Don’t Skip the Good Stuff – ISO 9001

Most clients I work with start reading the standard at section 1 “Scope”. This is a significant miss-step.  The really good stuff starts back at the beginning in the Introduction.

Pick up a copy of ISO 9000 and turn to section “0.1 General” (If you don’t have a copy go to and buy it.) Now read the very first line, “The adoption of a quality management system should be a strategic decision of an organization.”  Think about this, implementing ISO 9000 should provide a long-term benefit to the organization. It is not just a plaque on the wall and a certificate to mail to customers it provides a strategic advantage by:

  1. Lowering costs
  2. Increasing sales

The rest of the section is interesting reading, but if you’re in a hurry, skip down to section “0.2 Process approach”. “This International Standard promotes the adoption of a process approach when developing, implementing and improving the effectiveness of a quality management system, to enhance customer satisfaction by meeting customer requirements.”

Here is the trick to making ISO 9000 effective, the process isn’t just the turning of raw material into widgets. It starts at the taking of the order and the understanding of the requirements and goes all the way to delivery at the customer.

Inside the big picture process are myriad sub processes which ultimately must be broken down and evaluated. However, the job of the quality manager is to make sure the big pictures sees continuous and on-going improvement. Too often ISO 9000 is pigeon-holed as a manufacturing process.

I had just started for a new company. Somehow I always seemed to get hired by the guys who were up the unsanitary tributary without a visible means of locomotion, and I was the paddle that had to save them. Anyway, a major customer called and in a loud voice and not so subtle terms informed me that our unacceptable product was on its way back, and we were going to be charge for the time their line stood down while they found a supplier to replace us.

I looked at the documentation; everything going out had met the prints and specifications. I pulled some parts off the shelf and checked them, also good product. Then I went back and compared the part print to the customer supplied design specification. Our part was being made with a 45 degree angle. The customer needed a 135 degree angle. Our parts were bass ackwards.  I worked with the tooling engineer and got both a short term and long term fix in place and called the customer. They grudgingly agreed to accept an overnight shipment of parts before calling the competition. Things worked out and we ended up one of their top quality suppliers. But the important thing to remember is the broken part of the system had nothing to do with the manufacturing process.

What is a process? Section 0.2 “Process Approach” states “An activity using resources, and managed in order to enable the transformation of inputs into outputs can be considered a process.”

The input to my old employer’s failed process was the customer specifications. The output was the manufacturing documents so my co-workers could build the widget. The activity was translating from customer language to in-house language. Don’t get caught up in thinking the process is just manufacturing. Most of the big savings I find for clients comes before I ever step on the manufacturing floor.

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