ISO 9000 represents a family of standards issued in 2000 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO 9000 advocates the use of process control to achieve quality results that meet customer expectations. ISO changed the name of these guidelines from ISO 9000 to ISO 9001:2008, the most recent version that integrates several updates. These standards have been adopted globally.
The International Organization for Standardization
The International Organization for Standardization opened its doors right after World War II with the mission to harmonize industry standards. The intent was to facilitate the development of technology that could operate in different parts of the world and interact with other equipment through compatible interfaces. ISO, in collaboration with 163 nations, issued more than 18,000 standards.
Context of ISO 9000
ISO 9000 found its inspiration in an older military British standard, BS 5750. These guidelines were deployed during World Word II and represented rigorous rules about the construction and manipulation of munitions for the assembly of bombs. The United Kingdom recommended BS5750 to ISO as a reference for building a broader set of standards that would include non-military applications. ISO developed several versions that finally lead to the issuance of ISO 9000 at the beginning of this new millennium.
ISO 9000 aims to achieve an error-free environment through the continuous improvement of processes. The standards emphasize the need to document the best practices of the company and to ensure that the employees follow the documented instructions closely. “Document what you do, and follow what has been written down” synthesizes the philosophy of ISO 9000.
On a day-to-day basis, employees trained in the art of ISO 9000 monitor the outcomes of the processes. When an unexpected result surfaces, the staff traces the deviation back to its origin. A correction may take the form of an update to the process documents that tighten the procedure or the operator is retrained.
The University of California at Berkeley and David Levine, professor of business administration in the Haas School of Business, assessed the popularity of ISO 9000. Since its inception, 900,000 organizations located in 170 countries have adopted these standards. Similarly, the University of California at Los Angeles sponsored a study looking the deployment of ISO 9000 in its early days. The United Kingdom became the first country to endorse the ISO 9000 practices, which then spread rapidly to the United States, followed by Australia and New Zealand.
Levine reviewed 1,000 ISO-certified organizations over a period of 11 years to assess the benefit brought in a company by the implementation of the ISO 9000 methodology. Results showed that these endorsers benefited from a clear understanding of the management’s position about quality. These companies also requested from their suppliers and partners to be ISO-certified to share common values about quality. Increases in earnings per employee followed the ISO certification.
A company seeking ISO 9000 certification contacts an accreditation agency located within its country. This accreditation group contracts auditors who spend several days watching the employees' daily activities and noting when their action differs from the process instructions. The report written at the end of the visit summarizes the gaps observed and ranks them in terms of minor or major deviations. Major disconnects must typically be addressed before the certification is granted. Minor ones receive a one-year grace period.