The case against ISO 9000
by John Seddon
BS 5750 was one of the national standards from which the ISO 9000 series was developed, despite there being no evidence that it had merit. Everything I have learned suggests to me that this has been a mistake of monumental proportions. Rather than improving the quality and competitive position of organizations, ISO 9000 has made matters worse. I have found that its underlying thinking has little or nothing to do with quality and its implementation has prevented managers from seeing what might have been seen if they had taken a different – and genuine – quality view. ISO 9000 is claimed to be a quality management standard, certification to it being a formal recognition that an organization is managed in a quality manner. When I first came across the standard in the mid-1980’s, I was persuaded that the obvious overbureaucratization was due to managers taking an inappropriately internal and administrative attitude. At that time, I was dissuaded from being too critical. Criticism would have implied that I was not a supporter of the quality movement. Through the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, the bandwagon rolled on. Marketplace obligation, driven largely by government organizations and, latterly, the larger commercial organizations, meant an everincreasing number of certifications. ISO 9000 became ubiquitous and its status as a requirement for doing business lessened the chances of anyone questioning whether it was doing any good.
Not everyone is happy with the widespread implementation of ISO 9000. In the United Kingdom, one of the standard’s strongest critics is John Seddon, Managing Director of Vanguard Consulting1), who has written the book, In Pursuit of Quality: The Case Against ISO 9000. In the following article, Mr. Seddon summarizes his arguments against ISO 9000 which he castigates for what he sees as its “command and control” orientation. This, he says, is in direct contrast to the flexible, customerfocused approach necessary for business success in today’s highly competitive marketplace.
John Seddon is an occupational psychologist, researcher, lecturer and Managing Director of the British management consultancy, Vanguard.
Rather than improving the quality and competitive position of organizations, ISO 9000 has made matters worse People say I must have had a bad experience with ISO 9000 as a child. I just did the research! Since 1979, British organizations have been persuaded, even coerced, into achieving certification of their quality systems, first to the British Standard, BS 5750, and then to ISO 9000, which was published in 1987 by ISO.
The cover of John Seddon’s book, In Pursuit of Quality: The Case Against ISO 9000 (ISBN 1-86076-042-2), which is published by Oak Tree Press. Priced at GBP 18,95, it can be ordered directly from Vanguard.
1) Vanguard Consulting,Villiers House, 1 Nelson Street, Buckingham MK18 1BU, United Kingdom. Tel. + 44 1280 82 22 55. Fax + 44 1280 82 22 66. WWW http:// www.vanguardconsult.co.uk
ISO 9000 NEWS 4/1998
I might never have questioned ISO 9000’s contribution to business performance if it had not been for my clients asking me what they should do about it. They too were concerned about the evident bureaucratization. They were perplexed by the idea that this rather formal and strictly enforced regime had something to do with quality. I felt unable to offer constructive advice, so I sought out research. Then came my first shock. We had been employing this standard in United Kingdom for over ten years and there was no research which would illuminate whether it was doing good or harm and, by implication, no clear guidance on how, if it is at all possible, an organization might approach it beneficially.
of its promoters. At the time, I assumed this minority had taken a more productive approach. So, to learn more, my research team visited them. What we found was shocking. In every case, we found evidence of...
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