In the early days, and by this I mean the late 90’s and early 2000’s, it was uncommon enough for a client to pass an ISO 9001 or AS9100 audit with “zero nonconformities” that the accomplishment came with some bragging rights. At the same time, it was rare for clients to “fail” their audit entirely, but it did happen, so it was something to worry about.
But those were the days when we were young and foolish, and when blimps filled the sky, and women wore dresses made of crinoline and barbed wire, and men grew their beards as long as the tails on their carriage horses. Innocence was outweighed only by our ability to remember the lyrics to that All in the Family song. In those days, consultants boasted of “100% pass rate” by their clients, and published case histories of clients who passed without a single nonconformity.
Oh, how naive we were. You see, now everyone passes. In fact, everyone passes every audit, every time, with every CB, and with every CB auditor. Nobody fails anymore, and the most a company can expect is their registrar to milk them for a few extra thousand dollars in some “nonconformity review audit” where the auditor clutches their pearls, feigns a fainting spell and declares that the client narrowly averted ending civilization. Five minutes later, a fresh certificate is printed, checks clear, and everyone is happy.
In fact, we’ve exceeded even this level of perfection to a state of worldwide near-Nirvana. Now, in fact, the bulk of clients pass their audits with zero nonconformities. I’ve given up counting how many Oxebridge clients achieve this miracle, and it’s not because we’re awesome (we are) but only because it’s become that commonplace. And, yes, we are awesome (it’s true), but that doesn’t mean every client is “perfect” prior to their registration audits, since “perfection” doesn’t exist. In nearly every case we know of some small nonconformities that should have been caught, but weren’t, or — in many more cases — we directly observe the CB auditors simply ignoring the nonconformities so they can help the client achieve that “Zero NC” moment during their closing meeting.
This hasn’t stopped the consultants from bragging, though. Oh no, they’re still making amazing claims of “100% pass rates” even though savvy clients know it’s completely meaningless. Everyone has perfection, now.
And surely that perfection must be well-deserved since, the IAF assures us:
[The IAF’s] primary function is to develop a single worldwide program of conformity assessment which reduces risk for business and its customers by assuring them that accredited certificates may be relied upon. Accreditation assures users of the competence and impartiality of the body accredited.
It can’t possibly be because the clients pay CBs when they pass, and those same CBs then pay ANAB and the IAF a percentage of what they rake in. It can’t be that if clients start to fail audits, they simply shop around and find a CB who will pass them or, worse, just abandon the entire scheme and deny the IAF all that yummy lucre. Yes, the system ensures that if the CBs actually do their jobs, they will lose business, and that the agencies with the most responsibility — the Accreditation Bodies like ANAB — have the least incentive to ensure integrity of the system. And, sure, we have airbags that turn into face-bombs, automobiles with test-defeating software embedded in them, and breast implants that turn women into walking chemical vats, but goshdarnit, all those quality system were PERFECT during the five minutes that the auditor looked at them. Yes, all those companies had IAF logos on their ISO certificates which said exactly nothing about “it was just a sample” and “we don’t guarantee quality,” and those same certificates were made part and parcel of legal, binding contracts with OEMs and primes… but so what? Everyone passes!
Remember, accreditation bodies like ANAB audit the CBs, and such audits include reviewing a sampling of their audit reports and findings. That means, in this day and age, ANAB auditors have a lot less work to do, since they are just looking at empty nonconformance reports, although reading all those saccharine declarations of praise must at least give them the occasional tummy-ache. I mean, it would take a blind, four-year old deaf mute to overlook the obvious pattern of industry neglect, and we can assume that even if their auditors literally sleep on the job, ANAB doesn’t hire blind, four-year old deaf mutes, so their oversight audits must be thorough and this trend must be perfectly, entirely legitimate.
So if your face was destroyed by a Takata airbag, take heart — assuming your heart wasn’t destroyed, too — that the company that designed and built those inflators was fully certified by an IAF-accredited certification body, subject to competent and impartial audits under a conformity assessment system designed to reduce risk. If you were killed during that Deepwater Horizon explosion, and are looking down from Heaven right now, you can rest in peace knowing that the oil management company in Houston was, too, certified by an IAF-accredited registrar.
And we can trust the IAF, because… everyone passes! And perfection like that can’t be faked, can it?
(Update 9/16/2016: Oops, looks like I wasn’t first to this party. Blogger Larry C covered this topic a few months ago, from a different angle.)
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.