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by Dirk Dusharme

Click here to see what books and other resources survey respondents used to help prepare for ISO 9001:2000.


Reasons for Letting ISO 9000 Registration Lapse


Transition Status of Currently Registered Companies


Automotive Standards Registrations

The good news: You still have a year and a half to make the transition to the new ISO 9001:2000 quality management system standard. The bad news: There are only 18 months left in which to do it. Depending on where you get your data, there are anywhere from 40,000 to 55,000 companies in the United States and Canada that still have to make the transition and only about 80 registrars to do the auditing. Given that one-quarter of the registrars handle 90 percent of the certificates, best case, that's 1,800 audits per large registrar or roughly 100 audits per registrar per month. Although the larger registrars believe this is completely doable, success hinges on transitions being spread evenly over the remaining time and not having a logjam in the last six months before deadline. So, although 18 months may be more than enough time to plan and implement the transition--many get the job done in three to six months--registrars may find themselves in a crunch if too many companies hold off for too long.

This observation and many more were revealed in this year's ISO 9000-registered company survey, the largest such survey performed on companies currently registered to ISO 9000 or QS-9000. The survey was sent to 29,000 registered companies in the United States and Canada; about 2,600 responded.

Where registrations stand

According to this year's survey of ISO 9000-registered companies, about 17 percent are currently registered to ISO 9001:2000. Specifically, 17 percent of survey respondents indicated they are registered to the new standard, with 73 percent planning to do so. The remaining 10 percent either plan on letting their registration lapse, aren't sure about their plans are or are changing to some other industry-specific standard such as AS9100 or ISO/TS 16949.

Seventeen percent is high compared to Quality Digest's Online Database of North American Registered Companies, which shows 3.5 percent registered companies. A telephone poll of some of the largest North American registrars (BSI, DNV, Perry Johnson, QMI and TÜV America), representing about one-third of all U.S. and Canadian registrations, indicates that the actual figure is probably somewhere between 8 and 10 percent. That leaves a lot of companies left to transition in a relatively short period of time. But is this really a problem?

"Every registered company has one or two surveillance audits a year to maintain registration," says Randy Dougherty, director of registrar programs for the Registrar Accreditation Board. "So, at this time, each and every one of the 50,000 yet to transition will have one or two audits before the deadline of Dec. 15, 2003--and the transition audit can be accomplished by an extra one to two days added to the surveillance audit. So completing all the transition audits isn't impossible."

Jack West, chair of the U.S. TAG TC 176, the committee responsible for the ISO 9000 standards, also isn't that concerned. "I'm not at the point of saying that it's impossible," he says, pointing out that many currently registered companies probably won't seek certification to the new standard. "We know that some organizations in the auto industry won't worry about it yet. And we know that some companies are just going to walk away from registration because they don't see any value in it. We'll get some fallout."

The survey supports West's comments regarding QS-9000-registered companies. Roughly one-seventh of all ISO 9000-registered companies in North America hold a QS-9000 or ISO/TS 16949 certificate, meaning their main customers are probably automakers. About 15 percent of the survey respondents currently holding QS-9000 certificates indicated that they won't bother with ISO 9001:2000. Because automakers are requiring that suppliers switch to the ISO/TS 16949:2002 standard by the end of 2006, some clients have told their consultants and registrars that they'll simply keep the QS-9000 certificate and transition to ISO/TS 16949:2002 sometime before the 2006 deadline. Although this idea may temporarily postpone having to transition, it's not what the Big Three would prefer (see "Some Automotive Suppliers Hold Off On Transition" on page 32).

Both West and Dougherty speculate that transitions will be distributed fairly evenly over the remaining 18 months as surveillance audits come due or certificates expire and have to be renewed.

Registrars aren't so sure. Both DNV Certification and Perry Johnson Registrars, both in the top 10 in certificates issued, are concerned that an influx of latecomers will cause audit congestion. "The transition rate won't be linear," explains Bill Sullivan, DNV's marketing manager. "And the ability of any registrar to accommodate the rush is clearly a function of how big the rush is and the available audit resources to perform the transition audits. There's a point at which the demand will exceed the available audit resources. This is true for all registrars."

While optimistic about handling their projected workload, registrars do have contingency plans. "We're monitoring this situation carefully," says Terry Boboige, president of Perry Johnson Registrars. "We run regular reports to determine where to concentrate our endeavors. PJR is currently training more auditors to prepare for the anticipated increase in transition audits, and in the event that the schedule appears to be too concentrated near the deadline, we may increase our auditor staff to accommodate."

Some registrars may subcontract audits in order to meet the demand, something that DNV has considered, says Sullivan.

Reading and understanding the standard

The survey asked several questions on whether recipients had read the standard, understood it, and had access to enough information to aid in understanding and implementing the standard within their organization.

Although people may not stop to read the manual on how to program their VCR, they do take the time to read the ISO 9001:2000 standard, a moderately more interesting read. Of the respondents who have already transitioned or plan to do so, nearly 90 percent had read the standard. Of those who read it, about 58 percent report that they definitely understand the standard well enough to implement it, 37 percent aren't so sure and 4 percent were definitely not sure they understand the standard well enough to implement it.

While 58 percent is a reasonable amount, it still means that there are tens of thousands of companies whose ISO 9000 coordinators or managers aren't confident about implementing ISO 9001:2000. West and others attribute this to ISO 9001:2000's process approach to a quality management system compared to the old standard.

"The new standard is different and disquieting to people who are steeped in this stuff," says West. "We've traded the procedural approach for one that manages a series of processes that meets a particular outcome. The whole standard has a different focus."

Dougherty agrees that this may be the main issue. "Less-sophisticated organizations may find ISO 9001:2000 harder to understand and implement than ISO 9001:1994," explains Dougherty "Actually, ISO 9001:2000 is less prescriptive and more flexible, so it should be easier to implement. It's enigmatic that the less prescriptive and more flexible a requirements document is, the more challenging it is to apply because there are many options and choices. It's easier to be told specifically what to do."

In addition, West and others believe that because ISO 9001:2000 has broadened its language it may be speaking in a tongue unfamiliar to some users. The consensus among those we interviewed is that the language is much easier to understand for those coming from a service or other non-manufacturing company where a more holistic quality approach to meeting the company's objectives is the norm rather than the exception.

Getting schooled

Of course, the ability to understand the standard is directly related to the amount and quality of information available on the subject. Of those who gave an opinion on whether they're satisfied with the amount of information on the standard provided by their registrar, 60 percent reported that they are satisfied, 15 percent are dissatisfied, 6 percent don't expect their registrar to provide information and 18 percent are neutral. When the same question was asked about consultants, 73 percent said they're satisfied with the information provided by their consultants, 8 percent are dissatisfied, 4 percent said they don't expect their consultant to supply information and 14 percent are neutral.

All the registrars we talked to have been proactive in providing information to their clients. Many provide guideline documents and have a lot of useful information on their Web sites. "It makes good business sense for registrars to help their clients understand their options with respect to the new standard and the importance of having a transition plan in place," says Sullivan, whose company provides an interpretive guideline document and a forum for asking questions. "The objective is to avoid a situation where the client may find itself without a valid certificate after December 2003."

Although providing useful information is obviously a wise business decision, the registrars have to walk a fine line between sharing information and consulting. "It's my impression that registrars are doing quite a bit of information sharing," says Mark Alpert, senior vice president of TÜV America Inc. "But companies are looking for consulting, and the registrars who are playing by the rules aren't providing it. That causes the [negative] feedback you're seeing."

To help facilitate the flow of information ANSI-RAB has relaxed a bit on how much registrars can assist clients, says Dougherty. "ANSI-RAB withdrew Advisory 5, which prohibited on-site training by a registrar, in order to make it easier for registrars to provide training," explains Dougherty. "However, there are critics who think on-site training by a registrar is too close to consulting."

Despite the high satisfaction scores for information coming from registrars and consultants, 25 percent of respondents indicated that overall they don't feel they have enough information on ISO 9001:2000.

To help our readers along, Quality Digest has provided a list of resources that survey respondents submitted as being useful for learning about and keeping up-to-date on the standard. As well as several hot books on the topic, there are registrars' Web sites, ASQ courses and courses provided by consultants. Web forums are also a great source of information because they allow the user to communicate directly with hundreds of other forum users who share information and experiences. The two most popular forums reported by survey respondents are the Cayman Cove Forums and InsideQuality's ISO 9001:2000 forum. The entire list of sources can be download by clicking here.


We asked a number of questions related to the new standard's usability, understandability and usefulness. The results in the table on page 24 are presented in two ways. The first is a numeric score based on the 1 to 5 scale used for responses: 1 is the lowest, most negative perception, 5 is the highest, most positive perception and 3 is neutral. The other format shows the actual number of positive, above neutral answers and the number of negative, below neutral answers.

The scores are generally low, indicating mostly negative perceptions of the standard. One of the lowest-scored statements, even among those who had completed the transition, was "It's easier to meet ISO 9001:2000's requirements than ISO 9001:1994."

"The old standard was very light on talking about an integrated system, offers West. "Individual processes were treated in isolation. Under the new ISO 9001 you need to look at the overall processes. And that, for some companies, is a major change, almost profound."

The statistics requirements could be another issue, says Mark Lutz, an ISO 9000 consultant. "The main problem area I've seen with my clients has been coming up with measurable objectives and following through on measuring and analyzing to those objectives," he explains. "Section 8 of the new standard talks about measuring processes using statistical analyses. The old standard was much lighter--only requiring statistical analyses where the company identified the need. The new standard is much more prescriptive in this area, saying you need to measure, analyze and improve processes. . . and here's where you need to do it."

On the positive side, most felt that auditing was easier and less prone to disagreement with the registrar compared to the old standard. From those who have already transitioned, both registrars and internal auditors got high scores for understanding how to audit to the new standard.

In general, the response to the standard was mediocre. Much of this could be attributable to a reluctance to change or, as several registrars pointed out, discomfort with a completely different way of viewing a quality management system. It will take a couple of years to assess the real benefits of the new standard. In the meantime, West likens it to an old Philip Crosby lesson: "The first of Crosby's lessons was to do it over again," recalls West. "The system becomes stale unless you refocus it. That's one of the objections to formal systems; they become a bureaucracy. I encourage people to look at this change as an opportunity to make their system better. This is a great opportunity. Take it."


Some Automotive Suppliers Hold Off On Transition

Our survey indicates that 15 percent of currently registered QS-9000 companies are not going to pursue ISO 9001:2000 registration. Most of these companies will instead simply wait until they transition to ISO/TS 16949:2002, which includes ISO 9001:2000. The perceived advantage is that companies have until the end of 2006 to make that transition. Here is what the Automotive Supplier Quality Requirements Task Force has to say about that option, according to Russ Hopkins, Ford Motor Co.'s representative to the task force:

n The task force strongly recommends to all QS-9000-registered suppliers that they upgrade to ISO/TS 16949:2002.

n Suppliers can migrate from QS-9000 to ISO/TS 16949:1999 and then migrate to ISO/TS 16949:2002 next year--or in 2004, if the customer agrees. This is a business decision for the supplier.

n The task force recommends that suppliers upgrade to ISO/TS 16949:2002 at the end of their current QS-9000 or ISO/TS 16949:1999 certifications rather than wait until the last minute to avoid impacting the registrars. This is also a business decision for the supplier.

n All suppliers must upgrade to ISO/TS 16949:2002 by the end of 2006.

n Individual OEMs may specify particular dates for certification earlier than 2006.



This year's survey was faxed to 34,424 fax numbers pulled from the U.S. and Canadian listings in Quality Digest's Online Database of North American Registered Companies. Of those, 28,913 faxes were successfully sent. Of those, 2,690 surveys were either completed online or faxed back, a response rate of 9.3 percent.

The survey was designed using Survey Select Expert from SurveyConnect Inc. The software allowed us to create both an online and print version of the survey. The online survey allowed conditional branching based on question response. SurveyConnect hosted the online survey and e-mailed the response database to Quality Digest at the survey's end. Faxed responses were manually entered into the response database.

Data analysis was done by Quality Digest. The choice of data to extract was based on conversations with registrars and our knowledge of topics that interest our readers.

About the author

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest's technology editor. Letters to the editor regarding this piece can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com.