Recently, many developments involving quality system standards have occurred, from the third edition of QS-9000 to working drafts of ISO 9001:2000, to an expected committee draft of TS 9000, the ISO 9001-embedded telecommunications standard. In fact, much speculation has been reported about what the year 2000 documents will contain, based on premature analyses of the ISO 9001 working drafts.
These changes should provide greater clarity, ease-of-use and quality system conformity so that suppliers can better meet customer expectations. However, why do companies need revised standards when they aren't yet using what they have to maximum benefit?
In reality, many companies using ISO 9001/2/3 and/or sector-specific requirements based on ISO 9001 are doomed to disappointment and limited success because their business cultures are opposed to change. People are creatures of habit, and most company habits are based on finding comfort levels in processes and business methods, even if these don't necessarily translate into best practices. ISO 9001 will provide real benefits only if a company sets aside its business culture--its habitual way of doing business--and encourages employees to work as a team to objectively assess their processes for producing products or services.
In April, I attended an eye-opening workshop titled "Writing Instructions People Can Understand" at Quality Expo in Chicago. Conducted by Patricia Krane, quality systems manager at United Technologies Automotive (a major Tier 1 and QS-9000-registered company), the workshop pointed out two problems with breaking the culture habit:
People are desperate for information about how to write effective quality system documentation. At both Quality Expo and ASQ's Annual Quality Congress this year, many quality system documentation workshops were sold out in advance.
Many people are trapped by their companies' cultures. Often, companies develop documentation that neither matches nor affects their processes and cultures. Such quality policies, manuals and procedures look great and pass registrar audits, but don't reflect what people really do--and certainly don't motivate them to change. Consequently, these quality systems become burdens employees avoid and ignore rather than useful tools for quality and continuous improvement.
Even Krane admitted she has been responsible for developing three quality manuals since UT Automotive's QS-9000 registration effort began. All of them satisfied registration requirements, but only the last has actively been used to manage the company's operations and provide significant improvement.
This doesn't mean the previous manuals contributed to inconsistent product that disappointed customers; however, a huge opportunity for greater efficiency, consistency and process improvement was lost. The latest manual documents what the company does in a way that provides improvement opportunities. Most importantly, it's written in a simple, easy-to-follow way employees can use.
Krane's workshop emphasized this particularly. Each table was designated as a department and assigned responsibility for developing procedures relative to a QS-9000 element. My table was appointed human resources and asked to document procedures for Element 4.17, Internal Quality Audits. Of the hour-long period for procedures development, 10 minutes were spent convincing several members we weren't developing procedures for auditing human resources, but rather we were human resources developing the com-pany's auditing procedures!
The group I was in also focused on prioritizing departments before auditing, how often they should be audited and how many auditors to require per audit. Krane and her colleagues advised us to keep the procedures flexible--that is, create documentation so the teams or managers responsible for quality system procedures could decide about these issues themselves and make adjustments based on experience and future needs. Specifying restrictive and prescriptive procedures eliminates flexibility, discourages their use and ultimately stifles innovation and responsibility among employees.
Quality system standards evolution not only benefits companies but also is necessary to ensure they keep pace with marketplace needs. Whatever your company's quality system implementation and registration status, now is the time to look at what you have developed and make sure it really works. Otherwise, any revisions and updates to these "standards" will be pointless and won't improve your processes. Moreover, responsibility may fall to the habitual level of thinking within your organization.
Employees must put their companies' cultures aside and think objectively when approaching documentation. UT Automotive is a better company since Krane did so, and now she is teaching others to kick the habit. ISO 9001:2000 won't solve your company's problems, but changing its habits regarding quality system documentation and implementation will.
About the author
Jim Mroz is senior editor of The Informed Outlook, a twice-monthly newsletter. He can be reached at telephone (703) 680-1436, fax (703) 680-1356, e-mail email@example.com.