Should ISO 9001 drop the Quality Policy?

Christopher Paris recently posed a provactive question about revising the ISO 9001 standard.  He argues that the “Quality Policy” requirement is unnecessary and counterproductive: It’s Time to Dump the Quality Policy.

The gist of the argument is that this requirement has lead to a lot of meaningless slogans that just get in the way of a good quality management system.

But, I think dropping the requirement to fix this problem is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Deming didn’t like slogans, but he did insist on clarity from top management:  From his Fourteen Points:

#10. “Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity.”

#11b. “Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.”

I think we can all agree that bad policy is bad, except that it has been a very deep well for Scott Adams.

But, is it too much to ask that management articulates meaningful goals, their rationale, and an implementation strategy? Is doing that with regard to quality necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so.  The quality policy should stay, but guidance is needed about what it should/shouldn’t be.

The following vignette from The Right Stuff shows how a shared understanding about the importance of quality can be genuine, simple, and effective. The original seven Mercury astronauts were each tasked to be involved with an aspect of the Mercury spacecraft or the Redstone and Atlas rockets. Gus Grissom was assigned to manual and automatic control systems. Here’s how Tom Wolfe describes Grissom’s visit to the Convair plant where the Atlas rocket was being built.

“Gus Grissom was out in San Diego in the Convair plant, where they were working on the Atlas rocket, and Gus was as uneasy at this stuff as Cooper was. Asking Gus to “just say a few words” was like handing him a knife and asking him to open a main vein. But hundreds of workers are gathered in the main auditorium of the Convair plant to see Gus and the other six, and they’re beaming at them, and the Convair brass say a few words and then the astronauts are supposed to say a few words, and all at once Gus realizes it’s his turn to say something, and he is petrified. He opens his mouth and out come the words: “Well… do good work!” It’s an ironic remark, implying: “… because it’s my ass that’ll be sitting on your freaking rocket.” But the workers started cheering like mad. They started cheering as if they had just heard the most moving and inspiring message of their lives: Do good work! After all, it’s Little Gus’s ass on top of our rocket! They stood there for an eternity and cheered their brains out while Gus gazed blankly upon them from the Pope’s balcony. Not only that, the workers—the workers, not the management but the workers!—had a flag company make up a huge banner, and they strung it up high in the main work bay, and it said: DO GOOD WORK.”

Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979)