Focus Should Be Target, Not Tolerance

As a former machinist who made the move to quality more than 20 years ago, I enjoyed Charles Ellis’ February column (“Perfectionists Make Bad Machinists,” Quality in the First Person, p. 66). I also look back to the time and effort I put into making sure parts were correct.

But there is more to the story. As most people know, “correct” is usually defined by tolerances, both in manufacturing and service. As a conscientious machinist, I would make outside diameters to the high side and inside diameters to the low side. This gave me a larger margin for error and was more efficient.

In 1986, I saw a video of Peter Jessup, a quality associate at Ford, explaining Taguchi’s loss function. I also saw a video at about that time telling the story of Ford engines made in a Batavia, IL, plant compared to the same engines made in a Japanese plant.

Ford had noticed more warranty claims for the domestically produced engines and disassembled some to investigate. They found the domestic engines were within tolerance—but were at full tolerance. The engines produced in Japan only were using a small percentage of their allowable tolerance, and the difference showed in warranty, mileage and engine life.

This is when I began to understand that in spite of my good intentions and quality performance, I had contributed to unnecessary variation by working to tolerances instead of targets.

Unfortunately, we have still not adequately shifted from a tolerance to a target mentality. This is especially true in service industries.

Kelly Services
Troy, MI

February ‘Standards’ Demeans Consultants

In the informative article “Clarifying the Intent of ISO 14001” by Susan L. K. Briggs in the February 2006 issue (Standards Outlook, p. 76), the following statement appears: “Do you think your only avenue to reconcile these issues is a pricey consultant? Think again.”

Unwarranted statements disparaging consultants appear all too frequently in articles providing advice and guidance. I’m not sure why this occurs, but it certainly is inappropriate from professionals in responsible positions.

Briggs chairs subtechnical advisory group (TAG) 1 of the U.S. TAG to TC 207, the committee responsible for the U.S. position on ISO 14001. Many consultants are and have been valuable contributors to this effort. (Yes, I am a consultant.)

The implication that consultants don’t provide value (“pricey”) or that a consultant would not reveal the online source of the clarifications without charging for that information demeans the consulting profession.

Technical Management Consulting
New Milford, NJ

Editor’s note: This letter received a particularly strong response on our online discussion board. Here is what other readers had to say:

I completely agree with Alan, and I’ll add the statement I’m sure he wanted to make but was too kind to include: A statement like that from a person in Briggs’ position was completely unprofessional.

Yes, I am also a consultant.

Innovative Management Technical Solution
Richland, WA

As a quality professional with 30 years of experience, I don’t find her statement all that offensive. Remem-ber all those total quality management consultants in the ‘80s?

Let’s face it—there were a lot of hacks out there who made quite a bundle of cash taking advantage of naive managers looking for “instant pudding.” The same goes for the ISO 9000 cottage industry. It does leave a bad taste in your month.

Of course, there are some really good consultants, too.

Syworks Solutions
Woburn, MA

There are good ones and bad ones in every field. Briggs’ statement was an indictment of the entire consultant community.


Before you jump all over Briggs for attacking consultants, look at it from a different perspective. I would read her comment only as a suggestion that hiring a consultant to do the job isn’t the first step. If a company has the capability to do the job internally, hiring even the most qualified consultant often is a bad business decision.

I have a foot in both worlds. Fluor pays much less for me as an internal employee than what they charge others when they hire me out.

Fluor Hanford
Pasco, WA

Certifying Half a Company: Is it Really Certification?

I would like to pose a question to our ISO 9001 experts. There appear to be many who read Quality Progress.

I am a consultant, and I often visit companies that have been ISO 9001 certified for many years. In numerous cases, I find only half the company is covered by the certification. Repeat-edly, I find the accounting department is not included and am typically told, “They get audited anyway.” When I ask who audits the CEO, I find the certification body auditor doesn’t even talk to the CEO.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some managers of a hotel chain and found each hotel to be certified but none of the chain’s central groups—including personnel, finance, business development, purchasing and administration (including internal auditing)—included.

This is by no means unusual, and it causes me to wonder what organizations believe they are gaining from the certification. I am also concerned about what their customers believe they are gaining, since they are paying to deal with certified companies.

Section 1.2 of ISO 9001 implies the whole business supplies customers. So, is operating with some pieces of the business included and others not while advertising ISO 9001 certification tantamount to fraud? Does omitting pieces of the business from the certification mean the senior executives consider those pieces not necessary for the business to supply customers with acceptable products?

These companies are not certified by little known or even unaccredited bodies. I see no difference between the practices of certification bodies approved by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service and ones that aren’t. Neither appear to demand certification include all pieces of a company. There must be some that do.

Do other consultants find this? Am I misunderstanding what ISO 9001 requires? Is this why we are seeing second-party audits becoming more popular as something likely to focus on value from suppliers?

Excel Partnership
Willaston, Nantwich
United Kingdom

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