In this blistering attack on one of the sacred cows of business today, John Seddon shows how the ISO standards are not only failing to deliver the improved quality they promise, but in most cases are actually damaging the companies that have implemented them.
Seddon explains why the command-and-control ethos that pervades the ISO way of thinking - an inflexible compliance to a rigid set of written rules - is precisely what most companies do not need. In its place, he shows how real quality can be achieved in businesses today by viewing the organization as a system and taking a customer-focused view of the company's products and procedures.
In this updated paperback edition, which includes a critical analysis of the new and much-hyped ISO 9000: 2000 version of the Standard, Seddon maintains his position that managers should say NO to ISO 9000. For those who feel they "have to" register to ISO, Seddon shows them how to avoid the usual pitfalls of the Standard.
Review By: Cathy Bell 01/10/2002The author has been an outspoken opponent of the ISO 9000 standards since the first edition of this book was published in 1997. The publication of a new standard, ISO 9000:2000, prompted him to again take pen to paper.
Is the new standard an improvement worth the time required to achieve ISO certification? This author says the new standard is a substantially different document, but much of the traditional ISO philosophy remains. This book begins with a brief history of ISO 9000 and explains why this may not have been the best solution to the problem. The solution was to control production with inspections, which would ensure conformance to quality. This method “began the confusion of ‘quality assurance’ with ‘quality improvement.’” ISO was adopted as the standard for many industries, and anyone who wanted to do business in certain sectors would have to be ISO certified.
By the early 1990s, more than 25,000 organizations in the UK had been assessed and registered, but there is mounting evidence, presented in chapter 2, that many did not see this as a benefit to their companies. From this research, the author came up with ten arguments against ISO 9000, which he outlines in chapter 3, along with supporting evidence for his views. Chapter 4 tells the reader that ISO 9000 “was assumed to be good for business” when it was actually more like “the emperor has no clothes.” Those who defend the standard are given space to air their views, but arguments against their reasons follow. One of the most significant arguments against ISO 9000 is stated in this chapter: “Control of procedures will control output. But quality is concerned with improving output.”
Is there a better way? Chapter 5 begins our journey toward looking at an organization from a “systems” point of view. ISO 9000 is linked to command and control thinking, while we are encouraged to adopt “systems” thinking. A system is a whole, made up of parts, and those parts must work together to foster improvement. The customer is always the focus of the system, an “outside in” view as opposed to the top down view of ISO 9000. An advantage of systems thinking is that it can be easily adapted to software quality.
Chapter 6 discusses companies that felt ISO 9000 registration was beneficial, but they could not point to specific areas where they had made improvements in quality or customer satisfaction as a direct result of certification. However, they had to acknowledge the costs were high and their real motivation for certification was often customers stating, “if you don’t comply, we won’t buy.” Chapter 7 illustrates that systems thinking is a better way for employees to work and companies to function, improving efficiency and fostering better relationships with customers. The final chapters acknowledge the changes in ISO 9000:2000 but warn that this is still the same old way of thinking, just presented in a different wrapper.
I agree with the author and his research team on many of the points that are made against ISO certification. Being certified requires a massive effort on the part of companies in terms of labor and mounds of paperwork to prove standards are being established, maintained, and met. However, since the emphasis is solely on meeting set standards, the employees’ motivation to improve, or even think of improvements, is replaced with the drive to meet the set goal. Employees in the case studies admitted to cheating to meet the quotas set by the standards, which meant customers were receiving substandard products.
My only concern with this book is that the author’s proposed solution is to follow his system. It makes this effort to expose the flaws of ISO 9000 appear to be self-serving.
I would recommend that any company being “forced” into certification read this book to see the flaws with the process. There are examples of companies that have managed to achieve ongoing improvement around the ISO process and have received or retained their certification.