Quality & ISO 9000 International Standards of Excellence
How do you measure Success? Quality is one yardstick that businesses and customers alike may choose. Whether a company calls it Total Quality Management (TQM), Total Quality Control (TQC), or by some other designation, all such programs aim to improve operating processes, products and services. But quality can be a very subjective judgment. Your idea of what constitutes quality service, for instance, may be very different from that of the clerk who serves you at the grocery store. And the grocery store in Boston may have a different standard of quality than the grocery store in Los Angeles or London.
That's where ISO 9000 fits in. The term refers to a series of universal standards that define a "Quality Assurance" system developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and adopted by 90 countries around the world. National standards representatives from more than 100 countries comprise the ISO. Its goal is to promote the international exchange of goods and services around the world, and to encourage worldwide cooperation in intellectual, scientific, technological and economic arenas.
To gain ISO 9000 registration, a company must meet certain standards for quality assurance in its operations, as certified by a third-party registration agency. The quality assurance system, not the product or service itself, achieves the registration. An ISO 9000 registration says to customers: This company has a system in place to insure that any product or service it sells will consistently meet international standards of quality.
Companies that gain ISO 9000 registration often benefit from reduced customer complaints, reduced operating costs and increased demand for their product or services. Although manufacturing industries first led the charge toward quality assurance, the ISO 9001 standard does not exclude any specific industries or economic sector. Your decision on whether to seek compliance will depend more on what your customers expect or the market requires. Some companies, for instance, do not buy parts and products from manufacturers who are not ISO 9000 registered.
These two standards are nearly identical; however, ISO 9001 applies to companies involved in the design of products or services, as well as their production and installation or implementation. ISO 9002 simply excludes the design element from a similar model for quality assurance.
Other designations of quality assurance standards include the QS 9000 series for companies manufacturing parts for the automotive industry, and the ISO 14000 standards for companies involved in environmental management systems specification.
ISO 9000 registration will be vital to your company's Success if:
- important customers - or potential customers - require it of their suppliers, or are beginning to inquire whether you are registered
- your industry sees a strong need for ISO 9000 registration
- your competitors are working toward registration
- you plan to do business in Europe
- your company could benefit by establishing a formal quality system to improve quality, reduce errors, returns and customer complaints.
Many companies have found that simply working toward compliance with ISO 9000 standards has brought its own rewards, even before achieving registration, simply by improving their quality processes.
The effort required to comply with ISO 9000 standards will depend on the existence and maturity of your quality system. Fortunately, training resources abound to help companies seek achieve ISO 9000 registration. Check with your local community college, university, regional manufacturing assistance center, small business development center, business incubation center, or industry association to inquire about classes, recommend consultants, and arrange for pre-registration assessments.
Several free publications on ISO 9000 registration are available from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO brochure, "Compatible technology worldwide," answers common questions about ISO 9000, while the ISO 9000 Forum Library lists publications on quality management, quality assurance standards, and related issues.
Contact ISO at:
1, rue de Varembe
Case postale 56 CH-1211
Geneve 20 Switzerland
Computer software packages have been created by several companies to help walk registrants through the creation, documentation and registration of your quality system. Several offer free or demonstration copies. Too many products exist to list here. We suggest you search the Internet for "ISO 9000 software" as a starting point.
You're probably wondering what ISO 9000 registration involves. In broad terms, it requires your company to design and implement a quality system that complies with the appropriate ISO standard (ISO 9001, ISO 9002, QS 9000, ISO 14000). You will be asked to:
- Write a quality manual to describe your quality system
- Document how work in your organization is performed
- Design and implement a system to prevent problems from recurring
- Identify training needs of employees
- Calibrate measurement and test equipment
- Train employees how quality system operates
- Plan and conduct internal quality inspections, or audits
- Comply with other requirements of the Standard as needed
The certificate saying that your company complies with the ISO 9000 standard can only be issued by an accredited, third-party registration agency. You should select your registrar at the beginning of the process, and find out in detail what they require before they will grant a registration. Typically, the registrar will conduct a "preassessment audit" to identify areas of noncompliance so that you can correct those areas before the "registration audit."
An ISO 9000 registration certificate is valid for three years, and the registration agency may conduct audits at six-month intervals to insure that the company continues to comply with the standard.
Small business development centers may offer group classes in ISO 9000 certification on a sliding scale, based on the size of your company (number of employees) and the number of class participants. Regional manufacturing assistance centers are partially subsidized by federal funds and may offer pre-assessment audits and individual ISO 9000 consulting services on a sliding scale.
The charge to conduct the final registration audi is set by the registration agency, and usually varies according to company size. For accurate information, contact your training source or registrar directly.