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Denise Robitaille


For Want of a Nail

Your company could be lost

Published: Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - 22:00

"For want of nail a shoe was lost
For want of a shoe a horse was lost
For want of horse a rider was lost
For want of a rider a battle was lost
For loss of a battle a kingdom was lost
And all because of a horseshoe nail."

In researching the origins of this familiar cautionary maxim, I found that it’s attributed to Benjamin Franklin, our revolutionary American forefather. This suggests that the foundational concepts of such quality tools as trace forward/trace back, the 5 Whys, process mapping and process approach originated more than 250 years ago. Apparently, we have known for a very long time that things are interrelated, interdependent and successively influential, regardless of individual magnitude. Sometimes the least valued attribute is the most significant. Unfortunately, we have to keep re-learning the lesson. Factors contributing to the well-being of a successful organization are myriad, multitiered and far-reaching. Even small things (or activities) can have enormous effects. It’s inappropriate to dismiss or trivialize secondary or less visible processes such as record keeping, warehouse management or commodities purchasing, because they aren’t directly related to customer order fulfillment. In defining, controlling and implementing these processes, it’s important to consider their effect on organizational goals. They may not engender the same level of risk as other processes, but they still have relevance and contribute to the whole. If they didn’t, they would be meaningless and unjustifiable drains on limited resources. And, if that were true, it would mean by extension, that the individuals performing those tasks have no worth.

I really like the horseshoe quotation. It should be posted right next to a company’s quality policy. It relates directly to two subclauses of ISO 9001:

  • 5.3 “Top management shall ensure that the quality policy…is communicated and understood within the organization…”
  • 5.5.2 “Management representative … shall have responsibility … for ensuring the promotion of customer requirements throughout the organization.”

Ensuring that individuals in your organization comprehend that they contribute to fulfilling customer requirements is more than just an admirable ideal. It’s one method for facilitating their understanding of a very pragmatic reality: they all have a role to play in keeping the customers happy and, in so doing securing their own jobs. No customers, no jobs.

It isn’t a bad idea also to remind executive management of their reliance on these individuals for the sustainability of the organization. No qualified workforce, no customers, no company.
Fostering an environment wherein conformance to ISO 9001 is considered a necessary evil for doing business defeats the purpose of the standard. It perpetuates the notion that the goal of an audit is to appease a registrar and hopefully retain the brass ring—the registration certificate.

If, instead, you cultivate a culture in which implementation of the ISO standard (or a comparable quality management system) is the path to customer satisfaction and organizational sustainability, then conformance becomes the way to do business. It’s not a thing apart; it’s all-inclusive.

Individuals’ understanding of the quality policy should include awareness of what part their jobs play in the fulfillment of customer requirements. They should comprehend and be able to articulate the connection between themselves and the customers.

“We package the product using the work instructions, because that guarantees that it won’t get broken in shipment and will arrive safely at the customer’s location.”
“We verify ship dates with our vendors to make sure we can deliver to our customers on time.”
“If I keep the warehouse clean and organized, things don’t get lost or damaged and we can find stuff faster to get it shipped out on time.”
“We monitor the performance of the local express carrier to make sure they continue to be able to meet our customers’ delivery needs.”
“We make sure that we keep purchasing in the loop when we’re designing a product so that they can be pro-active in qualifying suppliers and ensuring reliable inventory.”
“When I receive customer specifications electronically, I move them into a secure file to ensure we protect intellectual property.”

These are examples of activities that fulfill ISO standards requirements. They’re also methods of ensuring that you can serve your customer properly. Engineers, warehouse staff, buyers, packers—they should all be able to say how their job fits into the company’s quality policy. And managers should remember that for want of them, the company could be lost.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.