I don't know if I am part of a "silent majority" or not, but our company has benefited from going through the ISO 9000 process.
About 1987, I was the inspection supervisor at my company. We had an important customer who was apparently setting up a quality program and asked for our quality manual (QM). We didn't have any idea what they were asking for. They sent us a sample of another suppliers QM that they "liked." We were even more confused; it was about 100 pages of stuff that make no sense (looking at the QM now, I fully appreciate just how bad it was). For the next couple of years, our customer continued to ask for a QM. We continued to fumble around, getting nowhere. Then, another important customer sent us a huge quality survey that we were supposed to complete and return -- again, we were completely befuddled as to what they were after. Soon, other customers were sending quality surveys and asking for QMs.
It was a real pain. We had always enjoyed a good reputation for quality, price, on-time delivery and customer service. Our question was: "What more do they want?"
I started reading books by Crosby, Deming and the like. I began getting a glimmer of what our customers were wanting but was not sure how to start.
Around 1991 I received an advertisement for an ISO 9000 seminar in our area. I didn't know what ISO 9000 was, but since it had to do with quality, I signed up. After a three-day training session, I understood that our customers simply wanted assurance that their suppliers had a system that would produce consistent product and service. ISO 9000 was a roadmap for getting there. At that point we began to develop a documented quality system that took about four years to complete. We were registered in 1995 and have no intention of dropping our registration. Our quality system is continually being upgraded as a result of our internal auditing program. Would we lose customers if we dropped our registration? Probably not, but maintaining registration is our "carrot" that keeps us moving in the right direction.
When ISO 9000: 2000 was introduced, it was such a radical departure from the 1987 and 1994 standards that I -- like many others -- groaned and complained, "Why can't they just let well enough alone!" Fortunately, our registrar has been helpful in explaining the advantages of the "process approach." Once I understood the concept, I became excited about using it to improve our existing system.
I get really tired of those quality professionals who insist on looking down their noses at anyone who uses the ISO 9000 standard. To implement a program like Six Sigma or Malcolm Baldrige in our company would be like driving an 18-wheeler to the corner grocery store to get a loaf of bread. I understand that ISO 9000 is a "minimal" standard, but is suits our needs and our customers' needs nicely. Correctly used, it is a good tool for any company that wants to improve the way they do business.
Jerry L. Young
LaCroix Optical Co.
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