New Standard Revision - So subjective and full of interpretation


Carl Keller

Can someone explain why ISO and TC blah,blah,blah continues to write a standard that is so subjective and full of interpretation? I have always read the standard and applied it in a manner that was accepted by my registrar, (and I have worked with 3 different ones) but as can be seen on the forum, some have horror stories to tell. I even have some tense moments I could share. With relative ease, I could sit down with the current standard and word it so as to not change the meaning, but remove the subjectivity from it. If I can do it, why can't they? At this point in time, and with the communications avilable, no company should need a consultant to "interperet" the standard for them. Is that the way we run the rest of our lives? "Sorry honey, I read our marriage vows to mean something else" That only works for Bill Clinton. Don't get me wrong, many times consultants are useful to guide a company through registration, however a company with 10 employees can probably ill afford a consultant. Money in consulting fees is the only driver that I can seem to come up with.

Your thoughts?

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Dan Larsen

I think the fact that the standards are subjective makes them applicable to a wide variety of industries on a global scale. To eliminate the interpretation would effectively result in documents that tell a business how to run. I believe QS is an example of that. QS is nothing more than the US auto industry's interpretation of ISO; it's demanding and directive in defining exactly the type of system that should be used to meet the intent of ISO.

You mention that you can take the current standard, re-write and re-word it so as to not change the meaning and remove the subjectivity. In my mind, what you've just done is written a quality manual for your company. The new "standard" is based on systems and environments with which you are familiar and in terms that you understand.

As for the consultant aspect, I agree that there are many companies that can implement a quality system without a consultant. But there are many others, I think, that can benefit from a consultant. A consultant can bring some new ideas to the table, allows the company a sounding board for interpretations that they have, and can coach them in defending their interpretations when the registrar comes knocking.

In the case of smaller companies, the consultant can take the edge off the amount of time expended during implementation by helping with documentation and maintaining focus. I've found that smaller companies often can't afford to have their own people invest a vast amount of time in the implementation phase. Once the system is up and running (provided it's a system that's well tuned to the needs of the company), their own people can pretty much maintain it, but they often need help in getting it off the ground. That's where the consultant comes into play.

Carl Keller


You make some very good points, however I completely disagree with most of the first two paragraphs.

It is exactly this type of mindset that leaves businesses at the mercy of the registrar and ISO in general.

A person responsible for the operation of a business, large or small would much rather have a more definitive set of rules to play by. A perfect example is 7.1 Product Realization "In planning product realization, the organization shall determine the following as appropriate" As appropriate to who?

Again and again we hear discussion around the fact there are only 6 required procedures, but "everyone knows you will need more." Who decides how many you actually need? I say I do, but a registrar could hold me to 20 if they wanted to. I would have little recourse.

I have no problem with interpereting the standard because if a registrar is unable to show me in the standard EXACTLY where it states that I am not in conformance, the burden then lies with him/her. If the registrar can't come up with something definitive yet still holds to a nonconformance, the next document he/she will see is the visitors log to sign out and leave. There are plenty of registrars. I can remember a time however when things were a bit more scary.

BTW, the method you describe is EXACTLY how a universal quality manual can be written. In support of my point, Repeat the standard verbatim and change "The Organization" to the company name. The exact same manual for every company, manufacturing, service, design, no design, doesn't matter. What part of the standard could you point to and claim a nonconformance?

The fact is that Registrars can use the subjectivity of the standard to an unfair advantage and less subjectivity has nothing to do with being able to apply the standard "to a wide variety of industries on a global scale." We have similar documents which are applied every day. They are called laws and while some are very specific, many are universally applied. They are designed to protect both parties and the "system". Not perfect, but much less open to interpretation. Try doing 80 in a 50 and explain "I interpreted it to mean only when there was traffic around"

I completely agree with your second two paragraphs and will continue to promote the use of consultants for those industries.



My two cents. A consultant who stays with you through and after the registration preparation is a valuable tool. One who has been through several registrations; one who can recommend a registrar suitable for your industry; one who can reponsibly critique procedures..These requirements leave very little doubt that you can put your best face forward the first time. And, most importantly, you have an external source that drive the effort in those areas that need it without recriminations/repercussions from internal parties.


I read this morning that a marriage counselor got the ISO in Europe. The degree of creativity of certain people is certainly amazing ! but we are talking about and international standard. A guide that must be professional, specific, clear. At this point nobody can assure this about ISO 9000, without firing a debate. The whole scheme of registrars-certification-documentation was born from a "command and control" mentality, it assumed a world and situations that may be entirely different now.
The need for "guidelines", consultants and the like gives an idea of the confusion that the ISO 9000 has created. Not all of this is negative, at the end, ISO has served to organize and provide structure to many companies, but in general has created also expectations outside of its scope. But if ISO 9000 scope is not product quality, then why you have to be certified to be able to sell to many european firm ?
Regardless of your sector, these days you've got to to have a lot more than an ISO 9000 certificate to be competitive.


A couple of points in response to Carl:

Your company should never be "at the mercy" of its registrar. An auditor is there to look for evidence of effective implementation of the requirements of the standard, period. If you only have 6 procedures and can demonstrate the effectiveness of such a system (i.e., show that you are meeting your stated quality objectives, meeting customer requirements, etc.), then I would be shocked if the registrar were to "decide" that you needed 20 procedures instead.

So much of ISO is simply common sense: Define your objectives, design a system to meet those objectives, provide the resources to allow the system to work, measure your performance against your objectives, and look for ways to improve. These are not complex demands.

The flexibility of the standard is precisely what allows it to work for diverse companies, large and small, low- and high-tech.

Its subjectivity does sometimes create undesired results, which is that some auditors/registrars interpret the standard a particular way and try to impose that interpretation on the companies they audit. This is usually the personal bias of the auditor, and I have seen this from time to time. (This situation is one good reason to have a consultant who knows the standard well.)

Personally I am far more concerned about auditors/registars being too permissive than I am about them being too biased in their interpretations. Too many companies have the certificate on the wall without having an effective quality management system. I was talking to an RAB auditor the other day and he said this was a main agenda item in their recent conference. Of course they always say they are going to crack down on shoddy registrars, but I am hopeful that they will work to retain and rebuild the integrity of the standard.

J. Drysdale
Aptos, CA

Carl Keller

To all,

Very good points.

I especislly agree with Julie and the "common sense" thread. I have long said that ISO is basically a way to insure businesses and employees use common sense and discipline that they would otherwise not.

I also agree that the (somewhat) vagueness of some parts of the standard allows a few companies to be registered that probably should not be.

I do stand by my belief that the standard COULD be made less subjective without hindering application over the wide range of industries.

Thanks to all.


David Mullins

If you don't want to accept an external auditor's interpretation of the standard, then you go back to their company. No satisfaction, go to the people who allow them to do business (in Australia that is the Joint Accreditation System - Australia and New Zealand). Don't like their answer, go to ISO. Don't like their answer, get a new career :)

I can relate to you perfectly. We have had assessment and 3 surveillance audits now; all with different auditors.
We were wrote up last time becuase we didin't have a prioritized reduction plan concerning how we would keep scrap down and we were not to use our corrective action plan to do it. I have been kicking this around so much I'm not sure what I am trying to do anymore. Last week a different auditor told me a prioritized reduction plan is nothing more than assuring product moves in and out of your hold area in a timely manner. Same registrar-different auditor. THAT is what gives the standard a bad name.

Carl Keller

I prefer the short version. You know, keep it simple.

If the external auditor can't PROVE his case, get a new Registrar and a refund.

The fact that the old registrar hired a bozo is their problem, not mine.

So far my carreer is doing fabulously, so I guess I will keep it.

Thanks for the advice though!

Hope your method works for you.

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