25 Years of ISO 9000

March 15 marked the 25th anniversary of the ISO 9000 series standards.  (If you’ve been around for a while, you know that British standard BS 5179 preceded the ISO standard and the U.S. Mil-Q-9858 predated the British standard.)  So the notion of auditable quality system standards go back nearly 45 years, but the real impact certainly launched on a worldwide basis with the release and adoption of the ISO 9000 series standards.  Since the standards were released in 1987, they have gone through three revisions: 1994, 2000, and 2008.

According to the International Organization for Standardization, as of 2009, the total number of organizations certified to ISO 9000 exceeded one million!

I’m of the opinion that the ISO 9000 series of standards have helped usher quality into many organizations.  I’ve met a lot of senior executives who swear by the value of being certified and who can tell me chapter and verse how they have used the standards and certification process to drive improvement and sustainable gains in their organization.  I always say, “Good – get the word out!”  I’ve also heard a few stories that getting certified is just a necessary expense of doing business and not a driver of improvement, so I know not everyone gets it.

I also remember the good Dr. Juran in his last address in Europe admonishing the quality community’s fervor for audited systems.  He cited the financial community’s long history of auditing financials and the uncertain outcomes.  While I didn’t always agree with Dr. Juran, I certainly considered his insights worth remembering and thinking about.

So, here we are 25 years later.  A whole industry has arisen from the need for third-party audits to system standards.  ISO 9000 began as a promise of a single series of standards for world-wide adoption and mutual recognition.  Have we realized the promise?  In what ways has ISO 9000 advanced the practice of quality and the realization of sustained improvement?  Has ISO 9000 created any unintentional setbacks to the full realization of quality’s benefits?   What’s the future of management system standards?

My applause and appreciation to the volunteers on the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176 (the group that writes and revises the ISO 9000 series for the U.S., which is administered by ASQ), and to the other national committees that contribute to the development of ISO 9000. These committees, as well as the many thought leaders who have served the community with their vision, knowledge, experience, and practiced wisdom have made ISO 9000 perhaps the most notable quality development of the late 20th century.

Here’s to the first 25 years with hope of even greater realized impact in the next 25!

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6 Responses to 25 Years of ISO 9000

  1. Rob says:

    I believe that the value of ISO 9001 varies between companies. If you work for an organisation that is very mature in terms of quality, where you have standardised best practice, then ISO 9001 deployment will be much easier to attain but of much less real benefit. The opposite also applies.

    The strongest driver for implementation by far is due to the fact that certification is viewed as a prerequisite for doing business by the majority of customers. Does ISO 9001 give a competitive advantage? Possibly not, but it certainly gives a competitive disadvantage if you don’t have it.

    What’s important with ISO 9001 is that you need to look behind the certification itself and think about the intent of the standard as opposed to just trying to comply with the minimum necessary requirements. This is where the biggest gains are to be had and I’ve certainly seen certification body audits moving away from just pure compliance based auditing to providing audits which are much more value added.

  2. John Knappenberger says:

    The value of a consunsus standard such as ISO 9001 is in the discription of what a sound management system SHOULD include. Each company that uses the standard builds its management system to get the desired results it wants from the system. So in my mind, it is much like joining a helath club or a gym. All the tools and methods are there anyone could need regardless of size, ability or maturity. In this example, buying the membership is the easy part, working out regularly (exercizing the system to make it better) is the true measure of the results you get!

  3. Tamer El-Shal says:

    Having a quality management system inside the organization makes it very easy to get certified against ISO 9001. I had two expereinces with certification, the first one was in a very well-organized and matured company, where each and every activity was managed according to the quality management system. The certification was a bit easy when we have decided to go for it. The 2nd one was when our team established a new company and I was responsible to manage the quality within this newly established company. Certification was not required at that time by management, as the focus was on financial results. Even though, I have kept wn eye on certifications where I sticked to ISO 9001:2000 model for managing all the processes. When we have been asked later to go for certification, it was very easy to get as the system was ready.

  4. Vladimir Shper says:

    IMHO: I think that ISO 9001 is principally based on hierarchical style of management taken from mass production. As soon as the world is leaving this kind of management this standard becomes an obstacle on our way ahead. I’m sure that the system of third-party certification should be abolished because nowadays it only creates numerous bureaucratic barriers. So the sooner the quality community admits a new reality the better. The standards themselves must be saved as a source of savvy advices collected from experts from all over the world.

  5. Janet Lentz says:

    I believe wholeheartedly in the value of ISO 9001 as a solid foundation for a quality management system. I am less certain about the industry-specific offshoots which often do add unnecessary cost and provide obstacles to innovation and improvement. However it’s clear that 3rd party audits can drive continual improvement regardless of the standard to which an organization is certified. I would like to see less frequent audits required for companies that have mature management systems as a way to reduce the costs associated with certification.

  6. Ron McIntire says:

    ISO 9000 series of standards when implemented for the right reasons and followed can achieve benefits. Over the past 25 years though, there has been a culture of disinformation among too many in the newly developed ISO Industry from the alleged experts that are either consultants or auditors. The first problem is most consultants have a formula, template cookie cutter approach to implementing (or aiding) organizations in development and implementation. This results in organizations implementing processes that do not fit well with the resource level of the organization. In some instances I’ve seen consulting organization go into existing systems and do not take into consideration how things are currently done.

    As an example the U.S. Government has very specific requirement for purchasing, one consulting firm went in and developed purchasing procedures, charging for these and expecting them to be implemented, when in fact the agency already had procedures.

    Auditors too (they also tend to consult if not employed full time with a registrar) seem to have a one way approach since they typically come from an industrial sector that tend to carry out processes in a particular manner. I find as well most are not even aware of the interpretations of the standards that are sanctioned or auditing practices that too are sanctioned.

    Then there are the executives or owners of the organization. It seem as though most are only vested to obtain the certification. Generally they have seen this registration process as primarily a marketing and sales tool, not something they will benefit from.

    At this point, ISO 9XXX is not going away since it has become so intrenched, but hopefully rather than wasting valuable resources and efforts to check a box, it will improve and be used/applied the way it was originally intended.

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