ISO Quality Standards Are Changing

Those companies that have undergone the ISO 9000 accreditation process may or may not be pleased to find out that much of the standard is changing. According to Lee Bravener of National Quality Assurance, USA (Acton, Massachusetts), an ISO registrar, the change is necessary in order to allow the standard the flexibility to accommodate ongoing changes in business practices as well as the particular concerns of individual industries.

Columns From: 10/1/1999 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Those companies that have undergone the ISO 9000 accreditation process may or may not be pleased to find out that much of the standard is changing. According to Lee Bravener of National Quality Assurance, USA (Acton, Massachusetts), an ISO registrar, the change is necessary in order to allow the standard the flexibility to accommodate ongoing changes in business practices as well as the particular concerns of individual industries.

Some industries have already established their own customizations of the ISO standard, such as QS-9000 for automotive or AS-9000 for aerospace. And, as the thinking goes in standards circles, the more variation you have to a standard, the less of a standard it becomes. With each new variant comes its own bureaucracy to feed. Moreover, suppliers dealing with customers in different industries may end up where they started, having to comply with multiple quality standards within their own organization.

So, the ISO organization set out to draft a new set of quality standards, with the current (but not yet ratified) version known as "ISO 9000:2000." We could hardly begin to characterize the planned changes in this brief space, but one big difference is that the 9001, 9002 and 9003 accreditation categories are probably going away. The old method was "novel and logical," says Mr. Bravener, "but never seemed to work the way it was intended." While the three levels were intended to serve different kinds of organizations, many people instead took them as a hierarchy that was never the aim of the system.

Of course, not everybody is going to be happy about the changes. Already some camps are howling with disapproval, saying the new standards will further complicate what was already a rigorous process. In some aspects, however, the standard is more generally stated, leaving more room for subjective interpretation—a possibly double-edged sword. Then there are the organizations that devoted substantial resources to ISO accreditation and aren't anxious to spend a whole lot more meeting the next standard.

I'm not sure how much of that reaction is warranted and how much is emotion. But one thing is certain. The ISO quality standard is going to change, and if your company has or seeks accreditation, you'll want to look into the process soon.

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