ISO 9001 - A Brief History and Overview
ISO 9001 has evolved considerably since its inception, and is now much more applicable to a broader range of business types than was the case up until a few years ago.
BS5750, as it was originally known, arose out of production line style manufacturing, this being the predominant industry in the UK at that time. This emphasis however caused many problems with its use and interpretation when endeavouring to apply it to the service sector type businesses that have proliferated since the 80s.
In 1987 the BS5750 name was dropped in favour of the international standard, known since by its generic convention ISO9000, and the use of The Standard then grew throughout many other industrialised countries as well as within the UK. A significant reason for the rise in registrations in the UK was due to increasing demands by governmental type organisations and civil project contractors that their suppliers were ISO9000 registered. This was intended to guarantee quality, however this did not always happen, as The Standard did not really encourage business improvement as such, and even more seriously, did not say much about customer service, rather it was more a means of controlling conformance as well as the presumed nonconformities.
It became commonplace for organisations to focus so much on the ISO 9000 requirements themselves that they missed the point about satisfying their customers and improving the quality of their products or services. In some cases it seemed to be more about satisfying the external assessors or auditors. It was not unusual for organizations to simply patch over weaknesses in their ISO 9000 Quality Systems prior to the annual visit by the assessors, and in any event, the ISO 9000 QMS was often seen as separate from the real day to day business.
Fortunately many of the earlier criticisms of The Standard were addressed in the Y2000 update, which moved away from just managing conformance, and now covers many of the wider issues concerned with managing a business, as well as laying greater emphasis on the key areas of customer focus, people involvement, and importantly, continuous improvement.
A very recent update to the Standard was released in late 2008 and the now current version to which organisations will be assessed is ISO 9001:2008, however the changes made in this version are very minor and do not significantly affect the actual requirements; the changes being mostly to clarification notes.
There are in fact a range of standards within the ISO 9000 family, and one that is definitely worth a closer look is ISO 9004, which is in fact a very useful guide to implementing ISO 9001, and can help users to understand more fully how to go about ensuring genuine continuous improvement. ISO 9001:2000 was undoubtedly a big step in the right direction, and is certainly more relevant to today’s service sector industries. However, as with the previous versions, the key to ensuring that ISO 9001 delivers actual business benefits and service improvements is in it’s implementation.
"The effectiveness of using ISO 9001 is simply a matter of how well it is implemented"