N.Y. Times News Service
American companies got religion on quality during the 1980s,
studying the teachings of such gurus as W. Edwards Deming and
Joseph Juran and introducing programs that usually had the words
"total," "quality" and "management" in their name. The problem:
Everybody seemed to have a slightly different definition of what
But now, any American company hoping to sell its products in
Europe is being forced to come to grips with a series of
internationally agreed-upon quality standards. Formulated by the
International Standards Organization in Geneva, the guidelines
have been adopted by the countries in the European Community as
the yardstick for measuring quality.
The standards cover the manufacturing and pre-sale inspection
of products, as well as installation and postsale servicing.
Arcane, but crucial, the guidelines will largely determine whose
products may be sold to and within Europe's unified market.
Although there is no legal requirement that companies adopt
the standards, which are grouped under the rubric ISO 9000, many
European companies are pushing their suppliers to become
registered under the ISO guidelines as a way of ensuring that the
products they buy will be of acceptable quality. A company
without an ISO 9000 registration risks being effectively barred
from bidding on new business.
"This is the ticket to doing business globally," said Kymberly
K. Hockman, a quality consultant at E.I. Du Pont de Nemours Co.
"It tells customers that they do not have to send in teams of
auditors; they use ISO 9000 as the quality standard."
The International Standards Organization agreed upon the ISO
9000 criteria in 1987. Besides the European Community, more than
three dozen countries have adopted the guidelines for national
American counterparts have been issued by the American
National Standards Institute, a private industry group, and the
American Society for Quality Control, an association of corporate
quality-control executives. These guidelines are technically
equivalent to the ISO's standards, but incorporate American
language usages and spelling. As with the ISO guides, compliance
The ISO 9000 is actually five separate standards, ISO 9000
through ISO 9004. The first and last of these, 9000 and 9004, are
primarily concerned with definitions and advice on ways companies
can improve their internal operations. For American companies
intent on doing business in Europe, the more significant
standards are 9001, 9002 and 9003.
ISO 9003 covers requirements for the detection and management
of problems uncovered in final inspection and testing. ISO 9002
covers production and installations, as well as inspection. ISO
9001 adds standards for post-sale servicing.
Like most ISO standards, the rules specify what is required,
but not how to do it. For instance: "Where servicing is specified
in the contract, the supplier shall establish and maintain
procedures for performing and verifying that servicing meets the
The legalistic language of the standards is not intended to
make the pulse race, nor does it. A typical requirement: "The
supplier shall establish and maintain procedures to control all
documents and data that relate to the requirements of this