The May 2005 Issue of Inc. discusses the benefits and pitfalls of pursuing and maintaining ISO Certification.
From a personal standpoint, I have seen ISO pursued by major international corporations, as well as smaller independent businesses. I have seen it pursued as the result of an internal drive for quality and process improvement, and pursued reluctantly as the result of a command from the parent company.
I believe ISO certification is wasted on a company that doesn't truly strive for continued process improvement, and live to achieve the highest quality at the lowest possible cost.
If ISO certification is obtained solely in order to obtain a government contract, or meet the demands of a client who only uses ISO certified vendors, you may get burned. You can spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in the pursuit, but not make a dime more in sales.
What happens when a manufacturer requiring ISO certification does an about face and drops ISO standards and gives its business to non-compliant vendors?
Imagine spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with your main clients' demand for vendor ISO certification. Then, after you complete the process, the client decides it doesn't care about ISO anymore. To add insult to injury, they now give business to vendors who do inferior quality work at lower prices, and tell you your prices are too high. What do you do then?
ISO needs to be the external expression of a company which naturally embodies the spirit of continual improvement.
Making your employees create manuals about how to do their job is a miserable thing when they don't care about doing it. Documenting the intricate details of manufacturing or service so you can replicate a procedure repeatedly to ensure consistent quality is not for the faint-hearted. Keeping an eye out for problems in the present systems, and brainstorming about ways to continually make the processes more streamlined and efficient, is a chore when it isn't your heart's desire in a business.
But when you desire, from your very core, to offer consistently efficient, streamlined, high quality service and products, then ISO is an excellent tool to systemize your business. It helps you remove redundant processes, and create value-added processes to your business. It can also be a great way to prepare your company for sale. ISO forces you to create a practical blueprint for your business that anyone could follow, making it easier for someone to purchase your business and make an easier transition.
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Penny Haynes, Digital Business Books