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View From the Summit

Robert King’s article in the November issue shows that he’s just another on the long list of people beholden to the International Organization for Standardization for creating job security. The principal reason that U.S. firms have sought out ISO 9000 is to be able to sell into European markets where the designation is required by law. Few good U.S. companies see any real value from ISO 9000 registration.

Good companies don’t need it; witness Toyota and its family of companies. They may bow to ISO registration, but they certainly haven’t needed it in order to ensure they manufacture and sell a quality product.

ISO 9000 is a European socialist invention. Even the head of ISO said its usefulness is in “leveling the playing field.” Companies work hard to create a competitive advantage, an unlevel playing field. The good ones, like Toyota, succeed. In a free market economy, the poor ones fail because customers find better value elsewhere.

ISO 9000 prescribing customer satisfaction surveys and other details of running a business, which in and of themselves are not necessarily bad, is ridiculous.

--Dennis Hanink

I’m my company’s ISO management representative and also a senior manager with other responsibilities. We’ve been registered to ISO 9001 for six years. Along the way we’ve used several different consultants, have had extensive training to the standard, have visited other companies that are registered and have been members of the American Society for Quality.

Frankly, in retrospect, all of this has been a huge waste of time and resources. My initial directive was to “do it right” and gain the maximum benefit from the effort. What I’ve found instead is a standard that perpetuates nonvalue-added activities and auditors selling their brand of management expertise. Please!

What needs to change to satisfy this customer? First, reduce the nonvalue-added activities; no one can afford this much waste. Second, simplify the standard; it’s far too complicated. Even the experts disagree on the interpretations. Third, a standard should not insist that certain management tools be used.

The quality gurus preach customer satisfaction while dismissing any dissatisfaction with their product as due to ignorance. Given this attitude, chances are good that nothing is going to change. At this point we’re doing this solely for commercial purposes, and it seems so are many others. ISO 9000’s time has passed. The name itself has become synonymous with waste and irrelevance.

--Bruce W. De Bree

This article perpetuates the delusion that conformity assessment is uniformly competent and equitably governed.

First-hand experience shouts to ISO user organizations that competent application of the eight quality management principles embodied in ISO 9000 series documents has no relationship to conformity assessment.

Proof of this condition is masked behind years of incompetent auditing practices.

No one really wants to step up to the plate and declare that certification surveillance audits seek only the path of least resistance to a declaration of conformity.

To assert that the view from Mr. King’s office represents the viable future for the ISO 9000 family is a significant bias to an already seriously confused subject.

King briefly mentions the quality and benefit of using “certified auditors.” Perhaps an article by him dealing with the metrics used to validate auditor competency might lead me to assume a more positive stance on this subject.

--Joseph W. Green


The Not-So-Friendly Skies

Scott M. Paton’s November “First Word” was great! I share his pain with similar instances on American Airlines. I only hope this article, as well as others, will be forwarded to the CEO of every airline and they’ll be forced to read it. On second thought, maybe it should be forwarded to someone in the airline industry who can actually do something about it!

--Shelley Walley

While standing at the boarding gate, I overheard a United Airlines employee speaking to a gate attendant. “Are we ready to let the animals on board?” she asked. Delta wasn’t much better. I asked a flight attendant if our flight was going to be arriving on time. She snapped, “It will arrive when it arrives, and there’s nothing you can do about it so why would you want to know?” Because of their indifference, the regional connecting flight left without us. I cannot imagine any business surviving with such attitudes toward its customers.

--Daniel E. Beougher

I’ve had similar experiences with United Airlines. I flew them after hearing of their bankruptcy, wanting to support them. My experience was also very disappointing. The crew was openly bitter about the company and their future. This added to the low level of service. Rather than rising to the challenge, they took the course of least resistance by cutting services and burdening customers with their internal problems. Now I feel if they go out of business it is their own doing, not a result of 9/11.

--Robert Cook

What worries me is that if the quality of service has declined, what is happening to the quality of aircraft maintenance?

--Name Withheld

Your editorial struck a chord with me. You’re absolutely right about the lack of quality in the airline industry. Business travelers in particular are herded like cattle into ever-smaller airplanes and are expected to be grateful for this “service.” I fly from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, to Washington, D.C., regularly. In years past, the flights used to be on B737s and MD-80s, which were generally full. Now we get DH-8s, CRJs, and those god-awful Embraer regional jets. You also mentioned food service. Now, it seems that the airlines want you to pay an extra $10 for a mediocre sandwich and bag of chips.

JetBlue and Southwest are not the answer. I don’t like Southwest because I like having a seat with my name on it, and, as a business traveler, I can’t always get to the airport early enough to get a card for the first cattle call.

You weren’t too hard on United. They used to be my airline of choice through Chicago. After 9/11, United pulled out of Raleigh-Durham after more than 40 years and turned what was left over to United Express (and more “toy” airplanes). Even my personal favorite, Delta, has turned its back on a loyal customer base and cut back on benefits. I have flown more than 1 million miles on Delta during the past 30 years, but I haven’t been on a Delta flight this entire year. As my grandma used to say, “You shouldn’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” Let’s get back to quality service. Then the people will come back.

--Gary L. Johnson

All the News That’s Printed to Fit

I agree with John Broomfield’s “Last Word” in the November issue. My pet peeve is that today’s media seem bent on talking to those in charge. The majority of articles are geared toward engineers and managers--as if they are the only ones who can make a difference. And in some ways that is true because they get to rub elbows with management.

But, what about us grunts down in the trenches? Inspectors, auditors and technicians seem to be largely ignored. I realize that we don’t have the budgets that attract the big-buck advertisers, but somehow I have to believe that there are more of us. We’re important to the big picture because we take care of all the little things that are so “wisely” delegated by those in charge.

There is so little on how we can improve processes at our level. We have little or no management contact. We’re often either micromanaged as if we are idiots or ignored except when something goes wrong. We cannot say, “Today we are going to improve this process with the blessing of management.” So what can we say or do that actually makes a difference beyond simply following directions?

The media keep saying we need to drive quality down, but it never gets beyond showing us the top. I’m tired of being ignored. Talk to me, guide me, teach me!

--Jeffrey Pfouts