Quality Writ Small

Innovation in government is usually considered an oxymoron. Yet in New Mexico, a unique, proactive state program is helping small businesses improve and win new customers by becoming certified to ISO 9001.

NM 9000 is part of the state’s Economic Development Department. Since its inception in 2000, the program has trained 110 companies on implementing ISO 9001. Of those, 25 have become certified at a cost of only $500 to $3,000 (a sliding scale depending on revenues), plus registrar fees. This compares with the $120,000 spent on average by most companies seeking ISO 9001 certification, according to the Automotive Industry Action Group’s fourth annual quality survey report (1998).

NM 9000 is not just a feel-good program helping one segment of the state’s economy. According to the 2000 census, 87.3% of New Mexico’s 42,686 businesses have fewer than 20 employees each. Finding ways to support those organizations is vital to the state’s economy and its citizens’ well-being. Initiatives like NM 9000 play a big part: The companies that have participated to date have created more than 750 expansion jobs (see p. 37).

Other aids to help small businesses implement quality exist. For example, experts from the United States have developed a supplement to ISO 19011:2002, the quality and environmental management system auditing standard. One major role of the supplement is to guide small to mid-sized organizations in using the standard (see p. 25).

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award includes a category specifically for small businesses. Though many recipients of the award have spent big dollars on the effort, other organizations have been able to significantly improve their performance simply by implementing the Baldrige criteria. Those criteria also form the foundation of many state quality programs, which often offer affordable ways for organizations of all sizes and economic models to strive for improvement. (For example, ASQ headquarters uses the Wisconsin Forward Award program to better practice what we preach.)

Small businesses employ about half the U.S. private sector workforce and produce about half its economic output (according to The Small Business Advisory: 2005 from the U.S. Small Business Administration, www.sba.gov/advo/research/sb_econ2005.pdf). In many other countries, small businesses probably comprise an even higher portion of the economy.

Yet we often hear how difficult and expensive it is for smaller organizations to implement quality methodologies, let alone use quality as the foundation for organizational excellence. Is this perhaps why it isn’t as pervasive throughout the business world as we all believe it should be?

The more the quality community can help small businesses improve, the better for everyone.

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