The Business Call for ISO 9001
It was once standard practice for large organizations to help their suppliers develop ever higher levels of sophistication in quality, supplier management, and logistics. Supplier quality engineers (SQEs) were tasked with analyzing the supplier base and offering training and other direct help to targeted suppliers to improve their performance and maintain costs. Today, few offer this kind of support. As the price to do so has increased, specialists have taken the place of many former multitasking operations. In addition, the rise of ISO 9001 acceptance has largely transferred managerial oversight to ISO 9001’s third-party auditor. As a result, the majority of ISO 9001–registered companies now also require ISO 9001 registration of their suppliers.
It’s far less expensive to require oversight than to provide it.
Small businesses constitute the majority of organizations currently registered for ISO 9001. With more than 1 million registrations currently in place, it’s also clear that many of these small organizations are registered because of requirements imposed by their larger customers. The call to be “9001 registered” by these larger clients is primarily driven by the cost of maintaining a large staff of SQEs; many have chosen to instead rely on third-party auditors to ensure compliance and related satisfactory outcomes of the audit process.
For most small businesses, the requirement to register is often perceived as a tax on business. Given that these organizations are currently successful in selling and gaining acceptance of their products, what can ISO 9001 add that isn’t already in place? The answer is little more than restating the requirement that all suppliers be registered—the perception of ISO as little more than a tax, an additional fee imposed to remain or become a supplier. Indeed, the majority of registrants did so because they had to, not because they wanted to. In turn, many approach the registration process as a “min-for-max” proposition, spending the least amount possible to gain registration and hoping that the net outcome will not excessively hinder their current practices.
This is especially true in terms of maintaining their ability to be flexible and responsive to their customers. ISO 9001 is often incorrectly perceived as a system that slows down operations with additional forms and paperwork, takes more time to develop concepts into finished products, sets up a new layer of bureaucracy through which many decisions and controls have to undergo new and confusing scrutiny, and simply costs more money than it’s worth. None of these assumptions need be true, but all have the ability to become so, especially if the min-for-max approach is utilized. Unfortunately, it is easier and faster to overlay a patina of acceptability and compliance through methods that are favorable to the third-party auditor rather than addressing the improvement needs of the company seeking registration.
The min-for-max approach intensively relies on documentation, forms, and reports to provide evidence of compliance to the standard. It can be, and often is, available as a package of materials requiring some basic editing to indicate relevance to the company and its practices along with appropriate training of a select few who have been charged with developing the program. It also sets in place most of the negative perceptions of ISO 9001 as a tax on business because the goal is tactical (registration as a business requirement) rather than strategic (registration to improve business practices and performance). As a result, the company develops work instructions instead of its workforce, produces reports that satisfy specific clauses within the standard instead of specific needs, and compiles documentation structured to convey permanence and authority instead of clarity and understanding.
The call to register to the standard is strong within the marketplace. Organizations face a choice: Do they undertake study and planning for implementation that first and foremost enables and improves, or do they throw together a string of documented evidence primarily relevant to achieving registration? Even if the initial belief of top management is that ISO 9001 is a tax on business, there is much to recommend in the adage, “If all you have are lemons, make lemonade!” The strategic approach allows the company to ride atop the wave, or at least seize the opportunity to develop a clear path to doing so, while the tactical approach most often leads organizations to become consumed by it. Developing your quality management system, whether it be a new registration or an upgrade from the 2008 revision, is a strategic decision, one that will affect the working lives of everyone in your company.
We believe that there is opportunity in the making. The following chapters were developed to define the reasons, methods, and possible tools to achieve initial registration or upgrade to the 2015 revision of ISO 9001 that add value to your business. The 2015 revision is the culmination of many years of development and worldwide acceptance. Chapter 2 examines that history a bit further and explicates the differences between the 2008 release and the 2015 revision. As you continue reading, keep in mind that the intent of the ISO 9001 standard is to enable best practices, not to restrict them. Even though you may be compelled to register by customer demands, it’s infinitely better to adopt the position that the organization was instead given the opportunity to improve.