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When ‘If it aint broke…..’ meets ‘Improvement’

In my last article I touched on whether the certification process had created, intentionally or not, a ‘cash cow’. I also mentioned those organisations that obtain certification because they have to rather than because they want to. This got me to thinking in a little more detail about Clause 10 in ISO 9001:2015 – Improvement. We are all very familiar with the old adage ‘If it aint broke then don’t fix it’. This phrase is widely attributed to T. ‘Bert’ Lance (pictured here), Director of the Office of Management and Budget in Jimmy Carter’s 1977 administration. Mr. Lance recognised that he could help the U.S. Government save millions of dollars by focusing on the areas that were dysfunctional rather than those which were performing as required. The phrase has become somewhat of a cliche but, nevertheless, it is still used daily and translates into a multitude of languages the world over.

So how does this stack up against ISO 9001 Clause 10? Firstly, I would like us to put this in the context of a SME. Take your mind away, if you will, from large, multi-national organisations and, instead, try to imagine this in the context of ‘Nanna Jeans Homemade Apple Pies’. There is a reason for this. Those large multi-national organisations will no doubt come across new technology, innovative engineering, new areas of applicability for their product and/or services as the world around us continues to evolve. In this context there are, and most definitely always will be, an endless supply of opportunities for improvement (OFI). Nanna Jean, however, is a small, self-built, owner driven enterprise with no interest in becoming the next Mr. Kipling or Aunt Bessie but she does have the ambition of seeing her apple pies being sold at the large supermarket downtown. The management of this supermarket has insisted that Nanna Jean has a certified QMS and so she sets about developing and implementing a QMS based on the processes she has in place for making her apple pies. Nanna Jean employs a handful of people – a couple of extra bakers, a driver and an accountant but has no intention of expanding as her operation is sufficiently resourced to meet the supply targets for the supermarket and her recipe has been tuned to perfection, so much so that when she has tried to tweek it her sales have dropped,on average, by 75%!



Let’s now hop forward a couple of years. Nanna has her QMS in place, she is supplying the supermarket, supply targets are being met, customer satisfaction is consistently above 95%, staff are happy, profits are healthy and all is moving along nicely. Then comes the re-certification visit and the Auditor asks Nanna Jean to demonstrate she has met the requirements of Clause 10. This is where things could start to get a little bit tricky. Firstly, and I’ve experienced this first hand, there is the possibility that the Auditor is not sufficiently experienced in Nanna Jeans type of business and product. When Nanna Jean tries to explain that her product and QMS are meeting all expectations of interested parties and requirements of the Standards the Auditor remains insistent on a demonstration of improvement. The Auditor doesn’t quite understand that once a recipe is ‘perfected’ then to try and ‘improve’ it could become detrimental to the whole business. Sure, this is a consideration for “risks v opportunities” but let’s assume Nanna has completed that exercise and decided, based on the data generated, that the risk to her business by changing the recipe far outweighs any potential opportunities.



Despite spending a whole morning going through all the processes at Nanna Jeans, the Auditor cannot see any demonstration of improvement and Nanna Jean is adamant that her product and QMS meet expectations and no changes are necessary (if it aint broke, then don’t fix it). In actual fact, to make changes would be too much of a risk to Nanna Jeans business. Nanna Jean needs, and more importantly wants (refer to my previous article for my opinion on “want to” vs “have to”) her QMS. Indeed, she has invested many hours into getting it running smoother than a Rolls Royce engine. I agree that sometimes an outside body can perhaps see things that those on the inside cannot, but let’s assume this isn’t the case here. It seems we have hit a stalemate. I wrote previously that I would like to see many more businesses achieving 9001 certified status, but we must also be careful not to isolate and deter those smaller organisations from pursuing it just because they are afraid that someone will try to find something that needs fixing just for the sake of it. Here lies a spin on the old adage which I’m sure you are also familiar with ‘if it aint broke then fix it until it is’.

So my fellow professionals let me pose a few questions that will hopefully generate some discussion to improve my understanding of Clause 10….What if this situation occurs? what does the Auditor do in this situation? Is it possible that Nanna Jean can simply ‘demonstrate’ she has looked for potential improvements and decided there are none? What does this mean for Nannas certification? Look forward to engaging with you on this subject.

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