This marks the first of a series of “How to Be an Excellent ISO 9001 Consultant” articles; it would equally apply to consultants of other management systems including AS9100, ISO 14001, TS 16949, etc.

Here I present some common mistakes that ISO 9001 consultants make which both hinder their own success,  as well as the success of their clients. In no particular order:

1.) Expect to get rich. ISO 9001 is not, by any measure, a rich man’s game. Dwindling interest, increased  resistance, and poor oversight by its authorities have cut deeply into the market. Would-be consultants  have an unfounded fantasy that if they hang their shingle, clients will come running. That’s not true,  and market forces have driven pricing down so that when a client does appear, they will not be handing you an open checkbook. Padding contracts with long term conditions, unending expenses, and “up-selling”  additional services are the mark of a truly bad consultant who has little understanding of his or her  client’s true needs. Fixed price contracts are the best approach. A good consultant works fast, provides accurate and excellence service, and focuses on earning a living by acquiring multiple clients, not by trying to earn an entire year’s salary on one or two. Even then, you will not pull bank like a Hollywood plastic surgeon. You must enter this business because you want to help companies, people and industry, not because you want to buy a new boat to put inside your other boat.

2.) Doomsaying. Consultants have an unusual tendency to present current-state reality as a Zombie Apocalypse. They also  always seem shocked that a client who has just hired them doesn’t have anything already in place (hint: that’s why they hired a consultant.) A typically over-gloomy remark might sound like. “You  haven’t done anything! This is going to take so much work. You really are far off from where you need to  be!”

This doesn’t do anyone any good, even when it’s 100% true. Consultants need to learn some bedside  manner, and present bad news with tact, calm and even a bit of spin. Consider instead: “We’ve got some challenges,  but nothing I haven’t seen before. We can work this out, we’ll just have to stay focused.” See how I  incorporated myself into the discussion by saying “we”? It’s a team effort, and the client wants to know  they hired you to help them, not merely shout the panicked orders of a captain on a sinking ship.

Clients  want to see calm, experienced confidence. Panicking them only makes you look like a newbie.

3.) Overemphasize “management commitment.” This common claim has its origins in a well-intentioned ISO 9001 requirement (clause 5.1), but has become the crutch for lazy consultants who want to start their  work with an easy escape clause: if things go wrong, they can blame management.

Other than the obvious, this is also bad for two other reasons: first, it sends a message to the client that the consultant lacks the  ability to rally the team, including management, and is offloading that responsibility back to the people  who hired him. Second, it is often interpreted as a subtle jab at the guys paying you; it implies the company hasn’t had any management commitment to date. Even if that’s true — especially if it’s true — the client doesn’t want to hear it.

Finally, it also happens to be nonsense. Management commitment helps, but in many cultures – especially the US – management has to be won over after the fact. A good consultant can lead the ISO 9001 effort even in a environment hostile to ISO 9001, and then win them over later by showing them the results of the program. (Right now a lot of not-so-good consultants are shaking their heads on that point. Managers, meanwhile, are nodding in agreement.) By showing management end results such as reduced scrap, increased productivity, profits, you will get far more “management commitment” than any speech at an opening meeting. These are the things that win over managers, and often times you have to do the work first and get the “commitment” later.

Is that ideal, or even easy? No, but it’s what you are being paid for.

4.) Reliance on friendly auditors. Here I am not talking about outright collusion, where a consultant and  auditor have a side deal that provides financial benefit to them both, outside of the view of the client.  Instead, some consultants find an auditor they like, and promote that auditor from client to client.  Perhaps the auditor is friendly, perhaps he or she “goes easy” on the consultant’s clients, perhaps it’s an old  friend, or previous trainer. None of this serves the client well, and it weakens the consultant’s  abilities over time. When a different auditor enters the mix, all hell breaks loose.

A good consultant should be able to handle any auditor a registrar throws at them, being  skilled enough to implement systems that meet the majority of auditors’ expectations, and being willing  to (gently!) challenge a bad auditor, when they encounter one. (More on that point later.)

5.) Data dump. Few consultants actually have any training on how to be a consultant. As a result, they do now know the best methods for knowledge transfer. They perform a “raw data dump” and regurgitate all their knowledge onto the client, in no particular sequence or, worse yet, following the numbering of the ISO 9001 standard. The client is left struggling to interpret the mess long after the consultant has left. This is why ISO 9001 implementation training courses are so notoriously bad … they rely on this method of knowledge transfer, rather than tailoring it to the particular client.

All information must be transferred in an ordered fashion, optimized to help the client understand why certain things are required, letting them pause to work with it for a while before moving onto the next subject. Despite appearances, this will result in a faster implementation program, because the information is pushed more quickly and absorbed more readily. Less re-training is required later.

To do this, the consultant must develop a true implementation “program” – a blueprint for how the consulting activities will normally progress, through milestones and other activities. This can be a template, but then must be modified for the particular client. It should be updated as the contract progresses, and changed accordingly.

(Part 2 continued 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.


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