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Ticking the boxes

Some of the first attempts at devising and implementing a formal management system for organizations were made by Government – and many of us will have started the Quality journey with BS5750. Our recollections will almost certainly include shelves of documentation to provide exact instruction on every conceivable task. The volume of paperwork, in the days before PC, was a natural consequence of trying to cater for every eventuality.

Such a prescriptive approach – an exercise in box-ticking – was bound to create consistency at the expense of flexibility, even today that perception is most folks’ idea of Quality Management. The result of all that effort was evidence that an organization managed its business and could turn out batches of identical widgets but didn’t necessarily demonstrate an ability to produce what the Customer wanted. Who in their right mind would willingly take on the overhead unless they had to?


The consolidation of efforts from several organizations round the world resulted in the creation of an ISO standard for Quality Management Systems set out in a family of documents. This is where the Customer comes in. It consciously steps back from the prescriptive approach by specifying some sound principles which, if applied correctly, help organizations develop the capability to create and retain satisfied customers.

The ISO committee didn’t propose a product standard: there are no requirements for specific products or services. Instead their idea was to determine your customer needs and expectations and then supply products and services which are intended to satisfy those desires.

I have seen the aims of the standard described as “a quest for confidence” (which stops you making promises to your Customer you can’t keep) and as “a quest for capability” (which helps you match what you can do with what your Customer says).

Security blanket

That process-based approach which revolves around the Customer can also act as your security blanket when times get tough. The construction industry is seen by many as an indicator of good health or otherwise in the nation’s economy: the effects of any downturn in activity ripple outwards to associated industries. Somewhat counter intuitively it is exactly the right time to focus on Quality because the consistency of output and reliability of service are the constants your Customer wants to see. An organization with a well-developed infrastructure is able to focus on what it does well and makes sure it keeps doing that every time.

Common sense prevails

The emphasis has to be on what you are making – not doing things for the Quality Management System badge; your QMS is the representation of evidence of what you do every day to make your products. If you make the QMS an end in itself, it will only get you so far; the benefits come in effectiveness and efficiency in your processes as well as the confidence of reliability of your output.

Where to next?

The current implementation of ISO 9001 will become more relevant for organizations that provide services as well as manufacturing industry. I’m looking forward to the extension to the standard into managing risk and how it will help the organization show it is in control if it needs to go “off-road”. Wishing you every success in your Management of Quality.