ISO 9000 is Not An Economic Disease

Bozena Poksinska
Quality Techology&Management, Linköpings universitet, Sweden

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Publicerad: 2008-02-15


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


The ISO 9000 series of standards was written to provide guidelines to assist organisations in implementing and operating a Quality Management System (QMS). With hundreds of thousands of certified companies around the world; ISO 9000 has become the most widely accepted and sought-after quality management system. The reasons behind the popularity of the standards are not really comprehensible. While there is considerable publication activity in the area; mainly on the implementation and benefits of the standards; the research community seldom asks explicitly why the management standards have been a success. The most logical answer to this question would be that companies choose the standards because of the many benefits they bring. However; from the beginning ISO 9000 generated contradictory opinions and assessments; and there is general confusion and uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of the standard and its long-term contribution to the organisations. In fact; two different and to a large degree conflicting views have been revealed about the effectiveness of quality management systems (QMSs). The arguments of advocates and opponents of the standard are supported by contradictory research outcomes within this area. While some studies indicate only the marketing contribution (e.g. Lloyds Register Quality Assurance; 1994; Quazi and Padibjo; 1998; Buttle; 1997); others emphasise especially the improvements in the organisation (e.g. Brown et al.; 1998; Rayner and Porter; 1991; Terziovski et al.; 1997).

The advocates of ISO 9000 claim substantial benefits from the system and often call it the entry key to TQM. They emphasise that ISO 9000 offers a shift in quality thinking from final inspection to more modern quality approaches such as process management; system approach; customer focus; and continual improvement. ISO 9000 is considered to be an effective tool for providing controls to ensure quality of production and delivery; and to reduce waste; downtime; and labour inefficiency. The major benefits experienced by organisations implementing ISO 9000 include increased productivity and efficiency; quality improvement; greater customer satisfaction; increased awareness and commitment of employees; and a competitive edge that can lead to a greater market share (e.g. Gotzamani and Tsiotras; 2001; McLachlan; 1996; Williams; 1997; Quazi and Padibjo; 1998).

The opponents maintain that the standardisers have ignored the contemporary research on organisations and that the standard is based on management principles; which are out-of-date. The standard; for example; is driven by documentation and not organisational behaviour. Furthermore; it is questioned if the standard is at all capable of improving the quality (Zuckerman; 1994; Sanders; 1994; Singels et al.; 2001). Seddon (1997) called the standard an “economical disease” and stated that ISO 9000 encourages organisations to act in ways that make things worse for their customers; and is a step backward rather than forward.

Using the different research strategies and integrating the results from other related studies; this paper was able to provide a more comprehensive picture on ISO 9000 and QMS and to explain the conditions under which ISO 9000 is likely to have positive effects on organisational performance and employee development.


ISO 9001; Quality management systems; conditions for sucess


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