The ISO 9000 family of quality management systems standards is designed to help organizations ensure that they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders while meeting statutory and regulatory requirements related to a product or program. ISO 9000 deals with the fundamentals of quality management systems, including the seven quality management principles upon which the family of standards is based. ISO 9001 deals with the requirements that organizations wishing to meet the standard must fulfill.
Third-party certification bodies provide independent confirmation that organizations meet the requirements of ISO 9001. Over one million organizations worldwide are independently certified, making ISO 9001 one of the most widely used management tools in the world today. However, the ISO certification process has been criticized as being wasteful and not being useful for all organizations.
The global adoption of ISO 9001 may be attributable to a number of factors. A number of major purchasers require their suppliers to hold ISO 9001 certification. In addition to several stakeholders' benefits, a number of studies have identified significant financial benefits for organizations certified to ISO 9001, with a 2011 survey from the British Assessment Bureau showing 44% of their certified clients had won new business. Corbett et al. showed that certified organizations achieved superior return on assets compared to otherwise similar organizations without certification. Heras et al. found similarly superior performance and demonstrated that this was statistically significant and not a function of organization size. Naveha and Marcus claimed that implementing ISO 9001 led to superior operational performance in the U.S. automotive industry. Sharma identified similar improvements in operating performance and linked this to superior financial performance. Chow-Chua et al. showed better overall financial performance was achieved for companies in Denmark. Rajan and Tamimi (2003) showed that ISO 9001 certification resulted in superior stock market performance and suggested that shareholders were richly rewarded for the investment in an ISO 9001 system.
While the connection between superior financial performance and ISO 9001 may be seen from the examples cited, there remains no proof of direct causation, though longitudinal studies, such as those of Corbett et al. (2005) may suggest it. Other writers, such as Heras et al. (2002), have suggested that while there is some evidence of this, the improvement is partly driven by the fact that there is a tendency for better performing companies to seek ISO 9001 certification.
The mechanism for improving results has also been the subject of much research. Lo et al. (2007) identified operational improvements (e.g., cycle time reduction, inventory reductions) as following from certification. Internal process improvements in organizations lead to externally observable improvements. The benefit of increased international trade and domestic market share, in addition to the internal benefits such as customer satisfaction, interdepartmental communications, work processes, and customer/supplier partnerships derived, far exceeds any and all initial investment.
The debate on the effectiveness of ISO 9000 commonly centers on the following questions:
Are the quality principles in ISO 9001 of value?
Does it help to implement an ISO 9001-compliant quality management system?
Does it help to obtain ISO 9001 certification?
Effectiveness of the ISO system being implemented depends on a number of factors, the most significant of which are:
Commitment of senior management to monitor, control, and improve quality. Organizations that implement an ISO system without this desire and commitment often take the cheapest road to get a certificate on the wall and ignore problem areas uncovered in the audits.
How well the ISO system integrates into current business practices. Many organizations that implement ISO try to make their system fit into a cookie-cutter quality manual instead of creating a manual that documents existing practices and only adds new processes to meet the ISO standard when necessary.
How well the ISO system focuses on improving the customer experience. The broadest definition of quality is "Whatever the customer perceives good quality to be." This means that a company doesn't necessarily have to make a product that never fails; some customers will have a higher tolerance for product failures if they always receive shipments on-time or have a positive experience in some other dimension of customer service. An ISO system should take into account all areas of the customer experience and the industry expectations, and seek to improve them on a continual basis. This means taking into account all processes that deal with the three stakeholders (customers, suppliers, and organization); only then will a company be able to sustain improvements in the customer's experience.
How well the auditor finds and communicates areas of improvement. While ISO auditors may not provide consulting to the clients they audit, there is the potential for auditors to point out areas of improvement. Many auditors simply rely on submitting reports that indicate compliance or non-compliance with the appropriate section of the standard; however, to most executives, this is like speaking a foreign language. Auditors that can clearly identify and communicate areas of improvement in language and terms executive management understands facilitate action on improvement initiatives by the companies they audit. When management doesn't understand why they were non-compliant and the business implications associated with non-compliance, they simply ignore the reports and focus on what they do understand.
Proper quality management can improve business, often having a positive effect on investment, market share, sales growth, sales margins, competitive advantage, and avoidance of litigation. The quality principles in ISO 9000:2000 are also sound, according to Wade and Barnes, who says that "ISO 9000 guidelines provide a comprehensive model for quality management systems that can make any company competitive". Sroufe and Curkovic, (2008) found benefits ranging from registration required to remain part of a supply base, better documentation, to cost benefits, and improved involvement and communication with management. According to ISO the 2015 version of the standard brings the following benefits:
By assessing their context, organizations can define who is affected by their work and what they expect. This enables clearly stated business objectives and the identification of new business opportunities.
Organizations can identify and address the risks associated with their organization.
By putting customers first organizations can make sure they consistently meet customer needs and enhance customer satisfaction. This can lead to more repeat custom, new clients and increased business for the organization.
Organizations work in a more efficient way as all their processes are aligned and understood by everyone. This increases productivity and efficiency, bringing internal costs down.
Organizations will meet necessary statutory and regulatory requirements.
Organizations can expand into new markets, as some sectors and clients require ISO 9001 before doing business.