The recent decision to push ahead on revising ISO 9001:2015 despite multiple votes by the world to confirm the current version has left a lot of people baffled. Many have asked that I publish evidence, because they simply cannot believe ISO would trample on the rights of the world’s governments and its own members in this way.
So I thought I’d put the evidence together in a single post, to make it easier to follow. Here it is, roughly presented in date order; some steps happened concurrently, but you’ll get the picture.
This one is long, but the need to put all the facts, evidence, and official ISO documents in one place is important. Billions of dollars will be burned up by industries having to implement unnecessary changes to ISO 9001, all because of a few pompous ISO bureaucrats. We need to have this documented now, if only to have the history properly recorded.[This is also why I have obsessively captured the official TC 176 and ISO document “N” numbers, so folks can verify the documents themselves via ISO’s own portals. I have included links to the documents hosted here at Oxebridge, however in the event that ISO “loses” them.]
Vote # 1: December 2020: Systematic Review
Per ISO’s procedures, all standards go through a systematic review every 5 years. This is to ensure that technology or other advances have not occurred which might make a current standard obsolete. This is crucial for technical standards affecting products, but less so in management system standards, which typically reflect long-held best management practices. In nearly all cases, ISO’s standards are not updated, but “confirmed” as-is.
ISO makes an exception with its best-selling “flagship” standard, ISO 9001, which sells millions of copies each time it is updated. To fail to update the standard would cost ISO tens of millions in revenue — if not much more — so ISO routinely updates the standard no matter what. In 2008, ISO issued an “amendment” to the prior 2000 edition, just by changing the date on the cover and some formatting in the interior. It made millions on this move, when ISO 9001 certification bodies sent out an army of auditors demanding every certified company buy a copy of ISO 9001:2008 or face loss of certification.
Considering ISO 9001 still relies on outdated concepts such as management by objective, and management by slogans, the idea that somehow ISO 9001 needs to be updated right now is ludicrous on its face. (See this article for how ISO 9001:2105 stacks up against Deming’s “14 Points,” which he published in 1982 — thirty years ago.)
For ISO 9001:2015, the 5-year systematic review came up in 2020. The results were clear: a majority of ISO member nations voted to confirm the standard as-is. Here is a summary of the results from that vote, documented under official TC 176 document N1550:
The full, official publication of the results can be downloaded here.
March 2021: SPOTG Meeting
In response to the vote, ISO held a meeting of the Strategic Planning and Operations Task Group (SPOTG) committee on March 26th, 2021, to explore how to overrule the results of the Systematic Review. That meeting was headed by TC 176 SC 2 Chair Paul Simpson, a vocal advocate for revising ISO 9001, since doing so would help him sell books and consulting services. The results of that meeting were published as official TC 176 document N1555, which can be downloaded here.
In that document, TC 176 openly discusses overruling the world vote (emphasis added):
The SPOTG agreed that there were insufficient factors given in the reports to overturn the majority voting responses given by the member bodies in the Systematic Review for “confirming” ISO 9001. However, the SPOTG also noted that this was a relatively small majority, and that many members wished to see the standard revised to a) improve clarity and b) to give greater value to users. This led to a discussion on the path forward.
Some members suggested that TC176/SC2 (and TC 176 itself) should first undertake a strategic review of the full portfolio of quality management standards, before deciding on a future direction for ISO 9001.
Others noted that if SC2 failed to plan for a revision, that it could be as far away as 2030 before a new edition of ISO 9001 would be published (following a further systematic review starting in 5 years, plus time for the review, and then allowing for 3 years of development time). Several members indicated that the business environment is currently changing so quickly (with many factors being accelerated by the COVID19 pandemic), that the standard needs to be revised much sooner, and not in 10 years’ time.
In that document, TC 176 agrees that ISO 9001:2015 must be confirmed, but then floats the dramatic idea to begin the process for an early revision anyway… essentially contradicting its decision at the same time. It also pointed out that a Task Group “TG5” had already been convened for updating ISO 9001, before any votes were even cast:
Recommendations on the systematic review of ISO 9001:
(a) ISO 9001:2015 should be “confirmed” at this time.
(b) A project should be started at the Preliminary stage, to examine if a revision of ISO 9001 should be started earlier than would usually be determined through the systematic review process.
Noting that ISO/TC 176/SC2/TG 5 is already established with the purpose of “Preparing for a potential revision of ISO 9001”, this project should be assigned to TG 5.
March 2021: SPOTG TG 5 Work Begins
Based on the mandate from SPOTG, the TG5 committee began work on revising ISO 9001. The work was detailed, and rather comprehensive — the kind of work normally done when it is already decided to revise a standard.
This work was then summarized in official TC 176 document N196, entitled, “Preparing for a potential revision of ISO 9001.” That report included a detailed Excel spreadsheet, (N192) that broke down nearly 500 proposed changes to the ISO 9001:2015 text. These were submitted by the usual suspects, all of whom are private ISO 9001 consultants typically seen on the seminar circuit: Lori Hunt, Jose Dominguez, Buddy Cressionnie, Denise Robitaille, and a handful of others.
I can’t emphasize enough how much work went into this effort, while reminding readers that this was all done after an international vote indicated that no revision to ISO 9001 should be done. I have a link to the spreadsheet below, for March 2022.
Vote # 2: May 2021: Public User Survey (SurveyMonkey Survey #1)
In May of 2021, TC 176 published the results of an international ISO 9001 user survey, which had been launched in July of 2020. That survey aimed to find out if ISO 9001 user organizations wanted to update the standard. Over 5000 respondents voted. The results of that survey revealed — again — that a majority of voters opted to confirm ISO 9001:2015 as-is.
This graphic shows a summary of the results, but the full report can be downloaded here. That was published as TC 176 official document N1559.
Vote # 3: May 2021: Ballot on Systematic Review
Ignoring both the first international vote and the ISO 9001 User Survey, TC 176 set forth to create an opportunity to allow ISO members to change their votes, TC 176 circulated an “ISO Committee Internal Ballot” (IB) to have P-level ISO members vote — again — on the need to revise ISO 9001:2015. (P-members are “participating” members, and the vote would exclude other levels of members, such as O-level “observer” nations.)
The results of that survey were reported on LinkedIn by TC 176 delegate Didier Blanc, who published the results of that vote. Blanc reported the following: 63 votes to confirm, and 14 votes to revise. Yet again, the vote shot down the effort to revise ISO 9001.
However, the SPOTG lobbying had worked, to some degree. The second vote asked a separate question — one wholly unsupported by any ISO procedures, and unprecedented in ISO’s history — asking members if TC 176 should “establish a project at the Preliminary stage to examine if an early revision of ISO 9001 should be started.” That resulted in a majority of P-Members voting yes, pushing ahead with the concept of “early revision.”
As I will discuss below, there’s no such thing as an “early revision” in any of ISO’s formal procedures. TC 176 made it up to bypass the world’s vote.
Vote # 4: October 2021: SurveyMonkey Survey #2
In October, TC 176’s SPOTG committee again tried to influence members into supporting revising ISO 9001 anyway, by issuing yet another SurveyMonkey poll, purported to solicit feedback to “gain a better understanding of the reasons as to why those members decided to vote for confirmation.” This was published as TC 176 official document N1576.
SPOTG then suggested members might change their vote, saying it was “interested to know if any member which voted to revise or
amend ISO 9001 has any new or changed information to add to its reasons for recommending revision or amendment.” That call was published as official TC 176 document N1576, and can be downloaded here. It specifically asked respondents if “the conditions changed sufficiently since the systematic review in 2020 for you to consider supporting an early revision of ISO 9001?”
No one has been able to produce the results of this survey to date. It’s not clear if the results were scrapped, or if they were incorporated into some other report. I’m told, however, that the results were again the same: the feedback did not provide any justification for countermanding all the votes that had been gathered to date.[If I obtain the data on this, I will update this article to include it.]
Vote (Sort of) # 5: March 2022: TG5 Announcement
If you recall, in March 2021, SPOTG triggered a Task Group TG5 to start working on the revision of the standard. The final report, with that massive spreadsheet, was published internally a year later, on March 24, 2022. The information was not released to the public, but you can grab the Excel sheet N192 here. and the cover report N196 here.
Despite the level of work done by TC 176 members to justify the revision — and despite that it was done even as multiple votes had been held dictating that no revision be made — in the end, even TG5 came to the same conclusion, and reported the standard should not be revised. While not an international vote per se, it was nevertheless the result of voting within ISO’s own TG5 task group. The conclusion:
No single item, or source of evidence, on its own was found to be strong enough for TG 5 to recommend a revision of ISO 9001.
But TG5 — and specifically folks like Lori Hunt — didn’t want to lose the good graces of the ISO executive, so included this statement:
It is recommended that the SPOTG consider the collective impact of a number of factors (including responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, changes to Annex SL, new and emerging technologies, remote working, and global systems) which may support starting a revision of ISO 9001 before the next scheduled Systematic Review in 2026.
I want to (again) remind readers that the vote to confirm directed TC 176 not to engage in any revision work. TC 176 took the dramatic step, however, if pushing for an “early revision,” countermanding this order.
May 2022: TC 176 Announces Intent to Revise ISO 9001
In a public press release, TC 176 announced it was beginning the process of developing a “design specification” for the revised ISO 9001 standard. Ironically, the press release cited the TC 176 document N1555, which had included the formal voting results rejecting revision of the standard. The new press release does not mention this fact, however.
The notice clearly telegraphs ISO’s intent to push forward on a full “early revision”:
Once an approved Design Specification has been achieved, SC2’s members will then be consulted on the need to initiate an early revision of ISO 9001.
Internally, this was distributed as official TC 176 document N1586.
What Rules Were Broken
Today, as I write this, Paul Simpson has invoked Donald Trump, and declared these claims as “fake news.” He has insisted that I am lying about these facts, but has never actually countered them with any facts of his own. Now, he insists, “before any revision to ISO 9001 there will be a ballot of participating national standards bodies. If they don’t want to revise ISO 9001 they will vote not to.”
Simpson is ignoring every single one of the five votes that already happened. He is proposing a sixth vote.
So what specific ISO rules were broken? A lot, it turns out. But let’s focus on the procedures related to honoring the votes.
The ISO Supplement Part 1 clearly states that there are separate results that emerge from the Systematic Review. You can read it for yourself here, but here they are, taken from paragraph 184.108.40.206 “Interpretation of ballot results for International Standard”:
Option 1: Confirmation (retention without technical change)
Where it has been verified that a document is used, that it should continue to be made available, and that no technical changes are needed, a document may be confirmed.
Option 2: Amendment or revision (Retention, with change/s)
Where it has been verified that an International Standard is used, that it should continue to be made available, but that technical changes are needed, it may be proposed for amendment or revision.
Option 3: Withdrawal
When the document has not been adopted with or without change or is not used in at least five countries, the document should be withdrawn (see Options 1 and 2 above).
ISO made these separate options for a reason: you cannot have a standard that is simultaneously voted on for confirmation (Option 1) and then treat it as a vote for revision (Option 2.) That negates the consensus and will of the members. But that is what Simpson and his gang are doing. They received a vote to “confirm,” but then invented a wholly new concept called an “early revision” to get around the vote.
Mind you, “early revision” isn’t mentioned at all in any of the ISO procedures. They made it up.
And, yes, the concept of “early revision” utterly contradicts a vote of “confirm.” It’s like saying you want a green car, but they paint it blue and tell you later that “blue means green now.”
Next, TC 176 cannot really start the revision process with the design specification, as they are doing. Instead, TC 176 must submit a formal resolution declaring the intent to revise the standard, based on the results of the voting. Specifically, according to rule 2.3.1, this must take the form of:
… a resolution containing the following elements: 1) target dates, 2) confirmation that the scope will not be expanded, 3) the Convenor or Project Leader and 4) UN Sustainable Development Goals. The committee shall also launch a call for Experts.
Since they can’t do that without lying, they are just skipping that step. TC 176 has not issued a formal resolution, nor have they done any of the things required by rule 2.3.1.
TC 176 has skipped ISO’s “Proposal Stage” and the only stage after that is called the “Preparatory Stage.” Since there’s nothing in between these two, it’s logical to assume that’s where we are now. Their alleged “design specification” step isn’t discussed at all in the procedures, and appears to be a ruse. The Preparatory Stage, however, results in a Working Draft (WD) of the eventual revised standard… meaning they could literally start working on the new text immediately.
Again, the text of the document that the world told them not to revise.
Annex SL Update: The Real Driver
The question many are likely asking is just why is TC 176 going to such lengths to violate its principles on “consensus,” ignore multiple international votes, and engage in outright lying to the public (through its mouthpieces like Simpson) in order to push out a product that is doomed to fail?
The easy answer is greed, of course. Simpson and his ilk make a lot of money each time a new standard is published, by selling consulting services and books. ISO itself, as I said, makes millions in quick revenue by forcing every certified company — through its influence with the IAF and certification bodies — to buy copies of its new standard, or risk decertification.
But there’s another angle, hidden largely from the public. ISO procedures require that standards be written not only by consensus of member nations, but by subject matter experts with experience in the given subject of each standard. For ISO 9001, that presumes SME’s with experience in quality management. But a few years ago, ISO tried to standardize the formatting of standards, and created a special working group to create a “template” for how standards would look. this was to be limited only to the structure and formatting of ISO publications, but the committee quickly got power-hungry. They demanded the ability to create standard text — meaning actual content — and ISO yielded.
The resulting text became known as “Annex SL,” because of its placement in the annex of an obscure, largely unknown internal ISO procedure document. Then, ISO updated its procedure to dictate that every management system standard must include the text of Annex SL, or risk having their Technical Committees disbanded entirely.
This should have sent shockwaves through the standards community, since it now meant that unknown ISO bureaucrats were crafting the literal requirements (text) of standards, circumventing both international consensus and subject matter experts. But TC 176 willingly agreed, largely led (at that time) by another consultant, Nigel Croft. Simpson has since taken over, and he is also in the pro-Annex SL camp. Both have been rewarded with multiple committee seats by ISO, for their willingness to ignore the principle of consensus.
Now, over 1/3 of ISO 9001 is no longer written by quality management experts, and ISO prohibits commenting on the Annex SL portions entirely. It cannot be changed, it cannot be removed, and it’s not even voted on. the surrounding text is voted on — allowing toadies like Simpson to falsely claim that ISO 9001 undergoes international votes — but Annex SL can never change.
Mind you, the committee that writes ISO 13485 on medical devices pushed back successfully, and has kept Annex SL out of its standard so far. So it’s possible, when a committee is actually populated by experts and not hack consultants. But TC 176 has played ball.
Now Annex SL is undergoing an update itself, creating a scenario where ISO 9001 was never going to be allowed to be confirmed as-is, no matter the votes. You see, if Annex SL is updated, then every standard that contains the text must also be updated. This ran ISO into conflict with its decades-long procedures claiming that updates are only driven by industry need and supported by international votes. Now, some unknown bureaucrats edit Annex SL, and all applicable standards must be updated to suit. No exceptions.
Recently, Simpson publicly admitted that the entire push to revise ISO 9001 was really driven by Annex SL, being clueless as to the fact he was essentially amitting to a scandal in public. Simpson wrote on LinkedIn (emphasis added):
One of the drivers for a revision of ISO 9001 is the work of the Task Force to update Annex SL, published last year. When the TC 176 SC2 participating standards bodies decide to approve the revision of ISO 9001 I fully expect us to use the revised Annex SL in full…. It would be a huge surprise if our membership chose to take us away from Annex SL.
Here’s the thing: nowhere in any ISO procedure does it say that a change in Annex SL gives ISO the right to violate the rest of the procedures. That language doesn’t exist … go check the procedures yourself to see if I’m wrong. (I’m not.)
Annex SL has been a huge step back for ISO, and has caused real damage to both ISO’s sales and the adoption of its management system standards. All evidence shows adoption of ISO management system certification is declining, but ISO tricks itself into thinking that this is because at the same time it has wildly expanded the number of such standards. ISO thinks, for example, that ISO 9001 is declining because companies are implementing other standards… which makes no sense. There’s only one QMS standard, and a company isn’t going to implement, say, a cybersecurity standard like ISO 27001 in lieu of a QMS standard like 9001.
It’s not clear just when ISO will learn its lesson, and stop trying to dictate the content of standards over the knowledge and experience of actual experts. But so long as ISO continues to reward toadies and yes-men like Croft and Simpson, the problem will continue.
UPDATE 9 May 2022: Predictably, Paul Simpson can’t let it go, and is viciously attacking me for reporting this. You can read his meltdown here, on LinkedIn. He continues to lie, however, while contradicting himself. Simpson now says, “the only relevant vote, in this case, is the result of the systematic review. All the other votes are in relation to how SC2 is dealing with the drivers for change and the reasons behind the ‘confirm’ votes.” This of course makes no sense. The first vote was to “confirm”; had ISO honored that, they never would have held four other votes about an “early revision.” And, of course, Simpson is now proposing a sixth vote, after they start work on the revised document itself.
Another red herring: TC 176 continues to trot out the excuse of “COVID-19” as being a factor in needing to update the QMS standard. What that has to do with anything is a mystery. Will the pandemic affect quality management principles?
UPDATE 29 May 2022: Carles Corrie of BSI, the official Secretariat of TC 176, has officially rejected the results of the Vote # 4 (SurveyMonkey) vote listed above, which attempted to get members to change their votes. Corrie claims, without any evidence, that the results were somehow tainted because they were the opinions of “individuals,” and not member bodies. Corrie attaches the text of the responses, however, which show them to be comments issued by official national member organizations.
At the same time, that report debunks Simpson’s claim that COVID-19 justifies an early revision. Multiple nations specifically called on ISO not to revise ISO 9001 because of the pandemic.
Read more here.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.