We really don't have enough data to know for certain, but it looks like this tale might just be a perfect example of the M0 effect at work. It began with a comment that refered back to a case I had read of a couple of years previously. A man had challenged a claim by the British Standards Institute that ISO9001 does good things for your business - and won! What particularly interested me was the irony of the people who claim to be achieving quality work by metric obsession being unable to back up their claims that the whole business is worthwhile at all!
From: Alan Carter
On Wed, Nov 03, 1999 at 12:51:15PM -0400, Zach Gold '03 wrote:
This brings us to an interesting point. You would think that packers would like tests. They are exact and predictable. Yet when it comes to questioning their own ability they could not hate tests more. This creates somewhat of a hole in their reasoning, which is what I think has made this such a large national issue recently.
HoHo. A couple of years ago a guy took the British Standards Institue to court over their claims that ISO9001 imporves productivity and profitability. Guess what? He won the case because there are absolutely no objective metrics that show that metric obsession actually does this!
This seemed like an interesting topic to develop. The regulating body is the UK Advertising Standards Authority, which has a website at www.asa.org. I looked there, and found that they have compiled an exhaustive record of all adjudications for 1997, and made them available on the Web. This is the kind of enthusiastic way of doing things that we need more of!
Then when I tried to find the adjudication I remembered reading about, it wasn't there! The ASA certainly has no axe to grind, and they've taken the trouble to make their adjudications available on the Web so they are not slouches. Could I be remembering wrongly? Help came from the progstone group:
From: Colston Sanger
Does anyone out there have any more on this? Or even any credible statistics showing that ISO9001 does or doesn't enhance productivity? (The original Deming work gets a step function, as does the Stone. But those are awareness rather than ritual based approaches, that ISO9001 is a horrible corruption of.)
The original source for this was John Seddon, and may have been a posting on the Deming electronic network (DEN).
Whatever, this is definitely a job for John Seddon. See his book 'In Pursuit of Quality: the case against ISO 9001' (1997), extracts of which are at:
The case may be referred to in the book (it probably is).
Tel/Fax: 01428 605113
Mobile: 07788 742313
From: Alan Carter
This is fascinating! I've just received the following:
On Thu, Nov 18, 1999 at 02:31:27PM +0000, John Seddon wrote:
I and another complainant also won the case wrt BSI's claim that ISO 9000 improved business performance.
The asa declared it would have been OK if BSI had said it 'might' improve business performance - a view I disagree with.
So as you said:
My recollection was that there were three important points:
1) The BSI advert claimed ISO9001 improved business performance.
2) There are no objective metrics to substansiate this.
3) The complainant won.
This is correct. I shall add your name to my 'news on ISO' mailing list - I am going to make an announcement that will cause a stir next year.
From: Alan Carter
A very nice man at the ASA has indeed turned up the missing adjudication. Reality exists, after all!
On Fri, Dec 03, 1999 at 03:48:42PM +0000, Chris Reed wrote:
Objections by David Franklin Ltd, Vanguard Consulting and a member of the public to a national press advertisement targeted at businesses, advising of the benefits of registering to the quality standard ISO 9000. The advertisement claimed "improves productivity...almost always gives an immediate result in terms of productivity and efficiency, and that means cost reductions...pays for itself...Staff morale is better because they understand what is expected of them and each other".
1. The complainants challenged the claims.
2. National Quality Assurance (NQA) challenged the claim "BSI .. "wrote the book" when they published BS5750..", because it implied that BSI were wholly responsible for their standards, which are regulated by technical committees.
3. NQA also challenged the claim "If you're chasing a contract ... against a company which is also registered, but they didn't gain theirs through BSI, you still have the edge", because it implied that BSI registration was of greater value than that of any other accredited certification body.
1. Complaint upheld.
The advertisers provided independent research information, which suggested that the application of ISO 9000 could improve productivity and efficiency, thereby making a company more profitable. The Authority, although accepting that this might be true, understood that it was not almost always true for small companies and asked the advertisers to change the advertisement to avoid the implication that certification would almost always bring about these benefits.
2. Complaint not upheld
The advertisers said that the statement when read in full referred to the development of third party assessment to BS5750 that provided the framework for the International Standards Organisation (ISO) committees to work from. The Authority accepted the claim.
3. Complaint not upheld.
The advertisers said they used the claim because they wanted to convey to readers that not all accredited certification services were the same. They maintained they had more experience, a larger client base, more full-time assessors and were the only UK members of EQNet, an organisation of European certification bodies that recognise the work done by other members to be equivalent to their own. The Authority did not object to the claim.
External Affairs Manager
Advertising Standards Authority
2 Torrington Place
020 7291 3065
What I reckon happened was that first ISO9001 - interpreted as a celebration of mindless robotism - made such self-evident sense to a society of people addicted to their own boredom products that they never thought to find out if it really does any good. The real motivation for doing this is that it is unrecognised addictive behaviour.
When BSI were challenged, the staff members that dealt with the claim found themselves emotionally compelled to defend something for reasons that they did not understand, and got into a situation where they had to defend a claim that they didn't actually have sufficient evidence for. So they lost the case. The BSI is - quite rightly - an internationally respected standards body. With any lesser body it wouldn't be so weird. The BSI staff don't usually do this kind of thing!
Now in a society of ritual addicts, there is a huge amount of this kind of coercion without conscious motivation going on. Any "non-compliance" with robotism is punished by "lesson-teaching" behaviour and/or contempt/threat displays. This creates a climate of unconscious fear throughout the whole of society. When the ASA staff came to record the adjudication on the website, they found themselves about to type up something which had information content that would usually be called "disloyal", "non-compliant", "disruptive", "unprofessional" and so on. This neurotic, denied, socially induced fear was more powerful than the staff's conscious awareness that they work for an organisation committed to using the best of modern technology to pubish its impartial adjudications, and they distanced themselves from the adjudication. It fell off the back of the desk, and was forgotten.
Of course, it might just all be co-incidental atypical clerical errors. But I think it's an uncluttered example of the M0 induced self censorship that afflicts all of society, and so gets into these two excellent and independent organisations just as much as it gets into situations where profit motives, sloppiness and other issues make it much easier to ignore something no-one wants to see.