Monday, July 23, 2012

In defense of ISO 9001:2008

Fellow ASQ Influential Voice Chris Herminett is begining a series of blogs based on his PhD. classwork on Systems Theory regarding the gaps in the ISO 9001 standard.  His first entry talks about the ISO 9001 "process approach."  Specifically from the ISO 9001 standard: "The application of a system of processes within an organization, together with the identification and interactions of these processes, and their management to produce the desired outcome, can be referred as the 'process approach.' " 

Chris' contention is that most organizations do not follow this approach. I think he mispeaks here but continues that since most organizations are not structured in a process oriented manner they do not exhibit the process approach espoused by the standard.  He goes on to say that because of organizations unwillingness to reorganize to a process approach, third party auditors inability to influence organizations into being organized into a process approach, that ISO 9001 is failing and thus the standard should be restructured into something that reflects the reality of a "functional approach" in which most organizations are structured and that will help with the increased acceptance of the standard.

Chris, should the NFL or CFL accept that a touchdown should now be achieved once a team crosses the opponents 5 yard line or that a soccer player no longer needs to be "onsides" to score a goal?  Then why should we change the ISO 9001 standard just because an organization is structured differently than what the standard expects?

There is a statement in the ISO 9001 standard that to me is very telling and it is on the same page as the process approach definition. "It is not the intent of the International Standard to imply uniformity in the structure of quality systems or uniformity of documentation."  Meaning, there is no need to change the structure of the standard.  There is nothing stopping the organization from structuring their quality system to match their organization.  It is the challenge of the organization to communicate how they are meeting the requirements of the standard to the auditor.  It is an "ease of use" factor that most companies structure the quality system based off the standard.

Additionally, why would we want to to change a forward thinking standard to match what most improvement professionals think of as an outdated organizational structure?  Most lean enterprise experts agree that it is best to be organized based on process, product families, etc. Why would a standard go backwards?

Lastly, the interpretation you use for process approach is actually different from the ISO 9001 standard mentioned above. Process approach cannot sub-optimize because the process approach REQUIRES systems thinking.  Mr. Conti mentioned that most companies find it hard to practice the necessary systems thinking to avoid sub-optimizing processes. 

Chris, what you recommend is a softening of the standard for convenience sake.  That is definitely not (and I am projecting here) what the TAG or the original authors of the standard intend.  As a matter of fact, the authors don't care about how well accepted the standard is, as long as the standard represents the best practices of quality.

Last shot:  Do you think that the US Military Academy is anytime soon going to change their standard of "Do not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate anyone who does," just because lieing, cheating or stealing is more prevalent (and some will say accepted) in today's society?  In your mind, should they change that standard to make it more socially acceptable?
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