The case against ISO 9000
     by John Seddon

                                                 BS 5750 was one of the nat...
I might never have questioned         of its promoters. At the time, I as-   the standard which were making
for a so-called quality community
                                                                               to have d...
Does ISO 9000 improve
                       on the theme of designing work in
                       functional specialis...
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The Case Against Iso 9000 By John Seddon


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The Case Against Iso 9000 By John Seddon

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  • Studies reporting upon the effectiveness of ISO 9001 share the same common flaw: they ignore the fact that most organizations registered to ISO 9001 misapply the standard to operate dysfunctional-yet-registered management systems. Let's say a study is conducted to report upon the performance of, say, a "Back Saver" snow shovel--one with the contoured handle to be ergonomically correct. To conduct the study, hundreds of people who purchased and used the shovel were contacted for feedback. Now, let's say that most of the people who purchased the shovels were confused by the folks who sold them the shovels. They were instructed to use these shovels backwards. Instead of using the blade to scoop snow, they were instructed to use the handle to clear snow. They were even told this way of using the tool was REQUIRED for proper tool use. Unknown to researchers conducting the study, most people reporting performance data were using the tool backwards but they were unaware of it. After all, they were using it precisely as instructed by their trusted "experts." Of course they had TERRIBLE results! Yet unaware that the tool was being used backwards, those conducting the study report statistically valid results as if they are offering value.
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The Case Against Iso 9000 By John Seddon

  1. 1. The case against ISO 9000 by John Seddon BS 5750 was one of the national standards from which the ISO In brief 9000 series was developed, de- spite there being no evidence that Not everyone is happy with it had merit. Everything I have the widespread implementa- learned suggests to me that this tion of ISO 9000. In the has been a mistake of monumen- United Kingdom, one of the tal proportions. Rather than im- standard’s strongest critics proving the quality and competi- is John Seddon, Managing tive position of organizations, Director of Vanguard Con- ISO 9000 has made matters sulting1), who has written the worse. I have found that its under- book, In Pursuit of Quality: lying thinking has little or nothing The Case Against ISO 9000. to do with quality and its imple- In the following article, Mr. mentation has prevented manag- Seddon summarizes his argu- ers from seeing what might have ments against ISO 9000 been seen if they had taken a dif- which he castigates for what ferent – and genuine – quality he sees as its “command and view. ISO 9000 is claimed to be a control” orientation. This, quality management standard, John Seddon is an occupational he says, is in direct contrast certification to it being a formal psychologist, researcher, lecturer to the flexible, customer- recognition that an organization and Managing Director of the focused approach necessary is managed in a quality manner. British management consultancy, for business success in today’s Vanguard. highly competitive market- When I first came across the place. standard in the mid-1980’s, I was persuaded that the obvious over- bureaucratization was due to The cover of John Seddon’s book, managers taking an inappropri- In Pursuit of Quality: The Case ately internal and administrative Against ISO 9000 attitude. At that time, I was dis- Rather than (ISBN 1-86076-042-2), which is suaded from being too critical. published by Oak Tree Press. Criticism would have implied that improving the quality Priced at GBP 18,95, it can be I was not a supporter of the ordered directly from Vanguard. and competitive quality movement. position of Through the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, the band- organizations, wagon rolled on. Market- place obligation, driven ISO 9000 has made largely by government organizations and, matters worse latterly, the larger commercial organiza- tions, meant an ever- increasing number People say I must have had a of certifications. bad experience with ISO 9000 as ISO 9000 became a child. I just did the research! ubiquitous and Since 1979, British organizations its status as a have been persuaded, even co- requirement for erced, into achieving certification doing business of their quality systems, first to the lessened the British Standard, BS 5750, and chances of then to ISO 9000, which was pub- anyone lished in 1987 by ISO. questioning whether it ISO 9000 NEWS 4/1998 was doing any good. 1) Vanguard Consulting,Villiers House, 1 Nelson Street, Buckingham MK18 1BU, United Kingdom. Tel. + 44 1280 82 22 55. Fax + 44 1280 82 22 66. WWW http:// 12
  2. 2. I might never have questioned of its promoters. At the time, I as- the standard which were making ISO 9000’s contribution to busi- sumed this minority had taken a matters worse. In short, these ness performance if it had not more productive approach. So, to claimants had, to be kind to them, been for my clients asking me learn more, my research team vis- rationalized their experience. what they should do about it. They ited them. Since that time, more opinion re- too were concerned about the evi- search has been published, the What we found was shocking. In dent bureaucratization. They majority of which has been com- every case, we found evidence of were perplexed by the idea that missioned by the certification things put in place to comply with this rather formal and strictly en- bodies and it shows substantially forced regime had something to the same picture, although, of do with quality. I felt unable to course, the results have been offer constructive advice, so I given a more positive spin. The case in full sought out research. Then came Since 1993, I have been re- my first shock. We had been em- searching case studies, the only ploying this standard in United This article for ISO 9000 reliable way to find out what or- Kingdom for over ten years and News is a synopsis of the ganizations have done as a conse- there was no research which arguments I develop in my quence of certification to ISO would illuminate whether it was book, In Pursuit of Quality: 9000. What has emerged is that doing good or harm and, by impli- The Case Against ISO 9000 ISO 9000 predictably causes peo- cation, no clear guidance on how, ple to do things which, at best, sub- In my book, I present ten if it is at all possible, an organiza- optimize their organization’s per- arguments in the case against tion might approach it benefi- formance and, at worst, make it ISO 9000: cially. considerably worse. These are • ISO 9000 encourages or- natural consequences of the ganizations to act in ways thinking embedded in ISO 9000. Its status as a that make things worse Bureaucratization and its inher- for their customers. ent limit on learning and flexibil- requirement for doing ity is always the easiest to spot. It • Quality by inspection is business lessened the is caused by the various require- not quality. ments for documentation, for the chances of anyone • ISO 9000 starts from the auditor cannot do his or her work flawed presumption that without it. questioning whether work is best controlled by specifying and control- it was doing any good ling procedures. ISO 9000 is built on • The typical method of im- plementation is bound to an ethos of inspection cause sub-optimization of Disaffection performance. I have since learned that, at • The standard relies too about this time, the institutions much on people’s inter- Worst cases supporting ISO 9000, which in- pretations of quality, par- cluded the British Government ticularly those of audi- Department of Trade and Indus- Contract review, the clause dic- tors. try (DTI) and the various certifi- tating how to deal with customers, • The standard promotes, cation bodies, were all too cogni- leads to precisely that: a contrac- encourages and explicitly sant of disaffection in the tual attitude to customers – the demands actions which market-place. Inevitably, those last thing you need in a market- cause sub-optimization. who had succeeded in persuading place driven by customer choice others to take the medicine were and the need for a value-creating • When people are sub- disinclined to call a halt. Instead response. In the worst cases, I jected to external con- they claimed, as they do now, that, have found organizations being trols, they will be inclined “It is OK – if you do it right”. In an driven out of business because of to pay attention only to attempt to get one sector more requirements placed on them by those things that are right, the DTI launched the TickIt their certification body, those ac- affected by the controls. scheme (ISO 9000 for software tions making the organizations • ISO 9000 has discouraged developers). The only published less attractive to their customers. managers from learning research on the impact of TickIt about the theory of varia- ISO 9000 is built on an ethos of shows it has had no beneficial ef- tion. inspection. It is a reminder of the fect on software quality. standard’s origins. During the • ISO 9000 has failed to fos- In 1993, I published the first Second World War, if you wanted ter good customer-sup- major opinion study of ISO 9000. to supply the British Ministry of ISO 9000 NEWS 4/1998 plier relations. Six hundred and forty-seven or- Defence (MoD) with munitions, ganizations were represented. you had to be registered to a • As an intervention, ISO The results were, to say the least, standard from which ISO 9000 9000 has not encouraged disturbing. Less than 15 % of the was derived. The purpose was to managers to think differ- people who responded claimed prevent accidents in munitions ently. that their organizations had factories and the method was to achieved all of the benefits attrib- insist on all procedures being 13 uted to ISO 9000 in the literature documented and independently
  3. 3. for a so-called quality community to have done. One might have thought they would first test its fit- ness for purpose. The Toyota Cor- poration, to name just one exam- ple, has shown what can be achieved with entirely different thinking and methods. These methods are not peculiar to the Japanese, but they spring from a perspective which is diametrically opposed to the thinking in ISO 9000. Would that the quality com- munity had insisted on proving ISO 9000’s value before it was promulgated, they might have been obliged to find a model of management from which all would have benefited. Serious charge Which brings us to the most serious charge against ISO 9000. It has merely reinforced current management wisdom – the very thing that has held competitive performance back. ISO 9000’s precepts fit hand-in-glove with mass production, or “command and control” thinking. Control of As the cover of John Seddon’s book, ‘In Pursuit of Quality’, shows work through specifying and in- (see p. 11), this British management consultant sees himself, where specting procedures is a variation ISO 9000 is concerned, as going resolutely against the current. checked. This is a way of working which ensures that production The business that was going under meets specifications. It is a method of control which ensures consistency of output. It solved a LAN Company is just one of the many case studies in my book. problem of the time. It is the story of a business that was going under, where the owner found himself working harder for his certification body than for his A quality approach, by contrast, customers. would be to continuously improve output and for that you need dif- LAN Co. made local area networks. Typical customers would ferent methods derived from dif- include health service trusts and education authorities and the ferent thinking. At the time that typical value of a contract was GBP 500-600. As LAN Co. de- our munitions factories were con- signed networks, the company was certified to ISO 9001 which, trolling output through control of unlike ISO 9002, includes design control. Friends of the owner procedures, some American mu- remarked that this clearly meant his company was not as good as nitions factories were improving others – he being certified to ISO 9001 while others were certified output by reducing variation – still to ISO 9002. a foreign concept to most British LAN Co.’s ISO 9000 certification body insisted on every job managers. This work was led by being documented and signed-off by the customer. However, cus- Dr. W. Edwards Deming. tomers often changed their minds. The auditor insisted that LAN Following the war, Deming’s Co. was obliged to amend drawings and repeat the customers’ ideas were ignored by American sign-off. industry in a growing market that Customers were not particularly impressed. It felt to them like a tolerated the waste of inefficient continual emphasis on the contract, rather than receiving a ser- production (Deming used to joke: vice. They were happy to make changes and expected those “Let’s make toast the American changes to be reflected in the invoicing. way: I’ll burn – you scrape!”). The ISO 9000 NEWS 4/1998 Japanese were the first to take him The owner did the right thing for his customers – he stopped seriously. The rest, as they say, is making changes to designs and had to hide the evidence from the history. assessor. He did so by putting all offending documents in the women’s toilets, the only place the certification body auditor During the time that the Japa- could not go. nese have been perfecting world- class systems, we have foisted an unproved instrument upon our or- 14 ganizations, itself a strange thing
  4. 4. Does ISO 9000 improve on the theme of designing work in functional specialisms, separat- ing decision-making from doing the work and giving managers product quality? the job of making decisions on the basis of output or budgetary information. There is a better way. It starts from a view of the organization as a system. It is an “outside-in”, by Reuben Rabinovitz, Eli A. Glushkovsky, rather than a “top-down” view. Aharon Shatzkin, Daniel Sipper The structure of the organization is designed according to “flow”, rather than “function”; pro- In recent years, ISO 9000 certi- cedures relate to purpose and fication has become a major tool are developed by those who of quality enhancement and a do the work since they are far In brief quality “must” in many organiza- more able to improve perform- tions around the world. Profes- ance than managers using irrel- “Does ISO 9000 certifica- sional literature is full of ISO 9000- evant and misleading “rear-view- tion impact on suppliers’ related topics. However, one mirror” techniques. product quality?” The an- aspect is missing: the measureable swer is a resounding “yes!” impact of ISO 9000 implementa- according to Israel’s largest tion on quality. Stifling attitude communications equipment manufacturer, Telrad, which The defenders of the standard carried out a survey of 111 The key issue continue to maintain that “it’s suppliers. The four collabo- OK – if you do it right”. I have addressed was: ‘Does rators in the study, co-au- been shown many who were pur- thors of this article, analysed ISO 9000 certification ported to be doing it right only to suppliers by size, type (pro- find the same general problems. ducer or vendor), whether impact on product It is true that some benefited from ISO 9000-certified or not, clarifying their procedures, but and if “initiated” into qual- quality?’ these benefits could have been ity system implementation had without the accompanying by the company. The basis bureaucracy and stifling attitude for determining “quality” to improvement. The effect is usually expressed was the percentage of rejected in general statements such as, batches per year per supplier. And it is not just that ISO 9000 “although ISO 9000 does not has resulted in major or minor They found that ISO 9000- guarantee a quality product, it damage to current performance. certified suppliers achieved does specify the criteria by which The standard acts as a shield higher product quality than a quality or service can be consist- against seeing what could be uncertified suppliers, regard- ently expected”1). In contrast, we done to improve performance less of type and size, and present in this article an empirical radically. If the European Com- suppliers initiated by Telrad study of ISO 9000 effectiveness mission is serious about improv- even more so. Also, the study among a sample of suppliers, with ing the competitiveness of or- revealed better quality, on distinct and measureable qualita- ganizations, the abolition of ISO average, from direct pro- tive results. 9000 would at least put a brake ducer/suppliers than ven- on the current damage and, more The study was carried out at dors, from small as opposed importantly, such action might Telrad Telecommunication and to large suppliers, and from capture the interest of managers Electronic Industries2), Israel’s those who had been ISO who remain unconvinced that largest communications equip- 9000-certified earlier in the ISO 9000 is anything more than a ment manufacturer. The company 1992-1996 period under re- cost of doing business. has annual worldwide sales of view. about USD 400 million, an annual The message to Telrad, and purchasing budget of over USD indeed to other companies 150 million, and some 500 suppli- with many component sup- ers located in Israel, Europe, North pliers, is actively to encour- America and the Far East. age and guide their suppliers Telrad initiated the ISO 9000 in ISO 9000 implementa- implementation process in 1992 tion. According to the study, and obtained certification in 1993. ISO 9000 NEWS 4/1998 there is likely to be a measur- The company prefers to work with able payback in improved ISO 9000-certified suppliers and product quality as a result. actively encourages those not al- ready pursuing certification to do so by offering them guidance. In Figure 1, we show a time- 15 based representation of the rate at