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ISO Standards

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 or for 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

A common MSS operating principle is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.

The two most popular MSS are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

The ISO 9000 family of standards addresses quality management. This means what the organization does to fulfill:
—the customer's quality requirements, and
—applicable regulatory requirements, while aiming to
—enhance customer satisfaction, and
—achieve continual improvement of its performance in pursuit of these objectives.

The ISO 14000 family addresses environmental management. This means what the organization does to:
—minimize harmful effects on the environment caused by its activities, and to
—achieve continual improvement of its environmental performance.

Some customers ask that their vendors maintain certification to ISO 9001 or ISO 14001. Some industries must be certified to adhere to government mandates, while others seek certification as proof that organizational operations are effectively controlled. Certification can enhance an organization’s global customer base, allowing it to reach new markets.

Most sectors of the economy have specific needs. To address these specific needs, many industries have their own version of ISO 9001. For instance, the automotive industry has ISO/TS 16949:2009.

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

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.

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.

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.

For help with addressing a specific issue or question, email the ASQ Standards Team at [email protected].

What is a technical report (TR)?

Accredited standards developers such as ASQ publish technical reports (TRs) for optional use in conjunction with American National Standards. Often informational or tutorial in nature, TRs offer methods for the application of an American National Standard. 
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) undertakes the registration of TRs to encourage their widespread use and acceptance, as well as use of the related American National Standards.
All material contained in a TR that has been registered with ANSI is informational in nature. A TR may include, for example, technical research, tutorials, factual data obtained from a survey carried out among standards developers and/or national bodies, or information on the "state-of–the-art" developments in relation to standards of national or international bodies on a particular subject.
TRs may not to be used as a way to circumvent the regular consensus process for approval of an American National Standard. 

How do technical reports differ from standards?

Unlike International Standards and American National Standards, TRs:
  • Do not necessarily reflect a consensus opinion.
  • Can be published without a public comment period.
  • May contain multiple viewpoints.
  • Can be developed in as little as six to eight weeks, once the writing is complete.
  • Are developed through the ASQ Accredited Standards Committee Z1s or Standards Committees, not U.S. Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs).

How are technical reports developed?

Technical reports may be originated from the ANSI standards development process. A TR might be based on an initial working draft for a standard to be developed, or it may present information that was considered for, but not included in, a published standard. TRs can also be developed to address issues related to a different document's application, such as industry-specific needs or unique circumstances faced by different segments of users.
Technical reports are reviewed every three years to assess their ongoing relevance and validity.
Writing teams consist of standards and industry experts who are both ASQ members and non-members.

Standard Development Acronyms

ANS - American National Standard
American National Standard

The equivalent of an international standard that has been adopted within the United States. (One standard can be both.)
ANSI - American National Standards Institute
American National Standards Institute

Oversees the creation, promulgation and use of thousands of norms and guidelines that directly impact businesses in nearly every sector. ANSI is also actively engaged in accrediting programs that assess conformance to standards – including globally recognized cross-sector programs such as the ISO 9000 (quality) and ISO 14000 (environmental) management systems.
AO - Accredited Organization

Accredited Organization

Organizations that are accredited by ANSI to develop standards and guidelines – following procedures that ensure openness, balance, and equity.

ASC - Accredited Standards Committee

Accredited Standards Committee

Another term for organizations accredited by ANSI to develop standards and guidelines – following procedures that ensure openness, balance, and equity.

ASQ - American Society for Quality

American Society for Quality

The world’s largest member organization devoted to quality. (In other words, us!)

BSR - Board of Standards Review

Board of Standards Review

The ANSI board that reviews standards and related ballots submitted to ANSI for approval as an American National Standard (ANS).

CAG - Chairman’s Advisory Group

Chairman’s Advisory Group

This group identifies issues, holds preliminary discussions on how to address them, and through the Chair of a specific Technical Committee (TC), makes recommendations to the whole committee.

CD - Committee Draft

Committee Draft

An early step toward the development of a new standard: After a committee has created a New Work Item Proposal (NWIP) and a Working Draft (WD), a Committee Draft (CD) is available and distributed to all committee members (Participating, Observer, and Liaison members) for comments and for voting (only Participating members can vote). Once consensus has been attained, the text is finalized for submission as a Draft International Standard (DIS).

CDV - Committee Draft for Vote

Committee Draft for Vote

When the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) drafts an international standard, the draft is called a CDV. It's the equivalent of a Draft International Standard (DIS) drafted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

DIS - Draft International Standard

Draft International Standard

After the Committee Draft has been approved, the Draft International Standard (DIS) is circulated to all member bodies for voting and comment for a period of five months. At the DIS stage, the document becomes publicly available (although it is not free of charge) and can be used for normative purposes.

DTA - Deputy Technical Advisor

Deputy Technical Advisor

Within the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), this is the title of the vice chair of a Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

EMS - Environmental Management System

Environmental Management System

This is a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to reduce its environmental impacts and increase its operating efficiency.

FDIS - Final Draft International Standard

Final Draft International Standard

The Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) is submitted to ISO for circulation to all ISO member bodies for a final two-month Yes/No vote. After approval, the document becomes an International Standard (IS).

IEC - International Electrotechnical Commission

International Electrotechnical Commission

The world's leading organization that prepares and publishes International Standards for electrical, electronic, and related technologies (electrotechnologies).

ISO - International Organization for Standardization

International Organization for Standardization

ISO is the world's largest developer and publisher of International Standards. It's a network of the national standards institutes of 157 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system.

By the way, "ISO" is not an acronym – it stems from the Greek word "isos," meaning "equal."

NWIP - New Work Item Proposal

New Work Item Proposal

Part of the development of an International Standard is to confirm that a particular International Standard is needed. A new work item proposal (NWIP) is submitted for vote by the members of the relevant Technical Committee (TC) or Subcommittee (SC) to determine if the work item should be included in the group's work program.

PINS - Project Initiation Notification System

Project Initiation Notification System

When an accredited standards developer begins work on a new standard, this new activity is formally announced to ANSI using this system.

PL - Project Leader

Project Leader

ISO standards are first drafted by a Working Group (WG), which is a small sub-group of content experts. The Project Leader is responsible for the duties of the WG.

QA - Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance

QA is the activity of providing evidence needed to establish quality principles in work, assuring the activities are performed effectively.

QM - Quality Management

Quality Management

QM is all activities of the overall management function that determine the quality policy, objectives and responsibilities of an organization, and facilitate implementation by means such as quality control and quality improvements within a quality system.

SC - Subcommittee


A smaller group within a Technical Committee (TC). The scope of a subcommittee is defined by the parent TC and is related to the defined scope of the parent TC.

SDO - Standards Developing Organization

Standards Developing Organization

An organization accredited by ANSI to develop either international or national standards.

SGC - Standards Group Council

Standards Group Council

The SGC is a council comprised of the chairs of each of the standards committees administered by ASQ.

SPC - Strategic Planning Committee

Strategic Planning Committee

Under the direction of the chair and vice chair of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the SPC charts the future direction of the TAG and deals with strategic TAG issues. This standing committee consists of the TAG Chair, TAG Vice Chairs, TAG Secretary, the ASQ Administrator, two to four TAG participating members, and at the discretion of the TAG Chair, liaison members from related organizations (such as the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 207).

SMB - Standardization Management Board (IEC)

Standardization Management Board (IEC)

The Standardization Management Board (SMB) is responsible for the management of the IEC’s standards work, including the creation, dissolution, and scopes of the IEC technical committees , the timeliness of standards production, and liaisons with other international organizations. The SMB is a decision-making body and includes a chairman, the IEC General Secretary and 15 members (and alternates) elected by council. It reports all its decisions to the Council Board and to all national committees.

SR - Social Responsibility

Social Responsibility

ASQ believes that being "socially responsible" means that people and organizations must behave ethically and with sensitivity toward social, cultural, economic and environmental issues. Striving for social responsibility helps individuals, organizations and governments have a positive impact on development, business and society with a positive contribution to bottom-line results.

ISO is currently developing the first international standard on SR (ISO 26000).

TA - Technical Advisor

Technical Advisor

Term used in IEC TAGs, equivalent to Chair.

TAG - Technical Advisory Group

Technical Advisory Group

In the United States, each ISO/TC has a national equivalent, known as a TAG. The TAG is comprised of the U.S. experts who offer input to the ISO/TC.

TC - Technical Committee

Technical Committee

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the specialized international agency for standardization. Its members are the national standards bodies of more than 150 countries. ISO is made up of approximately 180 Technical Committees. Each Technical Committee (TC) is responsible for a specialized topic.

TG - Task Group

Task Group

TGs within a U.S. TAG are chartered by the TAG chair to complete a specific assignment or task. Task Group experts often are, but need not be, members of the TAG or the ANSI ASC Z1 Committee. Upon completion of the task, the Task Group is dissolved.

TGC - Task Group Coordinator

Task Group Coordinator

TGCs have overall responsibility for leading and managing the completion of a specific task. For TAG-related responsibilities, this typically includes leading and managing United States participation in the development of an international standard.

TMB - Technical Management Board (ISO)

Technical Management Board (ISO)

ISO’s technical work is carried out under the overall management of the TMB. The TMB reports to the ISO Council and its role is defined in the statutes of the organization.

Specifically, the TMB is responsible for tasks such as setting up the various technical committees (TCs), appointing TC chairs, and monitoring the progress of the technical work. It's also responsible for the Directives, which are essentially the rules for the development of International Standards, and it deals with all matters of strategic planning, coordination, performance, and monitoring of technical committee activities.

TR - Technical Report

Technical Report

Accredited standards developers such as ASQ publish technical reports (TRs) for optional use in conjunction with American National Standards (ANS). Often informational or tutorial in nature, TRs offer methods for the application of an ANS.

WD - Working Draft

Working Draft

At this stage, a project leader (PL) is responsible for the new work item (NWI). The working draft is usually prepared in a WG of experts under the leadership of a convener and a project leader (PL). The convener is responsible for convening the WG. The PL is responsible for driving the deliverable: that is, ensuring the draft is completed.

Successive working drafts may be considered until the WG is satisfied that it has developed the best technical solution to the problem being addressed. This is the consensus-building phase among experts.

Once consensus has been attained, the text is finalized for submission to the WG's TC/SC as a Committee draft (CD).

WG - Working Group (international usage); Writing Group (national committee usage)

Working Group (international usage)
Writing Group (national committee usage)

A working draft (WD) is usually prepared in a WG of experts under the leadership of a convener and a project leader (PL).

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