Six Lessons Learned From QS-9000

by R. Dan Reid

My version of the old joke goes:

“When’s your birthday?” “Dec. 15.” “What year?” “Every year, so far.”

Last year’s birthday was especially memorable for me because QS-9000, which I helped write, expired that day after a more than 12-year run. The occasion provided a good chance to reflect.

It started in 1990. I had just been assigned to manage supplier development for (at that time) General Motors (GM) purchasing activities. My boss told me GM had started to work with Ford and Chrysler on common supplier quality requirements.

In the beginning, expectations surrounding automotive quality requirements harmonization were humble. A small original equipment manufacturer (OEM) task force had been assembled and given direction: “Keep it small, keep it focused and don’t spend a lot of money.”

There had never before been a common supplier quality document in the domestic automotive industry. Ford had Q101, on which its Q1 supplier recognition program was based. Chrysler had its supplier quality assurance manual. GM had standardized its North American supplier quality requirements in 1984 in Targets for Excellence (TFE), a full business standard with requirements for quality as well as cost, leadership, technology and delivery. TFE standardized more than 20 GM divisional supplier quality manuals.

As I recall, each OEM was satisfied with its own company specific approach at the time.

There was a June 1988 ASQ Automotive Division conference at which the then three purchasing vice presidents, Don Pais (GM), Clint Lauer (Ford) and Tom Stallkamp (Chrysler), heard from several tier one suppliers.

These supplier participants confirmed what supplier surveys of the day told us: that the supply base wanted a common quality standard from the Big Three. However, that would come in the future. First, there would be a series of common quality manuals: Production Part Approval Process, Measurement Systems Analysis, Statistical Process Control, Potential Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, and Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP).

We began discussing what a
common industry quality standard might look like. At the time, it was rumored that to do business in Europe in the near future, an ISO 9001 certificate would be required. We examined the content of the then current ISO 9001:1987 standard and found it lacking many automotive quality requirements. But nothing in it was particularly objectionable.

Given the concern about the rumored European requirement, we began mapping the OEM requirements against ISO 9001 to prepare for an eventual decision to pursue the common standard.

Lesson learned 1: A small, focused drafting committee with a wide iterative review and comment process is a very effective standards development method when committee members have the confidence of their organizations.

Abrupt Change in Direction

Lauer had predicted there would likely never be a common quality standard in the domestic automotive industry. He retired shortly thereafter and was replaced by Norm Ehlers, who declared we would have one within the year, given the prework completed.

The initial draft of the standard was done in a few months time and circulated for comment within the OEMs. A small supplier council assembled under the Automotive Industry Action Group. After several iterations of review, comment and revision, the domestic auto industry was about to see the first domestic quality standard bearing more than one company logo.

Lesson learned 2: When the voice of the executive and the voice of the customer are aligned, meeting or exceeding customer expectations is possible, sometimes with game changing results.

Delivering the Automotive Industry to ISO 9000

I remember task force members meeting with the late Larry Eicher and his International Organization for Standardization (ISO) headquarters staff in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss a royalty agreement for use of ISO 9000.

ISO staff had quoted us a price for up to 5,000 copies, which at that time was the maximum number on its sales literature. We asked for a quote on 100,000 to an unlimited number of copies. Their body language alone led us to believe the ISO 9000 ship had come in that day.

A key advantage to the OEMs in migrating to ISO 9000 was the ability to use third parties for quality system assessments , which allowed the OEMs to redeploy internal resources to more value added work, such as APQP activities with suppliers.

A key advantage for tier one suppliers was that a single assessment would now be recognized by most of their customers, avoiding multiple and largely redundant audits of supplier locations.

The bigger benefit was the subsequent migration of thousands of tier one supplier requirements from company specific ones to the common industry requirements, giving the supply chain a common language for quality and a largely common set of fundamental requirements. Other industrial sectors would soon also see the introduction of sector specific ISO 9000 based supplier requirements.

Lesson learned 3: The best deal is a win-win-win deal. Some things are just worth standardizing.

There’s No Place Like Home for Sectors

There has been a fair amount of criticism of ISO 9000 over the years—some deserved. What must be re-
membered is that ISO 9000 is a consensus standard adopted by many countries, some of which make compliance mandatory.

As with any consensus document, ISO 9001 is the lowest common denominator agreement of all parties. It contains only requirements that all parties can live with rather than being a stretch tool to drive world class improvement. Sector specific documents, such as QS-9000, can fill this need more effectively because there are fewer players involved in reaching consensus.

Also, what we discovered in later developmental work with the European OEMs on TS 16949, the international automotive technical specification document that replaced QS-9000, is that the automotive business has a lot of similarity at the fundamental quality system level. Competitive advantage seems to be more dependent on deployment and implementation.

Lesson learned 4: Sector specific standards are, and will continue to be, an integral part of the global ISO 9000 portfolio going forward if the ISO 9000 series is to continue to grow.

What to Call It

We decided early on that an agreeable label for the automotive standard would be “quality system requirements.” The draft was tentatively called “QSR” for short, but we soon discovered that acronym was already taken. Initial launch was delayed until the ISO 9000:1994 version was available. Given that it was based on ISO 9000, we agreed on the name

The label “quality system require-ments” fit well because most GM TFE cost, leadership and technology requirements were deleted. They remained largely absent from OEM requirements until last year when GM revised its potential supplier assessment, which returned some full business assessment criteria to the traditional quality system requirements.

The loss of the equity in the QS-9000 name, now recognized globally across sectors, may be the biggest short-term loss resulting from the migration to an ISO document, but there is a bigger trade-off.

Going Global

No sooner than QS-9000 hit the streets in August 1994 than the OEMs became interested in applying the new standard to their European operations. Another version was quickly prepared and released for global distribution six months later.

The Chrysler, Ford and GM logos were removed from the cover and inside pages so suppliers and other OEM divisions such as Holdens and Opel could use it with their suppliers.

Changing QS-9000 requirements involved significant education and coordination among a number of trainers, certification and accreditation bodies, and suppliers in a number of languages. So the OEMs made a concerted effort to limit QS-9000 revisions going forward.

Instead, sanctioned interpretations were implemented to address common questions during the QS-9000 launch and to minimize variation in interpretations by auditors and certification bodies—a concern from the beginning.

The QS-9000 third (and final) edition was not released until 1998. It incorporated the sanctioned interpretations issued to date and provided for reciprocal recognition between the Big Three and the European OEMs for the first time as an interim step on the way to the release of ISO TS 16949.

Lesson learned 5: The third-party conformity assessment system alone cannot provide customers with adequate assurances of consistent product quality from certified organizations, but it can still be a good entry requirement for potential new suppliers. Automotive OEMs need additional measures to ensure suppliers are meeting expectations.

Collateral Damage

One of the common QS-9000 deliverables was the tooling and equipment (TE) supplement. Many processes are tooling dominant, meaning the quality is in the tool.

This document is also obsolete. Tooling suppliers now have to use ISO 9001:2000 or a company specific standard. Going forward, it is hoped the TE learnings from the last decade or so will be captured for organizational memory by a significant number of those suppliers.

Another problem with the migration from QS-9000 to an ISO document was the customer specific requirements. ISO does not make provision for company requirements in its documents. Hence, many of these were migrated to the customer-supplier quality websites, which now have to be consulted in association with an ISO TS 16949 certification.

Back to the Future

I have read with curiosity articles contrasting QS-9000 with ISO TS 16949. Many cite the process approach adopted by ISO 9001:2000 as a major change. Clearly this represents a change in the way requirements are organized in the manual.

It is less clear that it represents a fundamental change in how an audit should be carried out. While there was a QSA document, or sanctioned checklist, which was mandatory for third-party certification to be a recognized process, there was no expectation that the order of the audit had to follow the order of the checklist.

Effective auditing has always re-quired an understanding of the management system and its processes. Efficient auditing has always been done by covering all applicable requirements while in an area instead of jumping around to follow a checklist.

A subset of the quality system audit is the control plan audit, which is a process audit. OEMs have performed control plan audits for years and used similar methodology for system audits.

The use of the QSA checklist was mandated to drive a consistency in the breadth of all the audits to reduce auditor variation and ensure a minimum scope for all audits.

Another frequently mentioned difference is the new focus on customer satisfaction. QS-9000 clause 4.1.6 clearly established this from the beginning and included all customers—internal, external and final.

The initial version of ISO TS 16949 was drafted using QS-9000, third edition, as the starting point. Much text remained intact or largely unchanged in the initial ISO TS 16949 version. The second revision to ISO TS 16949 involved a cut and paste exercise to relocate the additional automotive requirements to align with the new ISO 9001:2000 outline. Some editing was also incorporated.

The more revolutionary change has been in third-party auditing, driven by changes in auditor training intended to make the intent of the requirements more explicit.

Lesson learned 6: The content and intent of the requirements has been largely stable and consistent from 1994 to the present, at least for the domestic automotive industry.

The sun has set on QS-9000, but the bulk of its requirements are likely to see a second decade or to never become obsolete. For me, that just makes every Dec. 15 what I call a Washington, DC, birthday. Like much that happens in our nation’s capital, if anyone notices the event, I lie about it, cover it up and pretend it never happened.

R. DAN REID, an ASQ fellow and certified quality engineer, is a purchasing manager at General Motors Powertrain. He is co-author of the three editions of QS-9000 and ISO/TS 16949; the Chrysler, Ford, GM Advanced Product Quality Planning With Control Plan; Production Part Approval Process and Potential Failure Modes and Effects Analysis manuals; ISO 9001:2000; and ISO IWA 1. Reid also was the first delegation leader of the International Automotive Task Force.

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