This is the text of an article published by Peter Griffin as an introduction to Quality Assurance and ISO9000 Registration.

Lately, it seems that every trade journal we receive bristles with announcements of companies achieving Quality Assurance registration; to ISO 9000, throughout the world. Registrations are unlikely to wane (even though journal editors may cease to give them space), but what does this certification mean...... and how do we achieve it?

Maybe, these companies have suddenly become successful, achieved improved profits, joined a new club,... or perhaps they have purchased some new academic qualification. All of these could be true!

Quality Assurance Registration is a grand, and ambiguous, term for companies who should be able to satisfy customers, consistently. As individuals, we probably shop at the same supermarket every week because it satisfies our requirements better than others. We make these decisions on the basis of "quality", i.e. satisfying our personal requirements. If our chosen supermarket changed its policy or performance we may well change our allegiance. Quality does not mean high or low performance, it means reliably consistent products or service.

If we look at successful companies (e.g. Sony, McDonalds, Toyota, BMW), they commonly possess a sound reputation for consistency, reliability, value for money and good customer service. They also have large numbers of repeat customers, who continue to return. This is their recipe for success.

Certification means that companies have been examined, and found to have an effective management system, which is capable of consistent performance. This examination is conducted against a published standard known throughout the world as ISO (International Standard) 9000 series. If we look in detail at successful companies, we find that each of their management systems possess similar elements. ISO9000 describes those elements as a set of requirements for any company's management system.

How do we achieve Registration ?

The primary requirement is that the company has a consistent management system.
In most companies performance is variable. Customers contacting a Help Desk may receive good service from some agents, and not so good service from others. This variation probably applies to all aspects of the company, and will need improvement in order to consistently satisfy and retain customers. However, all companies provide a degree of consistent performance resulting from its employees, and the training they receive (either formally or from informal conversations). Quality Assurance requires the use of a set of documented procedures containing the "best practice" of the company, and available to all personnel as a single source of reference. Consistency is achieved by the application of this single source of the best practice.

Obviously, it must be remembered that improvement is always possible via new tools, techniques, skills, equipment. When this occurs, the best practice will change, and the procedures will need to be updated.

If an individual is to be encouraged to use a procedure for reference, the procedure needs to be understandable, simple and available. A good example is a recipe. This normally contains simple instructions, and is more usable if it contains a photograph of the finished article, enabling us to perform a complex process, producing consistently good product, time and time again.

What are the requirements of ISO9000 ?

The requirements are sound common sense.
Systems would be required for customer related activities, e.g.:-

Contract Review -ensuring that the customer's needs are correctly identified

Document Control -ensuring that staff are issued with the correct versions of documentation (including software) needed to perform the task; and removing obsolete documents

Purchasing -ensuring identity of preferred suppliers; and a system for advising them of what is expected to be supplied

Training -ensuring that training needs are identified; and records of who has been trained, in which topics

Non-conformance -documenting errors and ensuring that they are corrected

Corrective Action -preventing errors from recurring; processing customer complaints and improving

The standard does not specify what the systems should be, clarifies that certain systems should exist. The nature of the system is developed by the company to suit its own needs, as simply and effectively as possible.

Who performs the examination ?

This is undertaken by one of many Regsitration Bodies. These are independent bodies established to assess company management systems to ISO9000. They employ assessors or auditors, who are Registered under a national recognition scheme.

What is the process of Registration ?

Once a Registration Body has been chosen, the company's procedures are reviewed (by an auditor) for compliance to ISO9000. This results in a report confirming compliance, or highlighting areas where further clarification is required.

The final stage is for auditors to visit the company in order to check that it's operations are in accordance with its procedures. If some items are not working correctly, these will be documented as discrepancies or noncompliances, for correction by the company.

Whether a company succeeds at the first attempt will depend upon the nature of the discrepancies raised (not necessarily on the quantity).

Once Registration is achieved, the auditors(s) will return, normally twice per year, for routine surveillance visits. These brief examinations ensure that the management system continues to operate effectively.

What are the costs and timescales involved ?

The timescale is decided by the company; it may be as short as 3 months, or as long as many years. Speed is a positive benefit as it can develop a momentum of its own, making any change easier to achieve.

The choice of Registration Body can also influence the timescale as some will perform their role in 5 weeks, whilst others will take 7 months or more.

Costs split into 3 main categories:
Company This is the cost of time spent by company personnel

Consultant It is common to use a consultant to help with development and implementation of a quality management system, as this may achieve the objectives more cheaply, effectively or rapidly. The cost of quality management consultancy would normally be at least $12000, for companies of up to 150 employees.

Registration This cost is variable depending upon the choice of Registration Body. For example a company of 25 employees can pay from $2000 to $12000 for the initial registration.

While the timescale and cost from registration bodies can vary, they are all performing the same task. The cheaper bodies also tend to be the quicker performers.

Where do we go from here ?

To gain more information contact Peter Griffin & Associates on
or any of the regsitration bodies.

Editor's Notes

Peter Griffin is managing consultant of P Griffin & Associates (PGA); one of the leading quality management consultancies operating in Europe and the USA.

P Griffin & Associates have assisted 260 companies (ranging from 3 employees to multi-national corporations) to achieve improvements in quality and ISO9000 Registration.

While the majority of companies fail to achieve ISO9000 certification at the first attempt, 98% of PGA's quality assurance clients have achieved first-time success.

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Last modified February 2006
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