Many of the tools used in quality management today were developed in Japan after World War II. In statistical process control, Japanese companies borrowed heavily from the work of W. Edwards Deming. However, Japanese companies are largely responsible for quality circles, JIT, the idea that quality is everyone’s responsibility, and the emphasis on prevention rather than on inspection.
In the 1980s, quality reemerged as a pivotal factor in the market. Many companies now find that it is impossible to effectively compete without a very strong quality program in place. This is particularly true of companies that wish to compete in the European market.
The ISO 9000 Standards
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, has established quality control guidelines known as the ISO 9000 standards . Many companies and organizations in Europe will buy only from ISO 9000-certified suppliers. This means that the suppliers must demonstrate to a certifying agency that:
· 1. A quality control system is in use, and the system clearly defines an expected level of quality.
· 2. The system is fully operational and is backed up with detailed documentation of quality control procedures.
· 3. The intended level of quality is being achieved on a sustained, consistent basis.
The key to receiving certification under the ISO 9000 standards is documentation. It’s one thing for a company to say that it has a quality control system in operation, but it’s quite a different thing to be able to document the steps in that system. Under ISO 9000, this documentation must be so detailed and precise that if all the employees in a company were suddenly replaced, the new employees could use the documentation to make the product exactly as it was made by the old employees. Even companies with good quality control systems find that it takes up to two years of painstaking work to develop this detailed documentation. But companies often find that compiling this documentation results in improvements in their quality systems.
The ISO 9000 standards have become an international measure of quality. Although the standards were developed to control the quality of goods sold in European countries, they have become widely accepted elsewhere as well. Companies in the United States that export to Europe often expect their own suppliers to comply with ISO 9000 standards because these exporters must document the quality of the materials going into their products as part of their own ISO 9000 certification.
The ISO program for certification of quality management programs is not limited to manufacturing companies. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants was the first professional membership organization in the United States to win recognition under an ISO certification program.