The Challenges TL 9000 Requirements

New interpretations, lack of objective evidence can cause difficulties

by Sandford Liebesman

TL 9000, the telecommunications quality management system standard, presents several auditing challenges. A derivative of ISO 9000, TL 9000 is defined in two handbooks: a requirements handbook called Book 11 and a metrics handbook called Book 2.2

Book 1 contains ISO 9001 plus TL 9000's 83 added requirements (called adders). Book 2 contains 11 families of measurements (metrics).

TL 9000 presents auditing challenges because many of the added requirements demand interpretations that are new to ISO 9000 auditors, and the auditing of metrics is a completely new experience for them. In addition, it is difficult to find objective evidence for some of the requirements.

Key supplements to ISO 9001:1994
The Quality Excellence for Suppliers of Telecommunications (QuEST) Forum, which manages TL 9000, expanded on the current ISO 90013 requirements by taking the following steps:

  • Placing more emphasis on top management responsibilities.
  • Increasing the focus on proper/robust planning, including quality planning, project planning, configuration management planning, product planning, life cycle planning and test planning.
  • Adding requirements for customer-supplier communication.
  • Adding requirements emphasizing quality improvement and customer satisfaction.
  • Adding requirements covering specialized servicing functions.
  • Adding requirements related to metrics, including defining targets, tracking data, reporting data to a central database and using data to foster continual quality improvement.
  • Using the word "should" to indicate the preferred approach. Suppliers choosing other approaches must be able to demonstrate that their approach meets the intent of TL 9000. These adders are referred to as "should adders."

Auditing challenges
The major challenges faced by auditors have to do with the items identified as key supplements to ISO 9001:1994.

For the first supplement, more emphasis on top management responsibilities, adder 4.21.1.C.3 requires more management visibility in communicating supplier performance feedback to the company work force. This requirement has caused management to be concerned with revealing proprietary information and airing dirty laundry to associates. In some organizations, leaders communicate through monthly or quarterly meetings and newsletters summarizing customer satisfaction data, thus providing some objective evidence.

Another adder in this category, management commitment (4.21.2.C.1), requires executive involvement in establishing and maintaining customer relations. This adder may be difficult to audit because executives often do not document their customer interactions.

For the second key supplement, an increased focus on proper/robust planning, six adders require prescriptive planning processes:

1. Project planning (4.4.2.C.1).

2. Test planning (4.4.2.C.2).

3. End of life planning (4.4.2.C.3).

4. Migration planning (4.4.2.S.4).

5. Integration planning (4.4.2.S.3).

6. Long- and short-term planning (4.2.3.C.2).

A seventh adder, 4.2.2.C.1, requires a life cycle model that covers the development, operation, maintenance and disposal of the supplier's products. These seven adders are difficult to audit because they are should adders, which allow the organization to deviate from the requirements as long as the intent is met.

The third key supplement is a requirement for customer-supplier communication in adder 4.21.2.C.2, which notes that a supplier with a large number of customers does not have to use the same level of communication with every customer.

This adder links to two other elements: 4.2.3.C.1 (customer involvement) and 4.2.3.C.3 (subcontractor input). Experience shows that it is difficult to find objective evidence that demonstrates compliance. Examples of evidence are meetings of suppliers with customers, including the contents of discussions, stated product quality goals and objectives, supporting documentation from key subcontractor meetings and follow-up action items from these meetings.

The fourth key supplement is the emphasis on quality improvement and customer satisfaction in adder element 4.21. The standard links quality improvement to setting objectives for metrics in 4.1.1.C.1, quality objectives.

Since the metrics measure parameters that directly affect products and services, meeting the objectives should improve customer satisfaction. However, some objectives are based on field performance data (4.21.3.H.1), which may be difficult to gather because many customers use third-party repair houses. Data relating to findings of no trouble are often not recorded, and finally, collecting and analyzing customer satisfaction data (4.21.3.C.1) may be difficult.

The fifth key supplement is the set of added customer servicing requirements included in element 4.19. Many of these adders are linked to other elements, making them difficult to audit:

  • Element 4.19.C.2 (service resources) is linked to 4.18 (training).
  • Element 4.19.C.3 (notification about problems), 4.19.C.4 (problem severity), 4.19.C.5 (problem escalation) and 4.19.H.1 (supplier's recall process) all link to 4.14.2 (corrective action).
  • Element 4.19.HS.2 (problem resolution configuration management) links to 4.8 (problem identification and traceability).

The final key supplement focuses on metrics and their related requirements. Auditors may have issues with metrics objectives (4.1.1.C.1) because it is difficult to set objectives for some metrics, such as the number of problem reports. Others such as fix response time and on-time delivery are easier.

It is also difficult to audit the 11 metrics being reported to the University of Texas at Dallas, the repository for TL 9000 measurement data, because metrics are a new concept to most auditors.

Approved metrics
Eleven metrics in four categories were approved by the QuEST Forum as follows:4

  • Those common to hardware, software and services including the number of problem reports, problem report fix response time, overdue fix responsiveness, system outage measurement and on-time delivery.
  • Return rates, which are related only to hardware.
  • Corrective patch quality, feature patch quality, software update quality and release application aborts, which are related only to software.
  • Service quality for categories such as installation, maintenance, repair, and call center or support services.

Using metrics to improve quality
TL 9000 is unique in its use of metrics to determine the quality level of products and services and to encourage continual quality improvement.

This extension of ISO 9000 into metrics is expected to result in an industry drive to improve overall quality. Certainly, when suppliers know where their products stand relative to the competition and customers know the quality level of best in industry, there will be a drive by all suppliers to improve.

Auditors will need to establish that the metrics being used are those that are required for the products covered by the scope of the quality management system. They will need to assure that the data collection methods satisfy Book 2 requirements, establish the reasonableness of the data, look for records of submittal as objective evidence and look for evidence that the metrics were used in quality improvement.

One final note: Because the new TL 9000 requirements are much more detailed than those of ISO 9001, auditing the telecommunication standard takes much more time than auditors usually estimate.


The following auditors assisted with this article by providing information on their TL 9000 experiences: Mike Harder of LRQA, Desmond O'Loughlin of NSAI and Pete Ortolani of Telcordia.


1. TL 9000 Quality System Requirements, Book 1, Release 2.5 (Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press, 1999).

2. TL 9000 Quality System Metrics, Book 2, Release 2.5 (Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press, 1999).

3. Quality Systems--Model for Quality Assurance in Design/Development, Production, Installation and Servicing, ISO 9001:1994, second edition (Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization, 1994).

4. TL 9000 Quality System Requirements (see reference 1).

SANDFORD LIEBESMAN is ISO manager for corporate quality and customer satisfaction at Lucent Technologies. He is a member of ISO/Technical Committee 176 for ISO 9000 and the QuEST Forum for TL 9000. He is also a Registrar Accreditation Board certified lead auditor, a certified TL 9000 lead auditor and author of the book Using ISO 9000 to Improve Business Processes. He is also co-author of the forthcoming ASQ Quality Press book TL 9000: A Guide for Measuring Excellence in Telecommunications.

Letter to 'QP' standards columnists
Our institution received certification to ISO 9002 in July 2000. We are now working for Environment Management Systems certification to the ISO 14000 series of environmental management system standards.

Please let us know whether we should follow the year 2000 revision if we are likely to be ready for ISO 14000 certification by about May 2001. Is there any material that we can download free of charge on this subject?

Director/quality assurance and management
Periyar Maniammai College of Technology for Women
Vallam, Thanjavur, India

I would advise organizations to use ISO 9001:2000 in this situation. You should, of course, obtain a copy of the new standards (ISO 9000:2000, 9001:2000 and 9004:2000 dated December 15, 2000). The standards are available in the United States from ASQ by calling 800-248-1946. Those not in the United States may obtain copies from the International Organization for Standardization, known as ISO, or their national standards body. If ordering from a national body, check availability and shipment timing.

Information on implementation and transition to ISO 9001:2000 is available for free on the following Web sites:

John E. "Jack" West

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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