Make Standards Simpler, Less Specific

I read the article "Why QS-9000 Was Developed and What's in Its Future" by R. Dan Reid (April 2000, p. 115) with great interest. I have worked for a Tier Two supplier for the past 20 years. I started as a press operator in a small rubber molding company and am now an industrial engineer at a small rubber manufacturer that has automotive and nonautomotive customers.

I thought that someone finally got it when I saw some of the headings in the article. "Auto suppliers were troubled by multiple specifications and standards" was the first heading to catch my eye. Finally we could establish policies and procedures that made sense to our company and satisfied our customers regardless of the industry.

The myriad quality programs devised by the Big Three automakers made life difficult for many small companies. Managers and production workers both thought that the required quality program du jour had a negative effect on their company's overall performance. Proponents of any initiative to improve performance know that having the support of the entire organization is the key to success. Force feeding the latest and greatest program to their suppliers sets the suppliers and the program up to fail. It took great vision on management's part to embrace these programs and offer the necessary support.

Obviously that was the exception and not the rule. I was a little surprised to learn that suppliers asked for QS-9000 accreditation. I thought we were asking for a simple system such as ISO 9000. ISO 9000 is nonspecific and allows an organization to conduct business in a way that makes sense for it, not in a way that just fulfills its customer's edict.

Maybe the next section, "Situation worse for Tier Two suppliers," held the key to change QS-9000 into something less dictatorial. It appears that ISO 9000 provided a glossary of terms for the Big Three so they could provide the world with a meaningful standard. This, of course, set the stage for other industries to follow suit. Small businesses with a diversified customer base are back in a familiar position; they must adhere to a separate standard for each section of their businesses.

The author states, "Given that ISO 9000 is considered inadequate as is ... ." When exactly did this become a given? What portion of the world thinks that ISO 9000 is inadequate? I did appreciate the fact that there was some recognition that lower tier suppliers could benefit from harmonization of the technical specifications. I don't like big standards because they try to govern every minute detail. More time and effort are expended trying to interpret the standard than in applying it. Perhaps that's why ISO 9000 has minimum requirements in many areas.

The article also contains several references to the final customer. I wasn't surprised to learn that the author is a General Motors employee because the references to the final customer always alluded to the auto manufacturer, not the customer. The realization that I am the final customer for the products we sell to the automakers occurred to me and my co-workers many years ago.

Standardization is of utmost importance in my job. I establish the standards that everyone is supposed to follow. I was glad that the author was able to recognize the final customer for the airplane manufacturers. Too bad the example didn't clarify why standardization is important. Instead, it did the opposite. There already was a standard for legroom in the airline industry. This was actually an example of someone finding a creative solution to a common problem. That's supposed to have less value than standardization, according to the author.

The reward systems the author discusses don't exist only within companies, but within society as well. Unites States citizens are independent; doing things differently is what made us great. The ability to perform a task differently from someone else and achieve the same end result is not opposed to standardization. As long as I perform the same every time, my process or procedure is standardized. Trying to mandate what I do and refining my requirements lessen the standardization of my process.

In order to help out, I am willing to let people know what I really want. After all, I am the final customer of the new QS-9000 standard. I am the one who will be using it. I am the one whose livelihood depends on the expense involved in compliance.

I want the standard to be simpler. I want it to be less specific. I want the "shalls" changed to "mays" in almost every instance. There are a lot of worthwhile requirements that I would like to know about so that I can choose whether or not to use them. Of course, I would also like an automobile that gets 50 mpg, lasts for 300,000 miles and costs less than $10,000.

Warren, OH 

Author's Response

One key point to remember is that QS-9000 was a harmonization of the existing supplier quality requirements of Chrysler, Ford and GM, using ISO 9001 as a format. It applies to productive and service parts and materials. This means it applies to a broad spectrum of organizations. Some echo Kelley's comments regarding the amount of detail prescription; however, others comment that they would like more detail and guidance.

As long as suppliers ship poor quality products to customers, there will likely be some prescriptive requirements in the automotive industry. At least companies in the automotive supply chain can work with one quality system that satisfies both ISO 9000 and most automotive customers.

ISO 9001 is inadequate as is, partially because it does not include the existing automotive requirements, at least from the mid-1980s on. It currently does not adequately address prevention or customer satisfaction and continuous improvement.

Some of the deficiencies in the current version of ISO 9001 will be addressed in ISO 9001:2000. This will allow for a reduction in the number of sector specific requirements with the next version of ISO 9000. One point in my article was that if sectors currently using an ISO 9000 based quality system would participate in a joint effort, the supply chains could achieve more benefits.

I take Kelley's point about the final customer, but we use final customer in the context of the automotive supply chain to refer to the original equipment manufacturer. The purchaser of our products is typically referred to as the end user.

The return referenced by Kelley was based on supplier input to the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG)/ASQ surveys. It was not return to the Big Three.

Finally, I don't agree with Kelley's interpretation of standardization. Operations should be standardized. This should mean that they are repeatable and reproducible. If everyone performed a job in a different manner and if things ever went wrong, it would be a very difficult problem to solve.

Waterford, MI 

ASQ Needs To Review Its Latest Actions

ASQ has developed an out of control condition. During the last six months to one year, ASQ has moved away from its normal operating range and taken particular actions that do not bode well. As a Fellow of the organization, I am writing to ask that the Board of Directors review the past and present actions of the Society for any abnormalities. If the board agrees with my observations, I expect it to take immediate corrective/preventive actions.

First, ASQ gave Fellows and others the opportunity to receive Six Sigma training at Mikel Harry's Six Sigma Academy at a reduced cost. Then we were provided with the October 2000 article in Quality Progress (Miles Maguire, "Cowboy Quality," p. 27) to extol the expertise of Harry and his Six Sigma Academy. This was a fine piece of marketing, hardly a technical or business expose on Six Sigma. Now we have a Six Sigma Academy/ASQ alliance sanctioned as the primary source for Six Sigma training. Someone at ASQ headquarters must believe that this is the only true source of Six Sigma knowledge.

ASQ certainly can and should suggest trainers and hire them to provide their services through the Society. Harry and the Six Sigma Academy may provide a suitable product, but they are not the only Motorola trained Black Belts who can provide this service. In fact, their material is 10-plus years behind some industries and reflects what was going on at Motorola and elsewhere in the early 1990s.

There are other Black Belts who trained at Motorola, and Motorola itself provides a training program for Six Sigma. There are Black Belts from G.E. and G.E. training that may be as good as or better than the products of the Six Sigma Academy. Other suppliers have excellent programs and advertise them in Quality Progress. Why has the Society selected the Six Sigma Academy as its training source? The marketplace has always been the best place to determine the competency of such training services, not the Society or its publications.

ASQ's primary mission is training and certifying quality professionals. Businesses, industries and government organizations depend on ASQ for certified professionals. That is why business advertisements for quality personnel carry the request for certified quality engineer (CQE), certified quality auditor (CQA), certified reliability engineer (CRE) or certified quality manager candidates. ASQ's business is certifying trained professionals.

The Green Belt level of Six Sigma training is no more, maybe less, rigorous than the certified quality technician (CQT) training. Likewise, Black Belt training is less rigorous than achieving CQE status. ASQ can add proof of money saving project results to its CQE certification process or develop a Black Belt certification process and provide its customers with certified professionals that will meet their needs.

This is ASQ's mission, and it can increase membership simply by training Green and Black Belt certified professionals. ASQ has failed to take the lead in this activity, and it has taken the wrong path by specifying a sole source for training. ASQ should take corrective and preventive actions.

The Society must stand for the highest technical and business ethics. Those responsible for this error in judgment should reassess their positions with ASQ. The Board of Directors and the certification boards must take action to rectify the situation or face a loss of confidence by the membership and customers.

CQA, ASQ Fellow
Beverly Hills, MI

Corrective, Preventive Actions Should Be Specifics

My experience over the past 30 years in quality systems and auditing results leads me to take a different approach to corrective and preventive action from those defined by P.K. Srivastava ("Answers to 'Preven-tive, Corrective Case Study,'" March 2000, p. 14). Srivastava defines corrective action as an action taken to prevent a reoccurrence. He defines preventive action as an action taken to prevent the occurrence of a nonconformance.

I believe that corrective action is the action taken to correct the identified nonconforming item(s). Preventive action is the action taken to prevent the specific nonconformance from recurring. In my understanding, both corrective and preventive action address a specific, identified nonconformance. I think Srivastava's definition of preventive action is the result of a quality system that focuses on continuous improvement.

Prevention of nonconformance is far less resource intense than recovering from a nonconformance. Well-defined and well-managed quality systems result in preventing nonconformances.

If a nonconformance occurs, the first step (corrective action) is to identify, control and either correct the existing condition to acceptable levels or dispose of the item. The second step (preventive action) is to determine the root cause of the nonconforming condition, and identify and implement steps to prevent the specific condition from recurring. In addition, the corrective and preventive actions should be specifics that can be assigned to a responsible person or function, tracked and measured to determine completion.

Wilmington, NC 

Chart In Article Presents An Impossibility

The chart that accompanies the article "You Just Print Checks, Right?" (James Bolek, March 2000, p. 101) is nothing short of astounding. It shows that, from December 1999 to January 2000, over a period of a single month, the average client retention period increased by almost 30 months. Without some severe paring away of newer customers, this is not possible.

Boise, ID 

Author's Response

I rechecked the numbers and they are correct. Length of retention is a statistical number that functions inversely with annual dollar losses. The number is calculated by dividing annualized dollar losses by annualized revenue. This produces an annual loss percentage. Calculate the inverse using the following equation: (100 / (100 x annual losses / annual revenue x (-1))) x 12.

ISO 9001 offered us the tool to help control our annual dollar losses. It helped shore up some areas that needed attention, and it cleared up our processes and procedures, thereby lowering that number.

We are also able to grow with a client as it grows. When a company grows, the variety and complexity of services it uses become greater. This, along with increased new client sales, will contribute to a larger annual revenue figure.

The combination of these three elements--preventing losses, a growing customer base and increasing new client sales--allows that number to grow. Plus, these are annualized numbers. For example, if you have a particularly poor month of performance (January 1999), you can make up for it 12 months later with a steady month of performance (January 2000).

Wyoming, MI 

ASQ's Statement of Ethics Has Some Serious Problems

The ASQ Statement of Ethics says, as quality practitioners we are, "To uphold and advance the honor and dignity of the profession, and in keeping with high standards of ethical conduct, I acknowledge that I will be honest and impartial, and will serve with devotion my employer, my clients and the public. ..." There are three serious problems with this statement that I want to bring to the attention of ASQ's membership:

1. According to www.dictionary.com, the word "devotion" means "1: ardent, often selfless affection and dedication, as to a person. 2: religious ardor or zeal; piety; especially feelings toward God appropriately expressed by acts of worship; devoutness. 3: feelings of ardent love. 4: commitment to some purpose. 5: willingness to serve God [syn: idolatry, veneration]." As such, the statement suggests that our employers, clients and public be equally served with religious zeal!

2. The second problem with the statement is the word "acknowledge." Can one succeed in ethical conduct by mere mental assent? If so, then how is such success measured? Against which standard? To what degree of devotion? Is the term "I will ..." referring to a future intent to fulfill, or is it referring to a personal commitment or desire? If the former is true, then how is it true? If the latter is true, then how is this commitment in line with the desire(s) of the author(s) of the standard(s)? How do we know?

3. The third problem arises from the plurality of the word "standard(s)." What standards are being referred to here? By context, they must be those standards given to us by our employers, clients and public. To whom are we accountable? To which standard? All of them?

These three problems cascade from each other to a single root cause. Using "five why" methodology, the reasoning goes like this: Why is there a problem with acknowledgement? Because devotion requires more than simple mental assent. Why is there a problem with devotion? Because devotion demands a singular focus in order to remain impartial. Why is there a problem with having more than one standard? Because the standard(s) is not defined. Without a relevant basis, a standard has no meaning or validity.

Is such a standard for ethical conduct available that has meaning, validity and a basis from which to benchmark? First, let's look at some supporting arguments for these allegations:

1. Devotion. Aside from the religious intonation of this word, its definitions all direct themselves to a single entity. If this devotion is to be impartial, then it must be towards just one. It is impossible to serve each party impartially.

2. Acknowledge. In order for a standard to be effective, it requires five elements--four of which require personal responsibility. The fifth requires the responsibility of the party who wrote the standard. You must personally:

  • Believe that the standard is effective.
  • Choose to follow that standard.
  • Commit yourself 100% to that standard.
  • Actively work out that standard.

The author must therefore be:

  • Believable.
  • Above reproach such that the standard and its author are a wise choice to follow.
  • Committed to enforcing the standard.
  • Actively enabling others to follow the standard.

Jesus quoted Isaiah, "With their lips they do worship me, but their hearts are far from me." The Round Tuit is a token many businesspeople like to keep on their desks as a humorous example of what happens when mere mental assent is the limit of execution. Companies that fail to fully execute due diligence during a sale, merger or acquisition forfeit the contract and all the rights and benefits associated with that standard.

3. Standards. During Israel's period of the judges, the nation was characterized in this way: "In those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes." With no singular leader, people set their own individual standards for morality. A multitude of standards is a recipe for disaster.

Suppose you work for a lower tier auto parts manufacturer with an international customer base. First, you must be registered to QS-9000. Then, according to QS-9000, you must also comply with any individual requirements of the Big Three.

However, each of your other customers wants you to comply with its standards. Soon your bookshelf is full of supplier manuals. What revision are you on? How many deviations do you request each year? You begin to wonder why your company didn't write a customer manual establishing a standard for the way it will do business, rather than the other way around. Are you able to keep up with all the changes?

Is there an answer to these problems? I believe there is. I also believe that the religious intonation in ASQ's statement is no accident. It is simply misdirected.

The First Commandment provides the only solution, stating, "You shall have no other gods before me." This document stands in the Supreme Court. Is there any other standard, tested over time, held up to legal scrutiny, manifested powerfully and experientially by millions of people, that is worthy to be posted, documented and followed? The Judeo-Christian work ethic, fully documented as a standard for all time in the Bible, is the answer. Anything else is idolatry.

Norristown, PA 


An incorrect address for the Second World Congress for Software Quality to be held September 25-29 in Japan appeared in the April 2000 issue of Quality Progress (p. 23). The correct address is www.juse.or.jp/e-renmei/2WCSQMAIN.htm.

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