Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Making ISO work for you

ISO certification often is viewed as a holy grail that proves your organization has a solid quality management system.

But does passing an audit really mean you're delivering the goods (and/or services)? Joseph Haefner, Kim Gallagher and Christina Rogers ask that question in this month's cover story, "For Quality ISO Auditing, Take the Long View." Depending upon the organization, the trio of authors maintain, post-certification audits can become more of a check box than a guideline toward improving performance. Pass the audit; hang the shingle; that's all folks.

Others use the process as a tool, adding in lean manufacturing principles, Six Sigma and maybe competing in the Baldrige Performance Excellence program or for the Deming Prize. In the cover story, Haefner, Gallagher and Rogers show that there is a difference between the two paradigms.

They detail the stories of two ISO-certified companies. One parlayed corrective actions into "evidence" for continuous improvement. The other locked its part-per-million nonconforming rate into ISO's "management review" box.

Management at neither enterprise took a long enough view or used the data to find the root cause of problems. Scrap rates were unsustainable and necessitated buying more raw materials – increasing costs. Escalating orders required more production, overwhelming capacity and, again, increasing costs. Late deliveries made for unhappy customers, something ISO-certified status didn't seem to fix.

As is often the case, the problem was management. When managers made different choices, things improved. They decided to take a longer-term view of scrap. They tied key performance indicator trend charts to processes. They brought back old school value stream maps to examine things.

The results pleased everybody. Stable but high scrap rates became stable but low scrap rates. The companies moved from repeatedly fixing problems to making sure the issues didn't crop up again.

Showing how you find and fix problems might be a good way to pass an audit. But figuring out how to prevent those problems from reoccurring is the path toward delivering quality goods and services to your customers. That's true performance excellence.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IISE. Reach him at mhughes@iise.org or (770) 349-1110.