ISO’s Technical Committee 176 must stop all development on ISO 9001:2015 right now. To fail to do so will be such a massive, public display of ineptitude that what little respect the world has for ISO 9001 will be thrown away, possibly forever.

This is not hyperbole. I am not being melodramatic.

Even before the Working Draft of ISO 9001:2015 was leaked and the resulting public confusion and criticism hit, the standard was doomed. We’ve since learned that early in the drafting process members of massive, globe-spanning industries like automotive manufacturing and aerospace were unimpressed with the direction ISO was taking, resulting in their considering to “decouple” from ISO entirely. Making matters worse, I am told that TC 176 simply passed over scheduled meetings with such sectors, sessions which were intended to take an inventory of their concerns. These were scheduled to occur before the drafting of ISO 9001 even begun, but were never held.

Obsessed with an arbitrary, self-imposed deadline of 2015, the slow-moving TC 176 pressed ahead without even the foundation of the standard — the Quality Management Principles — having been drafted. In 2000, the QMP’s represented the foundation of the standard, and drove the development process. This time around, dysfunction within the QMP working group led to little to no progress other than a combining of the current 8 QMP’s into seven (they merged process and system approaches), and no new principles identified at all. Rather than wait for the foundation, TC 176 moved forward on ISO 9001 without the QMP’s. Since then a set of limited QMP’s has been “identified” and submitted to the 9001 working group, but this was done when the current Working Draft was already underway. TC 176 representatives are now attempting to retcon history by saying that receiving the QMP’s partial and late is completely fine, thank you. But it ensures that if the TC ever tries to say the QMP’s are a “foundation” they will be — let’s face it — lying.

ISO to the World: “F. U.”

So 9001:2015 has been put through to Working Draft state without the structure or guidance of Quality Management Principles, and without even having a single meeting to consider the concerns of huge chunks of its international user base. In effect this comes across as TC 176 giving two big, fat middle fingers to both industry and quality.

Worse still — if that’s even possible — TC 176 throws up a third middle finger (toe?) to other ISO technical committees by contradicting existing, and far better, ISO standards. For the new risk management requirements, for example, 9001:2015 uses its own definition of “risk” and does not include a reference to ISO 31000, a risk management standard that most agree was a high point of ISO standard output. Without that linkage, 9001 will actually compete against 31000. Presumably the people on TC 176 simply don’t care.

All that matters is the printer’s deadline, nothing else.

World to ISO: “No, F. U.”

Since the release of the process approach based 9001:2000 version, the countries that had adopted ISO 9001 are rejecting it en masses. The US alone has lost nearly half of all its certificates since 2003, when that version was fully rolled out. The 2015 version offers no new QMS approaches other than adding the vague and contradictory requirements on risk. There’s no lean, no kaizen, no agile… just a renumbering of paragraphs and a far more confusing phrasing of old, 2000-based requirements.

I could accept being personally dismissed as a crank on this if I didn’t have at least two massive industries supporting me. It will be impossible for ISO to dismiss Chrysler, Ford, Boeing, Airbus and NASA as blogging loons.

As I write this, I just received another email from a well-placed source that says even TC 207, which is responsible for ISO 14001, is frustrated, and some of their members are considering developing an environmental management system standard outside of the ISO fold. Is that even possible? We don’t have to even answer it; that the question even enters the dialog is damnation enough.

Already the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute is working on an ISO 9001 alternative. NASA is grumbling about returning to its own audits, and dropping AS9100. The US Department of Defense has been ramping up some weird certification program of its own. Automotive companies are looking at the VW audit guidelines in Europe as an alternative. CMMI is buckling up like Navy SEALs readying for zero dark thirty.

Vultures don’t circle over the thriving.

Free Advice? Sounds Expensive

The only path forward is blindingly simple, but requires political courage. TC 176 must issue a “stop work order” on ISO 9001:2015 immediately. It must free itself of its arbitrary, self-imposed deadline and recognize that it will be better to publish an excellent standard late, than a useless and reviled product on time. 

The problem is that ISO truly feels it has no reason to listen to stakeholders. While TC 176 members are not vetted in any fashion, ISO defers to them as experts, and trusts them above the outcry of public and industry opinion. In its typical ostrich-in-the-sand way, ISO also refuses to actually lead, and instead point back to the national member bodies when things go wrong. I have written to the TC 176 Secretariat, but Charles Corrie refused to even consider my alerts. Well sort of, since he actually answered them. (Short version: he doesn’t see a problem.) He just kept answering me even while he insisted he couldn’t answer me. It was as if he was putting his fingers in his ears and shouting in order to avoid hearing what I was saying.

Again, it’s not just me. Senior members of the US TAG and other national member bodies have sent a clear message to TC 176 that the standard is off the rails. But there has been not a single deviation from the printing schedule. Making things worse, the leadership of the US TAG has proven its debilitating lack of leadership and not properly carried the message of the IATF and IAQG, nor American industry, no doubt instead focusing on preparing their next book on the subject, timed to coordinate with the standard’s release.  I wrote to Alka Jarvis and Jack West directly, asking them if they really wanted their legacy to be that of having helmed the US TAG during not only the period of biggest losses to ISO 9001, but that of the utter alienation of entire sectors of the US economy. Despite even a request by Mr. Corrie for them to respond, they again went silent, like fainting goats hearing a loud thunderclap.

One More Time

TC 176 must stop all development on 9001. It must take a “pause” and reboot its efforts, but only after considered and thoughtful analysis of the criticisms of its stakeholders. That may mean another 2 years of research and discussion even before pen turns to paper, and then an additional five years of development. But it would be far better to issue ISO 9001:2020 to great applause and fanfare, than to spit out the current draft to utter rejection.

As I have told the TC leadership, there is a way to do this and not only “save face,” but to come out on top. By doing so, TC 176 would prove that it is concerned with developing (ironically) a quality product, and not merely shipping junk. It would prove that it is truly listening to users across the planet, and ensure buy-in from entire economies. It could reverse the massive defection of users, and stop relying on “emerging economies” to temporarily prop up sales of standards. It could once again make ISO 9001 its flagship product, and help industries improve their products, create better working environments, ensure happy customers, and generally improve the welfare of entire nations.

Only pride and stupidity stand in the way of ISO fixing the mess they’ve made. Stubbornness will keep it from unimagined greatness.

Let’s pray they step up.

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.


ISO 45001 Implementation