Sunday, June 24, 2012

Proposal: Radical Change to ISO 9001

ISO 9001:2008 is soon to have a new iteration created.  Arguably this document is one of the world’s most successful international standards, and much (most?) of industry and service success in progress in Quality is directly attributable to the creation of this standard, now 25 years ago.  I know that the standard has its critics and they are certainly free to have and express their opinion, but in my opinion, the criticism falls mostly in the category of “what have you done for me lately?”.  

The document is what it is: an excellent codification of Quality principles with strong elements of Shewhart and Deming and Crosby and Feigenbaum, all brought together through strong background documents like CSA Can3-Z299 (Quality Assurance Program).  It provides a coherent plan that says: follow these rules and your chances of success rise dramatically.  Ignore them at your peril.

If there are problems that surround ISO9001 it seems to me that they have less to do with the document per se, and more to do with its application.  Boiral and Amara (the Quality Management; Journal 2009) have previously pointed out that in recent history only about 25 percent of certifications prove down the road to be successful and effective, either due to internal barriers that interfere with the standards application or poor performance on the standard’s requirements.  They talk about managerial certifications where management gets engaged but no one else does, or ceremonial certifications where management gets engaged and starts to implement action but runs into a wall of resistance.  

What this speaks to is the company that moves to implementing a Quality System without putting any effort or energy into how impart organizational Culture of Quality as part of its plan.  If the organization has a Culture of Quality, the odds on effective implementation are much greater.  If an organization moves to certification before it is really ready, the odds for success diminish.  

So how does ISO build this concept into the next iteration of ISO 9001:20XX?

One very appealing suggestion was made in recent discussion during the CSA Annual Meetings.  Full registration of an organization’s Quality system should be done on a progressive scale.  
Putting my own spin to the concept, when a company seeks certification for the first time, and on external audit it is deemed to have Quality fundamentals in place it will receive Certification-BRONZE.  When the company seeks recertification, and on external audit the certification body can see evidence of implementation and evidence for successful application, the organization’s status is raised to Certification-SILVER.  When the company is audited the next time and there is clear evidence for implementation growth and established improvements they receive Certification-GOLD.  And when they show evidence of implementation and provision of mentoring or some other special activities, they can receive Certification-PLATINUM.  

What this type of approach would do is support all the organizations that are expected to start along the pathway, but would distinguish between those that want to get started (BRONZE) and those that want to progress ultimately to stellar levels.  

Sounds simple, but I can see reasons why it would be a challenge to implement, but I think the system would have merit.  

There would need to be some accommodation to change and some rules to implement.  That would be OK because it would demonstrate that ISO internally recognizes the value of continual improvement.  There would need to be some objective specifics on how to measure “successful application” “implementation growth” and “special activities”.  I don’t think these would be particularly difficult to develop. 

Perhaps the hardest set of rules would those that address progression.  From my perspective, since Culture is implemented through slow growth, I would personally argue an organization could only start at the BRONZE level and could only progress one step at a time and could only progress as a consequence of external assessment.  

(While I strongly support all organizations of adopting and implementing Quality Management standards on a voluntary and internal basis, I would reserve the terms BRONZE, SILVER, GOLD and PLATINUM to those that have had external evaluation.  I would go one step further.  I would further require organizations that implement ISO 9001 based on their own efforts and energies to designate themselves as “meeting the requirements of ISO9001:20xx by Self-Assessment).

So that is a plan that I would propose.  I know I am not the first to suggest/recommend change, but I also know and understand that Standards Development bodies are usually uncomfortable with change and absolutely abhor radical change.  But sometimes radical change is what organizations need to do.

Consider this a gauntlet thrown. 

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