Do you have time to fill out more documentation and accommodate ISO 9000 auditors who periodically check in to evaluate your operations? If the use of ISO 9000 standards gains the momentum that many experts expect, your company may be pressed to comply with a whole new set of standards and expectations.

In her recent article, “What CIOs need to know about ISO 9000 standards,” TechRepublic’s Loraine Lawson discussed the ISO 9000 standards with team-building consultant David Riggs. While Riggs, who specializes in ISO 9000 implementation, explained the importance of the management quality-assurance system, many TechRepublic members won’t believe the hype revolving around ISO 9000. This article highlights the reasons why many TechRepublic members see ISO 9000 standards as an unwelcome change to their workplaces.

More paperwork equals less action
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of ISO 9000 standardization is the amount of red tape involved. When Chad La Nier worked for a manufacturing company that was trying to become ISO 9000 certified, the increase in paperwork significantly impeded daily operations.

Mistakes in the supply chain had to be processed through a complex series of signatures and compliance measures, which slowed down operations considerably. “Then,” said La Nier, “we started to notice we were losing $36,000 a month to paperwork on nonquality parts, and instead of letting people fix it on the spot, we started to have engineers inspect…each machine when it went out the door.”

After six rounds of layoffs, the company is “still losing money to paperwork, but they do it a lot quicker. Thanks, ISO 9000.”

The problems that La Nier’s former employer experienced confirm the concern that enterprise architect Jim Huggy has regarding ISO 9000: Paperwork and bureaucracy will impede workflow.

“When you remove the ability for a single person to be empowered to…complete [a task] or take action, then you slow everything down.”

Standards can be modified
La Nier’s example illustrates how standards can strip many workers of their autonomy and idiosyncratic work methods. However, without some kind of standardization and structure, the potential for chaos and disaster is high. The key, according to many TechRepublic members, is to create standards appropriate for the organization and its employees.

TechRepublic member Jeffe believes that attempting to standardize the experience of individual workers ignores their ability to solve problems by intuition. To avoid this, Jeffe proposes setting specific standards that evolve as a project matures. Jeffe believes this method would not only allow experienced workers the freedom to make decisions but it would also generate documentation that could be used as a reference tool by less-experienced workers, as well as by auditors.

Throughout the discussion, several members compared the restrictions of standards to a straight jacket. However, according to member Jon Garner, principal software engineer for an ISO 9000-certified company, the analogy is inappropriate because standards can be customized to fit an organization’s needs.

“If you don’t want straight-jacket procedures, then don’t write them that way to start with. Second, if you find that a procedure has become a straight jacket, then rewrite the procedure. You will find that most of your procedures will be rewritten over the years.”

A platform for customization
No matter how one looks at ISO 9000 certification, it will inevitably create more work for the organization. Creating organization-specific standards is even more demanding on a company’s time and resources. If an organization is backed into a corner and is faced with accepting ISO 9000, member Jim Huggy suggests creating an open source ISO 9000 library of standards that various organizations have used: “…an enterprising group could create an interface that would allow people to select the items they want, make term substitutions, and automatically generate the standards.”

What’s your take on ISO 9000 standards?

Will standards benefit or impede an organization’s daily efforts? In what ways, if any, can you minimize the initial impact and heightened workload? What did you think of the members’ suggestions in this article? Join the discussion and share your thoughts.