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Why ISO 9000 Should Be A Company's Guidepost, And Not TQM

BY BRUCE BISHOP

The ISO-9000 quality standard and total quality management (TQM) are both necessary for any organization to become world class. But ISO is far superior because it offers a set of guidelines for quality management and can stand alone, while TQM can not.

TQM, which generally refers to some program of continuous improvement, is the wrong name. It is not quality management but process management --  the process of improvement. And it is not total since it only addresses one aspect of quality management --  improvement. Sometimes, TQM deals with things that don't even impact quality from the customers' point of view.

ISO-9000 is total quality management. It requires management of every process in an organization that impacts quality. While ISO-9000 is a clearly defined system, TQM is a philosophy.

ISO-9000 is an excellent tool for managing quality. Its core requirements have the same meaning worldwide. Although it is sometimes misinterpreted, audits by an outside registrar help to put it on the right track.

TQM on the other hand is a philosophical concept, with no generally accepted definition. Like religion, there are as many versions as there are advocates. A study by Ernst & Young turned up some 945 different approaches being peddled as TQM by consultants who claim to help clients implement it.

ISO-9000 is preventive. TQM is remedial.

ISO-9000 systematically addresses every area of a business where quality problems can occur. It does this by requiring that management define the potential problems and implement appropriate practices to prevent them. This gives managers broad latitude in determining their policies and procedures, many of which are informal and already exist but simply need to be documented and followed consistently.

There are only a half-dozen or so aspects to any business where quality problems can originate. They include order entry, design control, material procurement, document control, process control and training. ISO-9000 addresses each of these areas to ensure that management has a plan in place to prevent quality problems.  

TQM is aimed at identifying the causes of quality problems and eliminating them. The theory is that by involving everyone in solving quality problems, eventually all problems will be eliminated and the company's quality will continue to get better and better. Unfortunately, TQM is based on studying past data which amounts to examining the barn door after the horse has run away. 

A company can go from having no quality system to being ISO certified in as little as six months. The typical TQM program takes a year or so just to get started. As one Ford Motor Company executive stated in 1991, "We have been working on TQM for ten years and we figure we are about halfway there."

One of the greatest features of ISO-9000 is that it is self-policing. TQM is not. What's more, ISO-9000 has continuous improvement built right in. In order to maintain certification, management must be able to prove that quality problems are addressed and resolved as they occur. The "continuous improvement loop" in ISO-9000 consists of "corrective actions," "internal audits" and "management reviews." Whenever a quality problem appears, it must be documented and a root-cause "corrective action" must be devised and implemented.  Once implemented, the corrective action must be reviewed during the next internal audit and the results reported to a formal management review. If the problem is solved, no further action is required. If the corrective action didn't fix the problem, then management must come up with a new corrective action, which is then audited and reported at the next management review. This cycle continues until the problem is solved.  

TQM has a history of fading away over time. While ISO-9000 requires documentation and record keeping, there is no such requirement in TQM. As a result, improvements often get lost or forgotten as new people, new products and new managers come and go. Also, the typical TQM implementation relies heavily on the leadership of a "champion." When the champion goes, so does the TQM program. Unlike ISO-9000, which requires regular audits by an outside party, TQM can disappear without a whimper. According to various published reports, about three-quarters of significantly sized American manufacturers have attempted some form of TQM. Of those programs, about four-fifths have failed to produce any significant results and most of them have simply disappeared.

If a firm is ISO-9000 certified (registered to ISO-9001 or ISO-9002) by an accredited registrar, you can be certain that it is in compliance with the key elements of the standard and that the continuous improvement loop described above is alive and working. If, on the other hand, a firm claims to have a TQM program, you can assume nothing. I recall one CEO who remarked proudly, "Yes, we are doing TQM.  We just hired seven new inspectors."

If a business wants to remain competitive, it must have a robust quality management program. ISO-9000 is the only globally accepted, all-purpose model for quality management in the world. So far, more than 130,000 firms worldwide (20,000 in the U.S.) have become certified to ISO-9000 and the number is growing rapidly.

Once an organization becomes certified to ISO-9000, a maturing process begins which can take from two to five years. This is because human beings take time to adjust to change. After the quality management system has matured sufficiently, a vigorous program of team-based continuous improvement (TQM) could help to further improve quality.

The advanced tools of improvement, such as failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA), quality function deployment (QFD) and six sigma could also help to move the company toward being a world-class operation. But until there is a solid foundation of quality management, which only ISO-9000 provides, there is little to be gained from these advanced techniques.

-- Bruce Bishop is a manufacturing/quality specialist with the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center and recently finished a 10-year professorship at Drexel University where he taught courses in operations management, industrial engineering ISO 9000 and TQM. He can be reached at 215-464-8550.