Thursday, 12 April 2012

Why ISO Implementations Fail

I'd venture to say most first attempts at ISO implementation fail.  I could be wrong - but that's been my experience.  In today's post, I'll review my thoughts on why these initial attempts tend to fail.

ISO is a framework for your quality management system (QMS).  There are other frameworks, but the world seems to have settled on ISO as the true standard.   Getting your business processes in line with the ISO standard helps ensure that you will execute against your business objectives and (equally important) be able to work smoothly with other ISO compliant companies (both customers and suppliers).  In other words - ISO is a good thing.  Unfortunately, poorly planned implementations tend to leave a bad impression on people.

So why do ISO implementations fail?  

#1 The single biggest reason is over documentation.  

You don't need procedures for every last thing you do.  Trying to document every single thing you do is a giant waste of time.  You will probably never get it done and you will unnecessarily disrupt working undocumented processes.    The standard has a prescribed minimum level of documentation which is very manageable.  ISO9001:2008 requires documented procedures for:
  • Control of documents
  • Control of records
  • Internal audit
  • Control of nonconforming product
  • Corrective action
  • Preventive action
You also need 3 governing documents:
  • Your Quality Manual
  • Your Quality Policy
  • Your Quality Objectives

Here's the cool thing - you can combine some of these procedures and documents.  Corrective and Preventative actions are often combined into a single procedure.    The three governing documents can all be lumped together into the Quality Manual.  So (from a documentation perspective) you can comply with the ISO standard with only six documents.

#2 Waiting too long

Newer small businesses are in the best position to implement ISO.  They have a relatively small number of employees, there are few existing procedures to adjust or tweak into compliance.  Their lack of process is a hurdle they need to overcome.

Big established businesses on the other hand face a range of challenges.  A large workforce is sure to have some stubborn members who will resist ISO implementation.  There will be a range of uncontrolled procedures already in place.  The task of communicating the plan throughout the organization is complicated by the organization's size and layers of middle management.  There are strategies to facilitate implementation for large organizations - but there's no escaping the "big job" ahead of you.

#3 Putting ISO ahead of your business

Your QMS should support your business, not hinder it.  Taking an existing (undocumented) procedure and disrupting it by creating a completely new documented procedure is just wrong.  If the existing procedure works - just document it.  Sometimes working undocumented procedures don't meet the requirements of the standard.  If that's the case, look for ways to bring the process in-line without tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

#4 Insular systems (failing to actually implement your work on the QMS)

Your Quality Management System and your Business Management System need to be one in the same.   In other words, you need to actually use your procedures.  Don't write them up and ignore them.   Remember, your goal is to improve your business.  Be earnest about it.


The ISO people have a very resource rich website.  I'd suggest you start by reading these documentation requirements for the 9001:2008 standard.

There are probably a few dozen other common reasons that ISO implementations go awry.  These reflect my own experience.  Want to share yours?  Leave a comment.

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