Thursday, January 08, 2009

International standardization for quality management - The concensus nature of the standards

The work with the fourth generation of ISO 9000 basic standards is approaching its end and results: The new ISO 9001 was published in 2008 and ISO 9004 will be published in 2009. Now it is again time to look at the results. One cannot be completely happy about the achievements (See my previous blog). However we should also try to understand the situation in order be able to apply the standards in the most beneficial way.

Problems related to understanding and applying standards are often caused by the nature of standardization efforts and process themselves. It seems almost impossible that people who have not participated in drafting up standards would be able to understand their real nature.

The core feature of standardization process is consensus approach (shared approval). Everyone involved in the said activity has the opportunity to voice his or her opinion and all opinions should also be taken into account. This has its benefits (+) and drawbacks (-):

+ Broad acceptance and distribution of the texts
+ Extensive expertise in preparing and commenting the standards
+ Global commitment
+ There are – at least in principle – no restrictions for innovative implementation

- “The mob has many heads but no brains”
- Only communally interesting issues are accepted to the final texts
- Only trivial means to implement the standard clauses may be considered in the standards
- Handling of the issues in the standard text is superficial
- It is hard to really understand the standards without participating their drafting
The most important consensus practices applied in this kind of standardization work are: (a) Someone’s proposal is accepted (b) A commonly acceptable text is edited in order to get consensus (c) 'Competing' alternatives are included in the standard although they may be contradictory and therefore confusing and (d) Disputed issues are not mentioned at all in the standard. Users of standards must be aware of these approaches, as possible problems caused by deficiencies in them should be avoided when implementing them. They must supplement the missing issues and rectify the inaccuracies and ambiguities.

Two worlds meet in the international standards, i.e. the world of standardization based on consensus principle and the world of the applying standards in an organization based on innovation (see the figure)

The consensus text of a standard represents mediocrity but its wisdom is entailed in the fact that the issues to which it points attract one’s attention to certain important issues. Then implementation of those issues may be innovative according to the real business requirements. This applies especially to understanding the central principles of the subject matter, and using effective and efficient tools and infrastructure for implementation.

In the consensus text all issues are not visible. Those that are, should be understood as advisory guidelines in the organization-specific application of the issues in question. The reality of the organization’s business calls for solutions to the superior implementation of issues brought to light by the standard.

The clauses of the standards can be applied creatively both in the domains of QM (ISO 9004) and QA (ISO 9001).

Otto von Bismarck: "People who appreciate laws and sausages have never seen how they are produced.” This view can be expanded to cover also tbe ISO 9000 standards.

(Reference: Anttila, J., Vakkuri, J.: ISO 9000 for the creative leader)


Blogger Joshua said...

Hi! I've been searching for articles about QMS, and I've stumbled upon your post. One of our bosses discussed to us this thing called ISO certification 9001. He said it's very important for a company to seek an ISO registration for high quality standards. The image and credibility of the product or service depends on the overall output. Though ISO 9001 covers a lot of contents, the basic thing to remember is the accreditation and certification.

22 November, 2010 10:58  
Blogger Juhani Anttila said...

If an organization and its top management is strongly striving for third party QMS certification it sends me a signal that (a) this organization is following old control principles of the 1980's for quality and that (b) the management of the organization is weak to manage quality. Very often a strong certification emphasis is also harmful for the creative application of the ISO 9000 standards.

22 November, 2010 12:29  

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