Sustainable Learning LO11667 -Comments
Sun, 5 Jan 1997 13:17:40 -0500

Replying to LO11645 --

Joe's friend, Bryce, made some excellent points about the virtue of the
ISO 9000 series standard. Without hesitation, I'd have to say there are
some real benefits to the standard.

First, it allows Internal Auditors a chance to see what goes on in other
departments. I've learned a lot about how my division functions, and where
the interdependencies are, through participating in Internal Audits.

Second, it provides an excellent starting point for any organization
interested in quality and/or learning. The processes act as a sort of
anchor. They bring a certain sense of order.

At the same time the standard actually inhibits certain activities that
can prove extraordinarily beneficial to an organization:

First, it inhibits discontinuous improvement because all changes must go
through the Corrective Action System. A while back I had a conversation
with a person in my organization about discontinuous improvement. He said,
"All you have to do, Ben, is change the procedure. And then you get
discontinuous improvement." My question to him was, "Don't you think the
procedures encourage us to think about our business a certain way? To talk
about it with a certain type of language? Don't you think that these
things become deeply ingrained in our work habits and our thoughts? If
so, then a simple procedural change will not produce discontinuous
improvement. People will have to get used to an entirely new way of
thinking and speaking. Thus, the ISO standard inhibits spontaneous and
discontinuous change." His only response was, "Oh Ben, why do you have to
think so damn much?"

Second, in a similar vein, the standard does not adequately account for
cultural, linguistic, and theoretical influences on the behavior within
the organization. In many respects, these organizational attributes have
far more to do with what people do day-to-day than do formal procedures.

Third, it provides a very clumsy mechanism for sharing information in an
information dependent environment. The overhead required to comply with
section 4.5 is just a little beyond ridiculous, IMO. In our environment
new information is being discovered and obsoleted many, many times a day.
It would take a team of over 25 people just to make sure all the
information we use to do our job is up to date. And then we still wouldn't
be certain we're on top of everything.

Fourth, the standard is very mechanistic. It does not do much to encourage
managers to view their organizations as either a living organism or as a
community. There are several people in my department who have retired from
the military, and they constantly say how similar ISO is to military
quality standards. That's not entirely bad, but its also not entirely
good. But I do know that as long as we have a formal framework that
encourages mechanistic thinking, we're not going to be changing in the
right way.

Finally, I'll conclude my comments by stating that I think ISO 9000 may
work better in a manufacturing environment, but I don't know because I've
never worked in such an environment. I do know, however, that it doesn't
work that well for an environment that lives and breathes off of new
knowledge. Nor does it provide a framework that allows an organization to
make rapid, sudden, and/or comprehensive changes. And the only constant I
can count in my my work is change. . .


Benjamin B. Compton

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