ISO 9003 was a standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that guided the activities of final inspections and testing. ISO 9003 has become obsolete and no 9003 certification is granted today. ISO replaced 9003 with a new set of standards, ISO 9001, in 2000. ISO 9001 provides a broader framework that covers various aspects of a quality management system. An organization typically seeks 9001 certification today.
The International Organization of Standardization started in 1947 in Switzerland in an attempt to harmonize standards from different countries and create an umbrella that would generate a common set of expectations and a common language of standards. The organization invited one standards expert per country to form technical committees. More than 160 countries joined forces to generate more than 18,000 standards in the past 50 years.
The ISO 9000 series began with the British Government. The United Kingdom confronted quality issues during World War II with munitions defects that made bombs explode in their factories. The procedures and manufacturing standards developed to contain the risks were brought together in the U.K.'s BS 5750 standards.
The BS 5750 guidelines focused on how the manufacturing processes should be managed, not what had to be manufactured. In 1987, ISO agreed to adopt 5750 as the foundation of a new set of international standards, and called it the 9000 series. The first series of the 9000 standards consisted of temporary documents, ISO 9003 being one of them.
ISO 9003 served as a reference for 13 years, from 1987 to 2000. The document addressed how to best run final inspection and final testing to ensure the quality of the product prior to shipment. The approach focused on the process of inspection and not on how the product had been manufactured. The ISO 9003 standards contain some of the principles of the U.S. Defense Department standards. Their MIL specs enforce the conformance of all employees involved with the processes, a principle that has become the major credo of the ISO 9000 standards.
ISO 9001:2000 was released at the turn of the millennium and merged ISO 9003 with another two documents, 9001 and 9002. This combination allowed introducing a radical change and bringing the focus on the management of the processes and the power of compliance to processes, as opposed to zooming in on the product and its quality. An additional significant departure from ISO 9003 stemmed from making upper management accountable for the outcomes and responsible for ensuring the sound deployment of a quality management system. Finally, the use of metrics became an important tool in the 9000 standards to monitor defects and bring about continuous process improvement to catch and fix defects.