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More about ISO9002 / BS5750

Subsequent to the publication of the ISO9002 page, the following article was sent in by someone who has experience of ISO9002 / BS5750 first-hand, and in my opinion sheds light on the subject from an interesting perspective:

I've been involved (reluctantly) in quality since 1992 but my real job is chemistry/computers. I am the Operations Manager, IT Manager and general scape goat of a small chemical company. Because of the consultants recommendations (who was there for 2 days) a person had to be appointed to be deputy quality manager (in a company with 6 people at the time). The problem is that I had absolutely no control over the actions of the other people since it consisted of three directors and two sons of directors (there are now three). There were more chiefs than indians.

I agree with much of what you say in your article, that many systems are there simply to satisfy the paperwork rather than aim at real quality of service and quality of product.

I will give you a potted history of my experience with BS5750 both good and bad.

When I started working for the company (now my 13th year), there were no systems. When I dispatched something I was given the customers original purchase order and then I handed it back when finished, we had to 'remember' when it was dispatched. When I analysed a chemical, I showed the results to the technical director since there were no specifications to compare against. He would thoughtfully look down the list and say 'okay' or 'that's a bit high'. I kept these analysis result in a small A6 note book and made a dozen entries a month at most, now the computerised system has over 150 entries per month.

Then from out the darkness the word was that anyone without BS5750 would not be able to trade. A 'consultant' (I use the term instead of opportunist) was hired for a few days. He made recommendations and handed over a generic manual designed for a company 10times our size. For the next five years I spend hundreds of hours both at home work pointless filling out pages in triplicate and quadruplicate. Files upon files, cross-indexed in so many pointless ways. Their only reason for existence was to existing for someone to waste moments of their life day in day out. They were never used (except at audit time), never referred to and never of any use.

Then one day, I snapped. I was spending a full 8 hours at work without breaks and then doing another 3/4 hours of work at night. Enough was enough. I knew the company, I knew my job. I brought out my machette and started hacking at the most offensive crap, I came up with ways to get rid of systems that were pointless, dug my heels and wouldn't let go. I computerised, learning Microsoft Access and designing a computer system. Much of the work I had to do was other peoples since I had no position but all the responsibility. For example, purchase orders not filled in properly causing incorrect deliveries which I then had to deal with. Works orders not filled in properly leaving out essential information simply because of laziness.

When my computer system came on-line it started with purchasing. The screams of anguish were heard all over the site by the worst offenders. The technophobes cried 'the sky is falling'. Over the next three years I put in a system which handled everything from purchase enquiries to final dispatch including stock control (stocks as a paper system is pointless). Now, instead of spending hours everyday I spend about 1hr per week on quality. Audits which were a nightmare are a breeze. I have a two day audit by our biggest customer in December and instead of doing the usual fretting and worrying, I'm laid back. The system works. Why? It was designed by someone who knows where to bend and where to use the steel fist. If you can rely on someone to do their job then thats fine. In my working environment, they can't. Not because they aren't good workers but the management put too much on them. Bad working conditions, lack of equipment, low pay and passing the buck. When rushed, people overlook systems. When rushed they make mistakes.

As an example of the situation which may be mirrored elsewhere; I took three weeks holiday in October to revise for my Open University exam. Before that I was in charge of the technical department and production on a day-to-day basis. When I came back a message had been left with one of my colleagues that the bosses son was now taking over. In the first three weeks of his reign, there have been four serious customer complaints compared to 1 for the previous 14 months; production has dropped drastically and other work has backed up. When the technical director called me in (his father), he talked about systems being a problem (its always systems when his son is involved). It's not that, it's responsibility and the lack of it. Systems exist for a reason. You cited the example of fire equipment being safety checked but the staff not knowing what to do. Training is part of BS5750 and obviously whoever was responsible for that system was looking at the letter of the accreditation rather than its meaning.

Also, while creativity is worthwhile, some people aren't creative. They need guidelines, they need a way of dealing with situations since they either don't have enough knowledge or enough confidence to carry out their assigned tasks; its better if they can look down a list of options and be told what to do.

Don't get me wrong, I've had dealing with so called accredited companies. With one complaint which lasted more than six months, we complained bitterly that the material they were sending us was failing specification. In the end, despite the fact we were right their attitude was 'tough luck, no-one else is complaining'. There are 'bad' companies out there who use BS5750 as a guise, BS5750 is not intrinsically bad, its the way its implemented. There are companies that display the BSI logo and when you enquire, you find that the sales office paper work is BSI accredited and not the quality of the product.

Ultimately, I'm for 'systems' as opposed to chaos. It's made my life easier, saved the company money and increased efficiency and productivity. People know what's going on and my computerised system has enough flexibility to cope with all situations but enough iron so that the whole thing doesn't crumble. I took a long while but we got there in the end.

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