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July 24 2006 10:17 AM

Ever wonder how certain universally accepted sizes, practices or specifications got to be universally accepted? It didn�t just happen by coincidence. In the world of distribution, universal applications for standardized freight container sizes are the result of over half a century of diligent initiative, research and implementation by an organization in Geneva, Switzerland called the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). (Editor�s Note: While �ISO� would appear to be a typographical error for IOS, the initials of the International Organization for Standardization, it is actually a reference to isos, the Greek word for �equal.�)
Founded in 1947, the original impetus for the organization was to establish essential global uniformity for certain product categories following World War II. It soon became apparent, however, that quality management itself could be standardized. After all, standardization is simply something that occurs when a large majority of products or services conform to the same criteria. Often, without even realizing it, consensus is reached in an array of companies among all economic players � suppliers, users and even governments. This opens the door for companies to use ISO standards to impose on themselves management disciplines that result in better products or services.
Thus ISO 9000 was born, a detailed and precise process that helps companies of all kinds maintain and improve quality performance. Since then, tens of thousands of businesses all over the world have implemented ISO 9000. So pervasive and authoritative has ISO 9000 become, in fact, that many companies will flatly refuse to do business with another company unless it is ISO 9000 certified.
How ISO Standards Are Developed
The words, �No man is an island� by John Donne, could have been written to describe the way the ISO quality management standards are shaped. No industry in today�s world can truly claim to be completely independent of components, products or rules that have been developed either by companies in other parts of the world or even by completely different industries. To a surprising extent, good management is the ultimate line crosser.
Organizationally, ISO is a worldwide federation of standardization bodies from 130 countries. The technical work of ISO is tremendously decentralized � performed by some 2,850 technical committees and working groups. In these committees, qualified representatives of industry, research institutes, government authorities and international organizations come together as equal partners to resolve global standardization problems. Some 30,000 experts participate in meetings each year.
The Central Secretariat in Geneva submits the standards in draft form to ISO member bodies for voting and convenes meetings of technical committees. There are, on average, a dozen ISO meetings taking place somewhere in the world every working day of the year. Once the standards are set, however, it all comes down to an individual company, or department within a company, taking itself in hand and settling down to the job of reconstructing the way it goes about its business. And this, in turn, starts with the appointment of a single individual: the company�s ISO 9000 management representative.
Small Company, Big Ideas
In the United States, half of Fortune magazine�s list of the 100 most profitable companies in America employ the ISO 9000 program including five of the top six and 10 of the top 13 companies the likes of GM, Ford, Exxon, GE, IBM and AT&T. And, since February of last year, included in that group is Moulton Logistics Management of Van Nuys, California, a well-respected southern California fulfillment house, founded 33 years ago.
Moulton joined the ranks of America�s corporate giants in June of 2000, when Larry Moulton, president and founder of Moulton Logistics Management, was pursuing a large potential client in the Silicon Valley. Early on during the initial conversation, the prospect asked if Moulton�s company was ISO cer-tified. Moulton had to admit he was not even aware of ISO, and the meeting quickly turned into a short course in the basic workings of ISO�s quality management stan-dardization program. From that point on, Moulton became determined never to risk another piece of business due to lack of ISO certification.
The fulfillment business consists of an incredible amount of attention paid to detail at every step and a constant opportunity to make mistakes. Moulton recog-nized right away that the ISO 9000 certification program could permit his company to control the entire process in a way that would reduce mistakes, raise profit poten-tial and continue to make improvements toward both objectives as long as the program was implemented.
Getting the Job Done
In the ISO system, the partic-ipating company is required to appoint an internal ISO management representative whose responsibility it is to serve as a kind of ombudsman. It�s his job to get the company to perform the organizational work required by ISO to achieve certification. Intrigued by the opportunity to apply internationally recognized quality management techniques to his own small business, Moulton appointed his son, Patrick, to this position.
�Being the ISO guy in a company like ours is a cross between being a dungeon master and a psychotherapist,� says the younger Moulton. �The process requires that every department prepare a manual in which everything it does is reduced to writing, with standards set for performing every function. Of course, this documentation must be accomplished without interfering with the normal, daily demands of the business. So it creates a lot of pressure and, frankly, a certain amount of anxiety. After all, we�re asking people to define, in great detail, aspects of their job they�ve never had to articulate before.�
The first step for a company embarking on the path to ISO certification is to call in an ISO-approved independent consultant, one of thousands located in virtually every business-oriented country in the world. It�s the consultant�s job to review the current organizational procedures and then assess what needs to be done to eventually conform to ISO standards. In Moulton�s case, the consultant began this assignment in May of last year. Six months later, his role was completed.
With some firms, the consultant writes a basic quality systems manual, which serves as the bible for quality control management. Moulton, however, decided it would take the documentation one step further and created sub-manuals for every department.
A key second step toward certification is securing top management approval of the quality systems manual. It�s not enough to cobble together documentation at the middle management level and then advise upper management that the work has been done. The manual must be reviewed line by line at the highest levels of the company and physically signed off. It�s not unheard of during this step for top management to become educated about hitherto unsuspected details of its own operation.
Until this point, a company can only be said to be applying for certification. When it has completed all preliminaries, it can then take the final step � calling in one of the corps of official ISO auditors to monitor the company for compliance to ISO 9000 certification requirements.
�It�s important not to rush this step,� says Moulton Jr. �Even though you may have satisfied all the requirements on paper, and in spite of the pressure that builds to achieve the formal certification, you�ve got to feel that you�re really ready. It�s like taking your driver�s exam for the first time.�
Moulton invited the auditor in shortly after the first of January last year. In early February, Moulton Logistics officially became ISO 9000 certified.
The auditing process continues, theoretically, for the life of the company. Every six months, the outside auditor returns to confer with the company�s ISO management representative, review the current state of the quality systems manual and look into specific instances of how the ISO quality management standards are being applied. The ongoing monitoring helps the company to be certain there has been no relaxation from its original standards.
�The ISO certification has affected so many aspects of the company that it�s hard to pinpoint individual changes,� says Moulton Jr. �Every day, we�re changing something to make the quality of our various services a little bit better � some days, to make them a lot better. And it�s a big help when we go after new business.�
Earlier this month, when pursuing a significant new account, Moulton and several other competitors were asked to fill out an ISO quality systems survey. The first question was �Are you ISO certified?� Moulton was the only one who could say yes. The company got the account.
Bob Grossman is director of Marketing Communications at Moulton Logistics Management, a warehousing, distribution, packaging and mailing firm headquartered inVan Nuys, California. For more information, please visit or call 818-997-1800.