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Sunday, April 24, 2011

ISO in English

If you are in manufacturing you have heard of ISO.  For those who have heard of ISO, it's quit probable what you have heard is negative,  Redundant, excess paperwork, and a waist of time are common perceptions of ISO.  I am going to attempt to dispel these perceptions.
To understand ISO it is essential to establish it's history and purpose.
ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. ISO was founded in 1947 as an attempt to integrate several standards organizations worldwide.
Companies concerned with establishing standards for quality must insure the same standards are imposed on their raw material and component distributors. To accomplish this representatives were sent to the suppliers to audit processes and machinery and provide input for improvements.  Although somewhat costly this was reasonable since most related distributors were located in the same city. As transportation improved ,companies were able to select suppliers in other cities and states.  Quality audits visit became more difficult and less frequent. ISO became a useful alternative. When companies select distributors that subscribe to ISO they are accepting an outside organization, ISO to insure the quality they require.
The challenge for ISO was establishing standards that insure quality in diverse industries.  How do you establish one set of standards that would apply to assembling jet engines and manufacturing springs? ISO addressed this situation by establishing standards for the process not the product.
ISO requires companies to define all of their processes, in detail, establish their process for identifying customer requirements, establish their measurements of all outputs and follow specific procedures to identify and correct problems.  That is ISO in short, tell what you are going to do, make sure it happens correctly and fix it when it doesn't.  Sounds allot like continuous improvement.
So, if ISO is this simple, why all the bad publicity.  Consider this example,
You are president of the "Shoe Tying Company". Your customers are requiring that you become ISO certified. No problem.
First, define your process in writing.  You must write out the specific steps in tying shoe laces so a person with no knowledge can repeat the process.  EVERY STEP FOR EVERY SHOE FOR EVER CUSTOMER.  You take most steps for granted.  ISO requires you to document them in detail. 
Process Description for Shoe Tying
   Insure that both ends are of equal length
   Cross the two ends
   Loop the right end under the loop
   Pull both ends and tighten .....
Tighten?, How tight?  If you pull too far it will hurt and may break the laces, too loose and the shoes will not fit correctly. How do you define tight.  Tight might be considered completely different for a weight lifter in his prime and a young child,  This is the key to ISO.  Specific directions must be measurable and specific for each individual product.  This makes the task more difficult but allows you to define the quality you seek and determine if it is achieved when the operation is complete.
Now you know specifically how and what you expect the outcome to be.  ISO isn't done yet.
Your shoe tying company is going great.  You are tying the perfect shoe laces every time. Then after six months, a strings breaks.  This wasn't expected. It's a non conformity.  An NCR, Non conformity report is generated. ISO requires you to correct the problem.  A CAR, Corrective Action Report is filed.  You investigate to determine what caused this unexpected result (The Root Cause). After reviewing you find that the strings get worn and weaken after six months.  You change your procedure to replace laces after five months to eliminate this problem.  The new step in the procedure is documented.  You have improved your process.  Strings will not break in the future.  A different pair breaks a lace, another NCR. After checking it has only been three months since you changed the laces. Your new procedure, changes laces at five months before they are worn.  A CAR is started and your root cause investigation identifies these laces were not waxed like the previous ones.  Another corrective action.  You find that your customer specified un-waxed laces.  You change your procedures to replaced un-waxed laces at two months.  Now you are establishing yourself as truly the expert in your field through your continuous improvement program, ISO.
This is an oversimplification of ISO but it illustrates the benefits.  ISO is a continuous improvement program that allows you to recognize when things are not as you expected and make changes that will stay in place after initiated.  Each time you find a problem, you make your product better.  Problems are opportunities with ISO.
If ISO is so great, why are some people so reluctant to embrace it?  It takes discipline. It takes time.  For ISO to work you must be committed to continuous improvement and willing to invest the time to make it work.  The human memory is amazing.  It can store and process more information than any computer known to man.  The problem is the Mind sometimes has a mind of its own.  It becomes distracted and sometimes leaves out details.  If it's important enough to do it right, it's important enough to write it down.
Documentation is the driving force behind ISO.  People like to create and complete, they don't like documenting what they have already done.  For ISO to work it must be documented.
If a customers requires a company to become ISO certified, what insurance do they have that the supplier will follow through on the process?  Audits.  ISO requires documented internal and external audits.  To be ISO certified a company must hire a certified outside auditor annually.  The outside auditor will review the company's documentation and evaluate if they have appropriately followed the ISO process. Everything is verified.
Hopefully now, when someone brings up ISO you will know that this is a positive thing for your company.  You will know that ISO is more than a marketing tool for potential customers.  ISO is the framework for your company to continually get better at what it does, It allows the company to consistently provide the same level of quality, time after time.
I can assure you of one thing.  If your competitor embraces ISO and you do not.  Over time, their quality will surpass yours.

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