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A View From Frank Steer, Director General IQA


I have read the debate on ISO 9000 and have noted the comments. My concern, however, is not to return to the lists and challenge, or support, each one, but to consider the issue of ISO 9000 and its future in a broader, and hopefully more strategic, context.

The discerning reader will have noted that I have thus far refrained from referring to it as a "standard". To do so in my view lends credence to the perspective that it is more of the "same old standard" and that it carries with it the taint of an old engineering dogma, concerned with little more than the perfection of a finished, manufactured product rather than a root and branch means of developing quality across its full breadth and throughout the complete depth of management.

The new version of ISO 9000 is more usefully viewed as a model, and as such should take its place with the other main management models currently in use or in vogue. Its overhaul from the 1994 "standard" has granted it the opportunity to develop as a major plank of management practice in the years ahead, offering a tool which, if properly used, will permit benchmarking on a global basis as its use develops and its importance is realised.

It is far from being the "only" solution, and the IQA view on its use, as with all other management tools, is that for so long as its implementation will add value and enhance competitiveness then it should be considered; either solely or as part of a suite of tools. It's danger is that senior management view it as a trophy on the wall and a necessary evil required as a license to trade in certain markets. The reality of it is that, as a certification process, achieving it should almost be a given if an organisation is serious about quality and is doing its job properly. Thus, instead of being the "end game" as it is with so many organisations, achievement of the requirements set for ISO 9000 certification should be the start point on a journey which constantly seeks to improve quality in every facet of what we do. It is here that the new model has its greatest opportunity to succeed, and can add its greatest value.

Like all the other models, it will work and work well if it meets two criteria:

  • It is the right model for you, or those parts you use are right for you;

  • Leadership and the motivation for its use comes from the top and meets a reciprocal acceptance of the same values emanating up from the body of the organisation.

I do not subscribe to the views expressed in much of the literature about the demise of ISO 9000. Most of what I read is a critique and condemnation of British management practice rather than one of the systems designed to help people manage properly. As to auditing, the same theme applies. We all know it will be difficult for auditors to come to grips with the new model, but for those that do the rewards will be greater and the value of what they do will be enhanced. Indeed, given the focus on strategy and the need for involvement at board level, to qualify as an auditor (internal or external) can now be considered a part of a career path to senior management, and not simply a job in itself, Auditors, and potential auditors, should grasp this opportunity.

We should view the future with optimism and make full use of the advantage this new model offers, alone or in company with other tool sets. And if it does not offer an advantage, add value, improve competitiveness/effectiveness in a particular organisation or business, then use something else.


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