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ISO Standards: Frequently Asked Questions

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What is ISO?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies from more than 145 countries, with one body representing each country. ISO is a non-governmental organization established in 1947 and based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its mission is to promote the development of standardization and related activities in the world; to facilitate the international exchange of goods and services; and to develop cooperation in intellectual, scientific, technological and economic activity. ISO's work results in international agreements, which are published as International Standards and other types of ISO documents.

You will find an introduction to ISO in the About ISO section of ISO’s website.

What is a standard?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines a standard as a "document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides – for common and repeated use – rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities of their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context."

Standards can serve many purposes, including:

  • Determining the fitness of an object or process for a specific purpose or its compatibility and interchangeability with other objects or processes
  • Contributing to safety
  • Providing protections for the environment
  • Providing for product protections against climatic or other adverse conditions

More information on standardization from ISO, IEC, NIST, and ANSI:

What is a management systems standard (MSS)?

A management systems standard is what an organization does to manage its processes or activities so that the products or services that it produces meet the objectives it has set itself, such as:

  • Satisfying the customer's quality requirements
  • Complying with regulations
  • Meeting environmental objectives

The two best-known management systems standards are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

How does the ISO standards development process work?

ISO standards are developed according to the principles of industry-wide, voluntary consensus. This means the views of all interested parties are taken into account, including manufacturers, vendors and users, consumer groups, testing laboratories, governments, engineering professionals, and research organizations. Because the development process is industry-wide, standards are created to satisfy industries and customers worldwide. And because the process is voluntary, international standardization is market-driven and therefore based on voluntary involvement of all interests in the marketplace.

There are six stages of the ISO standards development process that can be summed up in three main phases:

  • New work item phase
    The need for a standard is usually expressed by an industry sector, which communicates this need to a national member body. This body then proposes the new work item to ISO as a whole. Once the need for an international standard has been recognized and formally agreed upon, the first phase of development focuses on defining the technical scope of the future standard. This stage is usually carried out in working groups that comprise technical experts from countries interested in the subject matter.
  • Consensus-building
    Once an agreement has been reached on which technical aspects are to be covered in the standard, the second phase is entered: Countries negotiate the detailed specifications within the standard. This is the consensus-building phase.
  • Formal approval
    The final phase culminates in the formal approval of the resulting draft International Standard – this must be approved by two-thirds of the ISO members that have participated actively in the standards development process, and by 75% of all members that vote. Finally, the agreed-upon text is published as an ISO international standard.

What are the benefits of ISO standards?

ISO standards add value to all types of businesses and business operations. They contribute to making the development, manufacturing, and supply of products and services more efficient, safer, and cleaner. They make trade between countries easier and fairer.

ISO standards also serve to safeguard consumers and users of products and services in general as well as to make their lives simpler.

For businesses, the widespread adoption of international standards means that suppliers can base the development of their products and services on reference documents that have broad market relevance. In other words, everyone is playing from the same rule book. This, in turn, means that businesses that adopt international standards are increasingly free to compete in markets around the world.

For customers, a product or service based on an international standard will be compatible with more products or services worldwide, which increases the number of choices available.

Each ISO national committee can adopt an international standard. When the U.S. believes in the usefulness of a standard, that standard goes through an adoption process to make it an American National Standard. When an ISO standard has been adopted by the United States, the international community knows that the United States supports the content of that standard.

To view the standards sold by ASQ and publications related to standards, visit the ASQ Store.

What are the IEC and the USNC/IEC?

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is an international standardization organization specializing in the electrical and electronic products field. The IEC charter embraces all electronic technologies, including electronics, magnetics and electromagnetics, electro-acoustics, multimedia, telecommunication, and energy production and distribution, as well as associated disciplines such as terminology and symbols, electromagnetic compatibility, measurement and performance, dependability, design and development, safety, and the environment.

The U.S. National Committee of the International Electrotechnical Commission (USNC/IEC) serves as the focal point for U.S. parties who are interested in the development, promulgation and use of globally-relevant IEC standard. The committee is also engaged in the assessment of conformance to IEC standards -- undertaking work in areas such as testing, certification, and accreditation.

The USNC's goal is to encourage and assist U.S. industries to effectively participate in the development of globally relevant IEC standards that facilitate international trade in all electro-technology fields. The USNC serves as the focal point, conduit and advocate for U.S. interests in international and regional electro-technical standards, conformity assessment, and other related matters. The USNC participates in almost the entire technical program of the IEC and administers many key committees and subgroups.

The USNC/IEC is a committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The institute provides administrative support to the USNC and its nearly 1,400 U.S. managerial, engineering, scientific and professional participants.

Learn more about ANSI’s and the USNC’s role in IEC.

How can I communicate with ISO or IEC?

The usual route to communicate with ISO or IEC is through the relevant ISO or IEC member body, such as ANSI or the USNC/IEC. Individuals who wish to communicate with ISO or IEC may join one or more U.S. Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs). There is one TAG for each ISO or IEC Technical Committee (TC) in which the ANSI or the USNC serves as a "Participating" ("P") Member. TAGs are composed of interested parties (companies, organizations, government agencies, etc.) that may be directly and materially affected by the work of a particular TC. The TAG process for developing U.S. positions on ISO and IEC standards and policies provides an opportunity for fair and equitable participation by all interested parties without dominance by any single interest.

How does a TAG relate to standards development?

A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) is a group of experts in a particular field. TAGs are actively involved in the creation of international standards. Their primary purpose is to develop and transmit the U.S. position on activities or draft standards of the appropriate ISO or IEC technical committees.

All TAG members attend two standards meetings in their country. Some TAG members also attend international meetings as U.S. delegates. At international meetings, documents that members hope will result in international standards are conceived, written, revised, distributed for review, revised again, and eventually submitted for publication.

Participation in a TAG is an opportunity for various U.S. stakeholders to help shape international standards that will influence how they do business globally. Participants have devoted many years to becoming experts in their fields and have a tremendous responsibility to protect their countries' trade and commercial interests.

TAGs are accredited by ANSI and must follow ANSI procedures, including the Model Operating Procedures for U.S. Technical Advisory Groups to ANSI for ISO Activities.

ANSI has delegated the administration of these Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) to ASQ:

  • ISO/TC 176 on quality management
  • ISO/TC 207 on environmental management
  • ISO/TC 69 on statistical applications
  • ISO/TC 279 on innovation management
  • ISO/PC 302 on auditing management systems

Anyone with a material interest in the work of a particular TAG is welcome to participate.

What does the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176 do?

In the United States, TAG 176 develops the U.S. positions on ISO/TC 176, which covers quality management and quality assurance.

Delegates selected by the TAG actively participate in all activities of ISO/TC 176, including the development of ISO standards in quality terminology, quality systems, and quality technology. Participation in TAG 176 provides an opportunity for representatives of all affected U.S. constituencies (industry, commerce, education, etc.) to influence the development of international quality standards, which have become a foundation of international trade.

The vision of ISO/TC 176 is that through worldwide acceptance and use, the ISO 9000 family of standards will provide an effective means for improving the performance of individual organizations. This, in turn, will make people and organizations more confident that goods and services will meet their expectations, thereby enhancing trade, global prosperity, and individual well-being.

Apply to join TAG 176 (DOC).

What does the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 207 do?

In the United States, the TAG to ISO/Technical Committee (TC) 207 (TAG 207) develops the U.S. positions on ISO/TC 207 on environmental management. The TAG also administers ballots associated with ISO/TC 207.

TAG 207 consists of experts and practitioners in the field of environmental management. Delegates selected by TAG 207 actively participate in all activities of ISO/TC 207 including the development of ISO standards related to environmental management systems, environmental auditing, environmental performance evaluation, and "greenhouse gas management and related matters." Participation in TAG 207 provides an opportunity for representatives of all affected U.S. constituencies (industry, commerce, NGO, education, government, etc.) to influence the development of international environmental standards that have become a foundation of international trade.

ISO/TC 207's vision is the worldwide acceptance and use of the ISO 14000 series of standards, which will provide an effective means to improve the environmental performance of organizations and their products, facilitate world trade, and ultimately contribute to sustainable development.

The scope of the committee is: "standardization in the field of environmental management tools and systems."

ISO/TC 207 does not set limit levels or performance criteria for operations or products; instead, its activities are based on the philosophy that improving management practices is the best way to improve the environmental performance of organizations and their products.

Apply to join TAG 207 (DOC).

What does the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 69 do?

In the United States, TAG 69 develops the U.S. positions on international standardization activities of ISO/TC 69 on applications of statistical methods.

The scope of ISO/TC 69: Standardization in the application of statistical methods, including generation, collection (planning and design), analysis, presentation and interpretation of data. Valid statistical inferences can be drawn only from data that satisfies specific assumptions.

Statistical standards provide standard methods for collection of data and statistical analysis and interpretation of that data by stipulated criteria that have undergone the gauntlet of peer review by qualified experts and a critical system of due process for adoption as international standards.

Subcommittees under TC 69 work on standards in:

  • Terminology and symbols
  • Application of statistical methods in standardization
  • Statistical process control
  • Acceptance sampling
  • Measurement methods and results

The newest subcommittee will devote its time to developing statistical techniques for the Six Sigma community.

Delegates selected by the TAG actively participate in the international activities of ISO/TC 69. Participation in TAG 69 provides an opportunity for representatives of all affected U.S. constituencies (industry, commerce, non-governmental organization (NGO), education, government, etc.) to influence the development of international environmental standards that have become a foundation of international trade.

Apply to join TAG 69 (DOC).

What does the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 279 do?

In the United States, TAG 279 develops the U.S. positions on international standardization activities of ISO/TC 279: Innovation management. The scope of ISO/TC 279 is standardization of terminology, tools and methods, and interactions between relevant parties to enable innovation.

Apply to join TAG 279 (DOC).

What does the U.S. TAG to ISO/PC 302 do?

In the United States, TAG 302 develops the U.S. positions on international standardization activities of ISO/PC 302: Guidelines for auditing management systems. The scope of ISO/PC 302 is standardization in the field of guidelines for auditing management.

Apply to join TAG 302 (DOC).

For help with addressing a specific issue or question, email the ASQ Standards Team at standards@asq.org.

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