ISO – the International Organization for Standardization – publishes management system standards. In a global economy, use of the ISO management system standards provides a common basis for mutual understanding around the world.
To date, over a million organizations around the world have been certified to the ISO 9001 standard for quality management systems and over a quarter of a million have been certified to the ISO 14001 standard for environmental management systems.
Why do they do that?
I can think of three primary reasons:
>> Customers have, literally, a world of suppliers to pick from. So, increasing they demand that their suppliers reliably provide flawless products, often on short lead times, at highly competitive prices. Increasingly, certification(s) of ISO compliance are required by supply contract specifications. Moreover, customers are concerned about their suppliers as extensions of themselves, through their value streams. Customers, particularly larger customers, are demanding that suppliers actively participate in customers’ Sustainability initiatives.
>> Manufacturers find that systematic methods prevent defects, reduce waste, improve productivity and provide better information for decision making, hence supporting profitability.
>> Formal management systems, certified to recognized international standards, provide credibility with financial institutions, regulatory agencies and other interested parties, including prospective business partners.
So, for marketing reasons and for operational reasons, more and more manufacturers are implementing quality and environmental management systems. In an increasingly global economy, it makes sense to have those systems comply with recognized international standards.
Further, implementing and earnestly using ISO compliant quality and environmental systems – systematic actions, sustained over time – helps to build the foundation for a meaningful Sustainability program.
How does ISO certification happen?
ISO 9001, the quality systems standard, is usually the best place to start. However, it may be a good idea to gut-check before you begin. Developing, documenting and implementing a meaningful quality management system is a big job that will involve nearly everybody to some extent or another. If senior management isn’t totally on-board, you might want to think again. Failed organizational initiatives result in serious organizational hang-overs.
>> The first step is to get a better understanding of what becoming certified to the ISO 9001 standard involves. There are lots of books available, as well as seminars and workshops (the American Society for Quality, www.asq.org, is one good source).
>> Unless you already have an in-house ISO expert, you will also need a consultant. One way to find a consultant with experience that fits your business is to contact your local Manufacturing Extension Partnership office (locate through www.NIST.gov/MEP). In many areas, state quality associations and local community college systems also offer technical support of this type. If you are a member of a trade association, the association may be able to help identify consultants with specific industrial experience.
>> The next step is to appoint a project team that meets with the consultant to become familiar with the ISO 9001 standard, then to draft a project plan, a schedule and a budget.
>> Then, the project team, with the consultant’s support, begins to identify and document processes. The ISO 9001 standard is quite explicit as to the processes that require identification and documentation – look for language in the standard that starts with “shall”. Most of the processes the ISO 9001 standard mentions already exist in any operating manufacturing business – processes like how you enter and control customer orders, how you train your workforce, how you certify that product is ready for shipment, and so on. The ISO 9001 standard doesn’t tell you how to operate your business. Instead, it asks you to document what you do, to do what you say that you do, and to improve your processes continuously, on the basis of experience gained.
>> As processes are documented they can be implemented, making sure that the documentation consistently matches the reality.
>> It is then necessary to choose a certification agency. There are many of them, so you can pick and choose. Your consultant’s advice will be quite useful here.
>> Finally, when the implementation is complete and has been operating for several months, a certification audit is scheduled. The certification audit consists of a thorough review of your documentation to confirm that all of the “shalls” have been adequately addressed, followed by an on-site audit to determine that the quality management system, as implemented, matches the documentation.
That’s it – you are ISO 9001 certified. Congratulations all around for a big job accomplished. When you go on to add ISO 14001 environmental management system certification, you will find the process to be similar.
All of this sounds quite demanding. It is. But, done well, your business will be much better for the team effort involved. The level of effort involved isn’t all that bad – remember that over a million facilities have already been certified, many of them just as resource constrained and just as busy as you.
Your thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.
… Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)
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P.S: A recent post, Jousting with the Dragon, discussed tensions between China and smaller manufacturers outside of China. Over the past several days, there have been interesting articles in other publications on the same general topic. In particular, the January 21 – 27 issue of The Economist includes a 14 page special report on “The Rise of State Capitalism”, which focuses on the relationship between industry and State, especially in China.
Also the New York Times published an article on why the Apple i-Phone is manufactured in China, and why those jobs are not coming back to the U.S. The article is available on-line at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html?_r=2&ref=charlesduhigg&pagewanted=all