March 15, 2012, marked the 25th anniversary of the ISO 9000 series standards. Since the standards were released in 1987, they have gone through three revisions: 1994, 2000, and 2008. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), as of 2009, the total number of organizations certified to ISO 9001 exceeded one million.
If you’ve been around for a while, you know that British standard BS 5179 preceded the ISO standard and the U.S. Mil-Q-9858 predated the British standard. So the notion of auditable quality system standards go back nearly 45 years, but the real impact certainly launched on a worldwide basis with the release and adoption of the ISO 9000 series standards.
I’m of the opinion that the ISO 9000 series of standards have helped usher quality into many organizations. I’ve met a lot of senior executives who swear by the value of being certified and who can tell me, chapter and verse, how they have used the standards and the certification process to drive improvement and sustainable gains in their organization. I always say, “Good—get the word out!” I’ve also heard a few stories that getting certified is just a necessary expense of doing business and not a driver of improvement, so I know that not everyone gets it.
I also remember the good Joseph M. Juran in his last address in Europe admonishing the quality community’s fervor for audited systems. He cited the financial community’s long history of auditing financials and the uncertain outcomes. Although I didn’t always agree with Juran, I certainly considered his insights worth remembering and thinking about.
So, here we are 25 years later. A whole industry has arisen from the need for third-party audits to system standards. ISO 9001 began as a promise of a single series of standards for worldwide adoption and mutual recognition. Have we realized the promise? In what ways has ISO 9001 advanced the practice of quality and the realization of sustained improvement? Has ISO 9001 created any unintentional setbacks to the full realization of quality’s benefits? What’s the future of management system standards?
My applause and appreciation to the volunteers on the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176 (the group that writes and revises the ISO 9001 series for the United States, which is administered by ASQ), and to the other national committees that contribute to the development of ISO 9001. These committees, as well as the many thought leaders who have served the community with their vision, knowledge, experience, and practiced wisdom, have made ISO 9001 perhaps the most notable quality development of the late 20th century.
Here’s to the first 25 years, with hope of even greater realized impact in the next 25.
This commentary first appeared in the March 22, 2012 edition of A View from the Q.