TL 9000 Quality System Requirements Rooted in ISO 9001

The new telecommunications industry standard takes shape

by James P. Gildersleeve

TL 9000 is a new set of telecommunications quality system requirements based on ISO 9001 and incorporating performance measurements or metrics. It has been in development since January 1998.

The development effort has been led by the Quality Excellence for Suppliers of Telecommunications Leadership Forum (QuEST Forum), made up of the world's leading telecommunications service providers (TSPs) and their suppliers.

The QuEST Forum and its work came about in an effort to reduce the annual cost of poor quality within the telecommunications industry, estimated at $10 to $15 billion annually. Worldwide purchases from the industry's suppliers are estimated at more than $125 billion in products and services annually.

The purpose of TL 9000 is to define the telecommunications quality system requirements for the design, development, production, delivery, installation, and maintenance of products and services. In support of these requirements, TL 9000 will also incorporate effective cost- and performance-based metrics to measure progress and evaluate results of quality system implementation.

TL 9000 will be defined in two handbooks: TL 9000 Quality System Requirements (QSRs) and TL 9000 Quality System Metrics (QSMs). Each of these will include a section pertaining to all users, as well as sections focusing on hardware, software, and services. This corresponds to the three registration options (or any combination) that are available:

  • TL 9000-HW, for hardware only

  • TL 9000-SW, for software only

  • TL 9000-SC, for services only

Each of these registration options requires compliance with the ISO 9001 elements; common requirements and metrics; and the requirements and metrics associated with a chosen scope of registration.

The first version of the TL 9000 QSR Handbook, which consists of the hardware and software portions, is complete and available from ASQ by calling 800-248-1946 (ask for item T1348). The update to this handbook, which will contain the services requirements, is currently out for vote and should be available by early summer 1999.

The TL 9000 QSM Handbook, which will consist of hardware, software, and services as well as the common metrics, is still under development and will be complete by the fourth quarter of 1999.

The TL 9000 structure

The five levels of requirements in TL 9000 are:

  • The international requirements of ISO 9001

  • The TL 9000 QSRs common to all industry sectors

  • Industry sector QSRs (in other words, hardware, software, and services)

  • The TL 9000 metrics common to all industry sectors

  • The industry sector metrics (in other words, hardware, software, and services).

sm_67figure1.jpg (5945 bytes)This structure is reflected in the TL 9000 Model (see Figure 1).

TL 9000 contains ISO 9001 verbatim as its core requirement. From the beginning, the QuEST Forum found the requirements of ISO 9001 to be sound but inadequate to fully define the telecommunications industry quality needs. Necessary supplemental requirements were developed as QSRs.

The TL 9000 QSRs developed for the telecommunications industry supplement the basic ISO 9001 provisions to address reliability, costs, software development, life-cycle management, specialized service functions, and further growth of the positive relationship between customers and their suppliers.

The requirements are built on currently used industry standards, including ISO 9001, Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria, Bellcore, SEI, and ISO 12207 standards. TL 9000 combines applicable elements from all of these standards and methodologies into one industry-specific, mutually agreed-upon set of requirements to be followed by everyone in the telecommunications industry.

TL 9000 metrics offer a balanced set of measures and effective means to communicate and monitor actual results. Metrics enable TSPs and suppliers to measure various attributes of quality, such as numbers of system failures, billing errors, and delivery problems. The TL 9000 QSM Handbook states, "TL 9000 ... defines effective cost and performance-based Metrics to measure progress and evaluate results of quality system implementation."

The University of Texas at Dallas (U.T. Dallas) has been selected to develop the QuEST Forum Metrics concept. This concept envisions that suppliers will report specially coded metrics information to U.T. Dallas, which will store and analyze the data. Information will be used to calculate comparable statistics--industry mean, range, median, standard deviation, and best in industry--among suppliers.

The resulting information will be made available on the QuEST Forum Web site to forum members only. Suppliers' identities will remain anonymous at all times, but each company will be able to assess its individual performance against these statistics and identify processes in need of improvement--thereby improving customer-supplier communication.

So that the data are not misused, U.T. Dallas will adopt methods to ensure that the metrics data will be used only for authorized purposes. To protect against theft of the data, all the information will be stored on a standalone computer in a continuously monitored and secured room. Other safeguards will be used to prevent unauthorized entry and loss of data due to catastrophic events, such as fire or other natural calamities.

Administration and registration

As forum administrator, ASQ has already assumed responsibility for the production and distribution of the handbooks but will gradually increase its involvement until it has assumed its full responsibilities, not later than December 1999.

ASQ's primary functions will include conduct of general business, management of program responsibilities, management of accreditation body and registrar duties, administration of membership, and distribution and publishing of approved requirements and collateral marketing materials.

The registration process for TL 9000 is currently being developed by the Registrar Accreditation Board (RAB) and the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), in consultation with the QuEST Forum.

"The criteria for qualifying as a registrar are dictated to a large degree by the criteria in the TL 9000 QSR Handbook, Appendices A and B," explained George Lofgren, RAB QMS president.

These criteria include add-ons (more specific industry requirements) to the basic ISO 9001/2 requirements. Suppliers that are already ISO 9001/2 registered can ask their registrar to evaluate them against these add-on requirements. It is unlikely that any supplier registrations to TL 9000, other than from the pilot program, will be granted before the fourth quarter of 1999.

TL 9000 training

Only two training firms have been authorized by the QuEST Forum to provide the TL 9000 QSR and QSM training programs: EXCEL Partnership, Inc. and STAT-A-MATRIX/The Sam Group. In addition, the TL 9000 training course materials being used by these trainers are the only materials sanctioned by the QuEST Forum.

The courses will consist of a TL 9000 teaching lecture, coupled with case studies and workshops to allow participants to practice using the TL 9000 requirements and metrics. Proper understanding of the metrics and their application is so important to successful implementation of TL 9000 that all training--including auditor and implementation--will make reference to the metrics.

The QuEST Forum has no plans currently to monitor or accredit TL 9000 consulting services. Only the training courses will be authorized.

International participation

One of the QuEST Forum's goals for TL 9000 was that it become internationally accepted--improving the quality and reducing the cost of poor quality of telecommunications globally. But the majority of the work on the development of TL 9000 has taken place inside North American borders, conducted by service providers and their suppliers.

How important is it that TL 9000 be accepted globally? "Very important," explained Gene Hutchison, Pacific Bell senior manager of supplier quality management and QuEST Forum member. "Telecommunications is a global business--the suppliers are global suppliers. Suppliers and consumers will benefit the most from a harmonized standard that meets the industry's needs."

In addition, Hutchison explained that the QuEST Forum will benefit from the greater diversity international membership will bring to the table. "We had to start [the development of TL 9000] with the participants we had to bootstrap this effort. [However] we are actively soliciting international participants and want them to become involved as soon as possible."

For more information on the QuEST Forum and TL 9000, visit http://www.questforum.org, or contact Jeff Weitzer at (414) 765-8672.

JAMES P. GILDERSLEEVE is the publisher of THE INFORMED OUTLOOK, a monthly newsletter providing information and guidance on ISO 9000, QS-9000, ISO 14000, TL 9000, and other management system standards. He can be phoned at (703) 680-1436 or e-mailed at informintl@erols.com.

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