The Value of ISO 9001 in the 'Real World'


Andy Bassett

'The Real World'

Could I ask all the quality gurus to take of their ISO caps for a moment and step into a real-life situation.

Thripps limited is a small Electronics company employing 8 people based in Nurnberg. The company was successfully built by the owner as a electronics trading company over the last 25 years. In the last 12 months the owners son has designed and built a specialised computer, and to be able to bring it to market a Business Management System was implemented in the company (ISO with bells).

Now the owner wishes to assemble and sell a CD Rom players.
For the new product a plan was put together that would involve checking the suppliers to make sure that that they can deliver quality products, and with some of the critical components evaluating what the suppliers are doing to make sure only defect free ones are being delivered. Furthermore it was planned to evaluate what Goods-in Inspection is necessary and what Final Test are necessary.

The development was being done by the end customer, but Thripps never really obtained a completed set of specs, even the Parts List was built by Thripps themselves. It was planned that before production began a complete set of specifications including a Parts List should be 'released' to Thripps.

Assembly was sub-contracted to Von Schmidt, (a company of 6 people) who had absolutely no form of QM System, and didn’t feel one was necessary as they had 12 years experience in the business of assembling electronics components.
It was planned that a local expert would help them to do a Production Process FME Analysis to predict problems.

In the end, the components were bought from whoever could supply them at the cheapest price in time. A correct set of updated specifications never arrived from Development, a hand written A4 parts list was the base document. No form of Goods-Inspection was implemented, and a final inspection was done exactly according to the end customers wish.
The product itself has no form of traceability, beyond linking the serial number to production week.
The FMEA never occurred, and neither did any other form of analysis or prediction of production problems. After a long discussion Von Schmidt requested a price increase for having an employee put a 'Tested OK' sticker on the product.

During discussion this is what the owner of Thripps said;

'Andy - ISO and BMS's are alright but you cant substitute these for experience. We are competing with companies in Asia and China for these products, are you really willing to see us lose working places to these organisations that are obviously cheaper because they don’t have the overheads that something like ISO brings.
Paperwork is OK, but you cant beat the quality thinking and experience of the employees themselves. Don’t you think that when they start to follow procedures and systems they will abdicate responsibility for problems to the process itself?
Andy, this is the real world, and in here we have to be flexible, reactive and cost effective to meet the customers demands, if we don’t do it somebody else will'.

Would anybody like to have a go at answering this for me.?

Andy B
Elsmar Forum Sponsor


Hunkered Down for the Duration
Staff member
I'd answer it by starting a job search....

A comparison of 'experience' vs ISO is stupid unless you are looking from an artistic aspect. In addition, it may well by that the competitors mentioned are ISO (I bet some are). A lot has to do with volume, as well.

I have clients which were/are small (7 to 15 people) which I have seen (and they have to some degree) good things come from the ISO effort. One I have in mind was small and stable (same work force for over 7 years - NO turnover...). The owner didn't/doesn't plan to increase business - likes it just as it is. The owner personally visits customers every month or two.

If an ISO system is installed, it is rarely simply an overhead. It is a sales benefit at the least whether the company owner is visionary enough to see it or not. If he is not, you're probably beating your drum to a deaf ear. There is information out there now if you want to try to prove your case. You just have to look for it. Get a copy of May/June 1999 Business Standards (get from BSi - Christina Ramirez at 703 437-9000) and give it to your boss. One article is "ISO Certification: Opening Doors to New markets in Mexico". Another is "Latin American Countries Promote Standardization as Competitive Tool".

If your boss just sees it as overhead - well, sooner or later he'll come around. Latin America or other area will end up with his business.

Andy Bassett

Thanks for your reply Marc. I wrote the post shortly after coming out of the meeting, and maybe i was just seeking reassurance.

However i still think its a valid point, in my mind there are two facts.
1. A properly implemented ISO system can reduce costs and make an organisation more efficient.
2. Most (or at least more than half) of the systems i have seen implemented are not more than superficial systems that have not added value anyhwere, and have possibly only increased costs and reduced flexibility.

If you agree to these two points, then company Thripps have a point, when they argue that personnel factors are more important than systems.

Lets make a comparison
The UK is ISO'd to death, whereas Japan has very little time for it, preferring to concentrate on Continuous Improvement for example. So what would you rather buy an Austin Rover or a Toyota.?


Andy B


Rover vs Toyota is not necessarily a good comparison. I know nothing about the Rover folks, but Toyota has internal systems which parallel ISO requirements and they require most of the QS aspects from their suppliers. They were doing ISO and QS stuff long ago.

Your second fact is par for any company which chooses to not take advantage of ISO (or other 'good manufacturing' processes). I'm not sure your experience is typical. I can't really think of a client which didn't profit from their implementation experience. Another factor is the implementation. ISO systems are not typically significantly restrictive - a bad implementation sure can make things bad, though (too much documentation, for example). In short, I'm not a believer in your second 'fact' - that most implementations are little more than an extra cost.

If an owner is happy with his product and processes, however, that's sufficient for them discounting current and future potential customers they may loose in the future who specifically require or seek an ISO registered company. Remember, an ISO system doesn't guarantee a quality product and the absence of an ISO system does not mean the company is producing bad product.


Super Moderator
I also agree that ISO doesn't guarantee quality. To me it just verifies that you do business the way that you say you do. As long as your left handed widget is manufactured to the proper specs with the proper processes that are documented, it doesn't matter if it works or not.

I think the sme principle is going to be found to apply to ISO 14000. From the information I've gathered, alot of registrations are probably out there because the LA's don't know stack emissions from human emmissions. A sharp company environmental guru could "fail" to identify aspects and impacts, thereby eliminating the need for visible proof of continual improvement and wa-la, a whole bunch of smoke blown up the auditors fanny and the certificate is issued. As long a majority of the 14000 auditors used by the registrars aren't real environmental professionals with "real experience" the program, to me, is flawed.

Oh yeah. In the real world gov't contractors, like us, are looking at having a program in place like ISO 9000 as a condition for bidding. We're involved in that now, as are Raytheon and Johnson Control. It doesn't matter if it works, and I guess self-declaration is acceptable.

Kevin Mader

One of THE Original Covers!
Staff member

Your head is on right, so don't worry too much about it.

"Andy, this is the real world, and in here we have to be flexible, reactive and cost effective to meet the customers demands, if we don’t do it somebody else will'. "

Indicates to me that someone is more interested in short-term thinking (and profit). "Reactive" will lead to eventual doom. You must be reactive in the sense you need to respond to the customer driven key-factors, but you need to anticipate and innovate to advance, IMHO.

While ISO does not bring Quality into an organization, it does serve to support systems in giving them the foundation to build on. Quality is in the minds and hearts of the folks building a product or sservice. This is not included in the ISO guidelines.

Balance is what is needed. Good measure of systems' management, well trained work force, and organizational AIM. It sounded to me like some thought went into planning and was lost on deployment. Too bad, might of had a fair chance.

Learning something new is difficult, especially if an organization has had mediocre to fair success inspite of using the less than effective methods. Trying to change culture, difficult at best.


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