For Quality Professionals

Ten Signs Your CEO Still Has No Idea About ISO 9001 and Lean
by Mike Micklewright, President of QualityQuest Inc.

This article originally appeared in "Quality Digest Daily," an electronic publication from Quality Digest ("

It's pretty obvious (within many companies) that based on their actions and behaviors, CEOs and other top managers just don't get it when it comes to ISO 9001 and all the derivative standards. The following 10 signs that your CEO still has no idea about ISO 9001 and Lean are written in no particular order. You'll need to be the judge as to which ones are most prevalent within your own organization. How many can you relate to?

After reading this article, you may also wish to forward it to someone who should probably read this, like maybe...oh, I don't know...your CEO...or ummmm...some other top executive? Directions for how to do so without getting into trouble are at the end of this article.

After reading this article, you may also wish to forward it to someone who should probably read this, like maybe...oh, I don't know...your CEO...or ummmm...some other top executive?

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1. Congratulates all employees and the management representative for a job well done after receiving only one or two minor nonconformities from the registrar auditor. The message sent to everyone? "We know we've got a lot more problems than that. We got away with it again. Don't change this auditor. I like him. Great job hiding the problems we really do have! Keep up the good work and make sure you hide more problems in the future, even if you have to work more hours before the audit to clean up the way we really operate. Make sure we never get a lot of nonconformities—that'll be bad for you. I'm not trying to create fear; I'm just trying to be realistic."

2. CEO bases a good portion, or any portion, of the management representative's performance appraisal on how many nonconformities are received during an audit. This further exacerbates the above problem. The message sent? "Do not ask for a tough audit from the registrar. Do not ask her to delve into areas you know are weak and need improvement—she will write up more nonconformities—and your pay will be lower. Lead her into the areas where we are strong and away from the weak areas, or people. Also, don't do anything to truly challenge or change the quality management system (QMS). Work within the QMS because it does not give us many nonconformities. What's important is as few nonconformities as possible, not improvement."

3. Batch processing management reviews. Most companies hold management review meetings on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or even annual frequency. The message sent? "Even though we are a lean company, those ideas only apply to lean 'stuff' or 'things.' They don't apply to a QMS. A QMS, by nature, is not lean. Actions like internal audits and management reviews are done in batches. I mean think about it. It's easier for me to remember all of the customer feedback, audit results, problems, and opportunities for improvement throughout the year and store all of these thoughts in my big expansive brain full of inventory space, and then blurt it all out once a year, in one big lump. The auditors will love it, because all of the management review requirements will be met and stored on one big ol' record that will be easier for the external auditor to audit. That's what's important—making the auditor's job easier, not reviewing the effectiveness of the QMS more effectively. If we reviewed our system in single piece flow, a little every day, and made improvements every day, and reviewed other things less frequently in other meetings, the auditor would not like it. Besides, I don't like reviewing our system—once a year is plenty."

4. Corrective actions or preventive actions are never completed. The message sent? "Identifying actual and potential problems is beneath me. That's for the workers to do, because after all, they're closest to the problem and they cause most of the problems. It's easier for me to tell others to do root cause analysis because, quite frankly, I don't get it and I don't want to get it. I know that Deming guy said something like 94 percent of all problems are related to the bad system, which is controlled by me, but who listens to him anymore? He must have been wrong. The employees make the mistakes, so the employees must fix them. Now that's empowerment. Yeah, empowerment, that's it, that's what I meant to say at the beginning of my answer. I don't involve myself in the corrective/preventive action system because I want my people to feel empowered. I like that word."

5. A QMS pertains to "quality" only. The message sent? "Don't you dare to even think about involving our marketing, sales, strategic, or financial processes into the QMS if we don't have to. Why would we subject those processes to an audit and possible improvement? This is a 'quality' thing, that's what the 'Q' stands for, doofus. It's for the quality department to mainly handle and...oh yeah, the shop guys, too, and just a little bit of customer just a little. But it's mainly quality and some shop people. And don't be trying to convince me again that the word 'quality' in 'QMS' is supposed to be an adjective or adverb or one of those things that describes a business management system. That's why didn't they call it a BMS. Yeah, your BMS idea is a lot of BS."

6. Our corrective action/preventive action (CAPA) and internal quality audit (IQA) systems stink, because that training we had was bad. The message sent? "We never really got it. That CAPA and IQA trainer we had 10 years ago was boring and didn't engage our people. Our people are different than most; they need to see real examples in the plant or office. That trainer, he wasn't like that. It doesn't matter that me, the top dude in the company, sat through our annual management review and never saw customer complaints improve. I was just supposed to review the data. The ineffectiveness of our CAPA and IQA systems has nothing to do with the ineffectiveness of our management review system—it was that damn trainer. We're top managers; we don't know how to fix these things. We've never been self-reliant. What can we throw our money at now to improve CAPA? I know—how about that Six Sigma thing?"

7. ISO 9001 doesn't work. The message sent? "Well maybe I'm wrong. That little piece of paper, that certificate, got us some good business at the beginning. But it didn't really change us or the way we operate. We've been pretty much operating the same way for 50 years and we must be good to stay in business that long. OK, the bailout helped, too. But the ISO standard, it didn't really do anything for us besides get us a few clients early on. It didn't help our profits, not that a quality thing would ever affect profits. So, now I stay out of it. We did it right. I mean, I know those registrar auditors have to perform a very tough audit. I think they're controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They must be giving us the best audit possible and they can't have any ulterior motive to passing us each audit. So if they're doing a great job and our profits have been stagnant, ISO 9001 must not work. It can't be our processes that are broken; it's ISO 9001. But we should keep it anyway, because we might need it to get new business from a naive customer that thinks we're good because we have a certificate."

8. ISO 9001 and lean are separate matters. The message sent? "Have the QMS run by a quality person and have lean run by an operations person. Keep them separate. Keep up the internal competition that we've had for years. I like the internal competition! It brings fire to my organization. Let them duke it out for resources and attention. That's one way to spice up that damned management review meeting. But the lean guy doesn't attend that quality meeting thing. I'll make him go, even though it has nothing to do with him, because I'm the CEO. Anyway, quality is about quality stuff—you know—meeting those specs. And lean is about housekeeping, value streams, kaizen, and a bunch of other Japanese words I can never remember. Lean has nothing to do with quality, except for maybe that one on waste that no one ever pays attention to anyway—defects."

9. CEO believes that the main way of ensuring competency is through performance evaluations. The message sent? "Even though I know most everyone hates the annual performance appraisal, it's a great way to kill two birds with one stone—the people and the ISO standard requirement. Also, just like with internal audits and the management review meeting, I can do them all in a big batch at the end of the year so I don't have to deal with all the whining throughout the year. That stuff will drive you crazy. Besides performance reviews are efficient! I can rate the employees against each other creating even greater competition; I can rate them against performance objectives that they have no control over or any hope of ever attaining; I can give negative and positive (but mostly negative) feedback as a motivator for improvement and as a record for determining competency; I can use the information as means to promote or can them; and I can make them sign it and stick it in their personnel file until five years after their death, in accordance with the 'control of records' procedure. I am exerting my control over these imbeciles and I am ISO 9001-compliant."

10. Suck up to the registrar auditor. The message sent? "Even though the registrar auditor is a supplier, let's suck up to her because nonconformities are really, really bad and I don't want any. How do we suck up to her? Hmmmm...I know, we'll sign her contract and we won't determine our own needs. We'll just do whatever she states on the contract and we'll accept all of her terms. How else can we suck up? Hmmm...I know, when they screw up-on their billing, on the audit dates, on the type of audit, on the accuracy of the report or contract, on the lack of returned phone calls, or on their rudeness—we won't issue a CAPA or evaluate their performance like we do all of our other suppliers. Can you imagine, if we gave them a CAPA, which is a really, really bad thing, they would give us more and that would really be bad. How else can we suck up? Hmmmm...I know, we can ask her questions about herself and her interests and we can encourage her to talk for hours about nonaudit-related stuff. She'll feel great, because everyone likes talking about themselves and she won't have time to do what we're paying her to do and we'll have fewer CAPAs. Everyone wins and life is great. Oh yeah, and we'll even laugh out loud over her jokes, even the really dumb ones."

How many of these signs can you relate to? What can be done? Even though you've been certified for a long time, education regarding the spirit and principles behind ISO 9001 and lean is so important! But "they" need to start seeing the light. Forward this article to them from me, please.

To do this without getting into trouble, forward this article to whomever you want to forward it to. Enter "," "Mike," and "Micklewright" as the person forwarding the email and send it to whomever you want to forward it to. They'll think it's from me. It wouldn't be lying, because I'm asking you to forward this on to top management from me. You're just doing me a favor.

Mike Micklewright is president of QualityQuest Inc., a Chicago-based consulting, training, and facilitation company specializing in lean, ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949, Six Sigma, and their integration. Micklewright is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, and quality manager. He holds a degree in general engineering from the University of Illinois and has worked in design, manufacturing, and quality engineering for the Saturn Corp. of General Motors and SeaquistPerfect Dispensing. Micklewright is a sought-after speaker and has had many articles published. He performs stand-up comedy in which he makes fun of the world of continual improvement and has developed, produced, and acted in video training programs that he sells.

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