Mailbag: Way Off Base
Scott Dalgleish is way off base in the story "ISO 9000: More Hinderance Than Help" (Quality, Oct. 2002, p. 64). I'm not sure what front lines he's been on, but it's obviously not the same front lines I've been on.
I'm also a CQMgr, CQE and CQA with more than 15 years in quality control/quality assurance, and another 10 in manufacturing. I do not now, and never have, preached that ISO is an end all. As any experienced quality professional readily knows, ISO 9000 is a beginning, not an end. Any company that becomes certified and just stops has missed the point entirely. There are those who only want the piece of paper to hang on the wall, and there are those who understand ISO and want to meet its intent. It's the former that question its usefulness and usually reap no benefits.
By itself, ISO is not the entire system or answer. It's the foundation on which to build a "first class" quality system. It provides the systems and procedures that are the basis of any good quality program. You can't build a house without a solid foundation. In fact, ISO is very flexible in allowing you to develop systems that meet your individual needs and greatly enhance your ability to improve, and more importantly, maintain the gains.
I guess I shouldn't really be surprised. In my experience a significant portion of upper management lacks a thorough understanding of ISO 9000 and its intention. An example is documentation.
While ISO does require a certain level of documentation, it absolutely doesn't need to be a burden. It's usually only a burden to those who don't understand the requirements. I've had many in-stances where customers have asked me to complete long and complicated surveys. Their explanation is that they are required by ISO. In fact, there is no such requirement anywhere in ISO. The burden is entirely self-inflicted. Documentation can be plain, simple, and easily revised to meet changing conditions, but only if you really understand what's required and know how to do it. That's exactly why so many companies over-document and write procedures that are so broad and vague that they become completely useless.
I understand that there are opposing views and I believe open discussion is good, but I think that Quality has done a great disservice to those who spent so much time developing ISO, and to the quality profession in general, by printing this article. There are definitely those who feel the benefits of ISO are questionable, but outwardly calling it a hindrance is irresponsible, especially from a professional of this level. This only makes it more difficult for the thousands of quality professionals like myself, who understand and have experienced the benefits of ISO, and are now trying to convince our own management.
Richard W. Sherman CQE, CQA, CQ ---Manager
Quality Engineer/ISO Coordinator
Setra Systems Inc.