there is no 'magic' bullet. Nothing taken alone succeeds every time. As far as ISO goes, it alone is not enough to ensure anything if it is fought.

Despite what any person may believe, ISO is mainly an issue of liability. Anyone thinking ISO is some Golden Bullet or a mechanism to make their company great is off the mark. ISO is ONLY one tool.

So - let's go at it, shall we?

You say ISO focuses only internally - I say you're mis-reading things. It should make you look at your business as a whole. Where does it say you should ignore your customer?

You say ISO focuses on minimal standards? I'd love to hear you scream if it was much more comprehensive and rigid. It is mean to be minimal - it applies to junk yards, colleges, banks, injection molders, etc., etc.

If ISO created it's own 'cumbersome domain' in your company, you are really in the wrong plane. You implemented too harshly. I have clients as small as 7 people who don't see the spec as cumbersome. It is a new business process but give me a break. I went into a company of about 30 souls for a friend who helped the company implement ISO9002. He had set up a rigid documnentation system and all the procedures were in Microsoft Word - my friend wrote them for them (bad idea anyway) - and my friend used sections, tables, and all sorts of bullshit features. Now - to make a change to a procedure they have to have a MSWord Wizard because the document structures in them selves (not to mention the procedure text content) are so complex. Well, sorry, but that's bull.

You call ISO900x a quick fix - that alone shows a poor attitude. It is not in any way a quick fix for anything. It is part of a long term process of improvement.

You say "ISO 9000 delegates quality to quality "experts" and managers rather than to real people". Give me a break. Aren't 'quality experts' real people? You as top management define specifically what is delegated, by whom
and to whom. YOU decide who is responsible for quality as well as what, to you, quality is. And you decide who you hire as your 'quality' professionals. If they're inadequate, ISO is to blame?

"ISO does not demand radical change." Umm - well, if you need it, it should be upper management which structures and implements 'radical' change. ISO is a basic 'quality system structure'. It is not intended to tell you how to run your business. And it does not preclude that every company requires radical change. Crosby and the boys (to me) are saying you have to stay abreast of change. IF you are in bad shape, radical reform may be necessary but it is not in every case.

If you let ISO 'stiffle' innovation in your company it's your own damn faul - not ISO's fault. You say "Once it's implemented the ISO system becomes sacrosanct." That is plain bull. The auto industry used the same excuse in the 1970's in regard to government fuel mileage and other 'mandates', but look what happened. All these regulations, they said, would kill their business and,, by the way (they added) the mandates are impossible to meet. Ummm well, now.

To think that in every company x will cause y is just silly.

I think you get the gist of my response - ISO is not a saviour or other magic bullet.

I suggest to you that if you implemented ISO in 3 companies and notice no changes except for the 'bad' you either had a pretty tight company to begin with, you had and still have a terribly distressed company, or you implemented a ghost system. Maybe your best bet would be to hire me in for a year or two and I'll turn the effort into a holistic project where you'll see changes!

Let me know when you want me to start...

Don Winton

Ooops. Apparently the header I included in the post was omitted. This was not mine. I found it on another board.

Don Winton

Marc, you expressed my sentiments exactly. Sorry I cannot remember the original source of this document. I would LOVE to forward your response. Anyway, now my two cents.

Those who see ISO 900x as a panacea for company ills are “barking up the wrong tree,” so to speak. There are companies that “just want registration.” These are “Trophy Hunters.” All they want is the registration, nothing more. Then there are those who want actual improvement. These are “Trophy Killers.” They want to use ISO and want to use it as one (and only one) tool to improve upon their business operations.

ISO 900x is flexible enough to allow these areas to coexist.

There are companies that structure their documentation so rigidly that it would take “an expert” just to figure it out. There are also companies that allow the structure required by ISO 900x to actually build upon their weakness to allow for improvement.

To put in an ISO type of system, then allow IT to run the company, is silly. I tell anyone who will listen that the QMS is the “slave,” not the “master.” It works for you, not vise versa. I would speculate that those who have poor experiences with ISO 900x have only themselves to blame. Anyway, enough rambling for now.

[This message has been edited by Don Winton.]

Roger Eastin

Don - Your first message is on the ISO9000/ 14000 Q&A board by a guy named Hoffman. There are several interesting replies there too. It seems to boil down to whether you just want to comply (then his diatribe applies) or you want to use it as a starting point to add value to the way that you do business.


Fully vaccinated are you?
One guy's views on ISO9001


Subject: Re: So, what's the problem with ISO 9000?!? /Arbuckle/Hankwitz
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 11:07:31 -0600
From: ISO Standards Discussion

From: "Hankwitz, John
Subject: RE: So, what's the problem with ISO 9000?!? /Arbuckle/Hankwitz

> From: "Don Arbuckle"
> Subject: Q: So, what's the problem with ISO 9000?!? /Arbuckle
> 1. During the implementation process, what seemed to be the biggest
> roadblock/deterrent to effective implementation?

Getting employees to understand that everything they do is a process and getting them to figure out what their processes are. We had to do a lot more process training than anticipated.

Convincing everyone that documenting their processes was not a management scheme to make it easier to replace them with someone new.

Once processes were documented, getting everyone to buy into them, especially when their way of doing things was not chosen as the default method.

> 2. After having implemented ISO 9000, what aspects of the resulting
> Quality Management System (QMS) were the most bothersome?

Dealing with employees that to this day still think that our system is about compliance, not customer satisfaction, quality, and continuous improvement. After 6 years, some still can't see beyond the words in the ISO standard. Hopefully, the wording in the new rev. will help.

> 3. What aspect of your QMS now seems to be the least "value-added"
> (or most cumbersome)?

Anything/everything falling into this category has been self-imposed.

> 4. Did you achieve the ROI (or value) you expected to get from
> implementing ISO 9000? What ROI (or value) were you
> expecting to get?

The primary reason for going for our ISO 9001 registration was for use as a sales tool. We didn't expect any ROI, other than increased sales. We were surprised to see our sales double the following year, and our profits increase by 900%. Identifying and documenting our processes made us a lot more effective and efficient than we anticipated. Our "pay-back" came in less than 7 months.

John Hankwitz
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