How to Set a Tailor-Made ISO 9002 Standard

Q: We’re looking to become ISO registered because we have an opportunity to work with one of the Big Three automakers. ISO 9002, for service providers, reads like a manufacturing standard. How does it apply to trucking?

Even though ISO 9000 is designed for a manufacturing context, it can be adapted to a service-based organization. But it’s critical to adapt the standard to the operations of your company, not vice versa. If an element of ISO 9002 doesn’t apply, it doesn’t apply. If it needs to be tailored to meet your specific situation, so be it. Remember, ISO 9000 is intended to assure customers that your company has a system for providing consistent, high-quality product. It would be self-defeating if it results in procedures that hinder your company’s responsiveness and flexibility.

If you’re serious about ISO 9000, the first thing to do is to figure out what your product is. In a service organization, this isn’t immediately evident. Trucking companies don’t make anything tangible. So instead, focus on what your customers expect from you. Your product-what you sell to your customers-is on-time delivery of freight. The goal should be to move freight from A to B when the customer wants it there.

Once you’ve defined what you do, logically work out the processes in your organization that contribute to this goal.

A lot of successful companies figure that what they’re doing now is basically what they ought to continue doing. But as they break down and analyze what each person or department does at work each day, they come to realize that the company has shortcomings and gaps, especially in documentation: where is it written down how to handle and follow up on customer complaints? Or how to follow up on suggestions for improvement from drivers and other employees? Is there a policy that says what would happen if you can’t move the freight?

These questions cut to the heart of your business. You need to develop policies and formalize the practical procedures you use, even those used in an off-the-cuff way.

Consult with everyone in the organization who is involved in a given process, and keep descriptions lean and mean and to the point: your objective is to formalize and improve your system, not change it to meet an external standard.

When you’re done with the analysis, you should be able to boil your business down to a handful of specific procedures.

Here comes the tricky part (and the part where professional advice can really start to pay off). ISO 9002 has 19 elements or procedures. How do you satisfy those elements while recognizing procedures that are most important to your everyday operations?

First, dispose of those elements that clearly don’t apply to your situation. For example, if you don’t produce widgets that require after-sale servicing, you can delete ISO 9002’s element, “Servicing: 4.19.” You can probably forget about “Inspection and Testing: 4.10,” and if testing doesn’t apply, neither would “Control of Inspection, Measuring and Test Equipment: 4.11” or “Inspection and Test Status: 4.12.”

Other elements may need to be restructured and interpreted to match your business. For example, take Process Control. For a manufactured part, Process Control is controlling what happens on a production line, i.e., one element, one procedure.

But for a trucking company, the process you need to control includes taking the customer order, assigning a number that allows the driver to go and get the customer-supplied product, and then deliver it to where it needs to be.

All of these activities need to be rolled up into a single procedure to let you be flexible and responsive in meeting customer needs.

No matter what ISO 9000 procedures you develop, internal auditing is absolutely critical because it’s the tool that uncovers differences between the procedures as documented and what people are actually doing. It refines the system and provides assurance the system works.

Your internal audit team should include people from across the company. You want a cross-representation. Expect the first audits to be rough. New auditors may not ask all of the right questions, or know what to look for as they try to refine the procedures. Also, it may be awkward for a clerical person to sit down and audit a supervisor or company vice-president.

But, as the audits continue, they’ll get better. The bottom line is you have to do satisfactory internal audits. It’s a requirement of the system.

ISO 9000 is more than just a banner out front and something we can advertise on our stationary. You’ll notice better accountability on your maintenance purchases and relationships with your vendors in general. If you’re unhappy with what a current vendor has done, you can write them a Continuous Improvement Form (CIF) which puts the issue in writing and makes it more formal. (Of course, they can write up a CIF on you, too.) There’s also improved accountability on customer complaints and a finer understanding of why you turn down loads.

If you’re going to seek registration, get all your people involved. Practice what you preach. Walk the talk. Good luck!

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