ISO 9000 on the Road to Total Quality

By Merrill, Peter | CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine, May 1995 | Go to article overview
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ISO 9000 on the Road to Total Quality

Merrill, Peter, CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

Meeting ISO 9000 requirements doesn't mean your organization has completed a total quality management process.

But preparing your company for ISO 9000 is a good start on the road to total quality. Even companies that are further down the quality route will find ISO 9000 to be a useful tune-up for their business processes.

For many companies starting on the journey to ISO 9000 registration, a common question is: "Does this mean we are finished with total quality?" In fact, ISO 9000 is only one component in the complex equation of total quality: think of it as "partial" quality. For companies that have not yet started to build their house of quality, ISO 9000 provides an excellent foundation stone. For companies already well along the way to quality improvement, it lends rigor and discipline and forces the business process analysis that many companies overlook.

The driving force in ISO 9000 is the customer. Customers want assurance that their suppliers will do as they promise. Third- party certification under ISO 9000 indicates that a supplier's processes are well-linked and under control to deliver consistent quality. The customer can place orders and choose suppliers with confidence that their business processes are definable, repeatable and predictable. But ISO 9000 is only partial, and not total, quality. In implementing a total quality improvement process, organizations must balance "people" improvement and "process" improvement.

At the beginning of the 1990s, with the West stuck in the worst recession since that of the 1930s, quality got dumped. But even during the '80s, most people had been practising only "partial" quality anyway. Some companies that had addressed only "process" issues found improvements slow in coming and suffered loss of trust. Those that had concentrated on "people" issues sparked warm feelings among employees but no measurable improvement. Few of the ISO requirements address the people issues of quality like communication, teamwork and recognition. Compared with the Baldrige Assessment, which is one of the most comprehensive methods of assessing an organization for total quality, the ISO 9000 criteria are more comprehensive in only one category: process management. If your company has done no teamwork or communication development, or lacks an adequate recognition system, then its ISO 9000 journey will be tougher, and much more expensive. And in order to become a world-class organization, you will need to move well beyond ISO 9000.

In its favor, ISO 9000 sets out a series of clear registration requirements that the organization must meet (and that any organization could achieve). Absent is the "do it if you feel like it" attitude that often pervaded TQM. The prospect of an external auditor coming to look at your business pushes you to clean up the business, much as the prospect of visitors pushes you to finish in just a few hours all those household chores that you had been putting off for six months. ISO 9000 motivates an organization to define its processes. And by addressing such elements as internal audit, management review, and corrective and preventive action, ISO 9000 will drive continuous improvement of those processes.

Process - and people - improvement

The first steps into ISO 9000 resemble those of TQM. It is important to support the process development of ISO 9000 with the people development of a good TQM process, as follows:

1. Develop a just-in-time education plan that gives people the needed skills in process mapping, procedure writing, measurement and auditing.

2. Create a communication system based on the team briefing concept, which ensures open communication throughout the organization. Ensure that information generated by the team flows down and across the organization, and that feedback from within the organization flows back into the leadership team.

3. A recognition system will recognize that you are asking people to change their behavior.

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