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companies pursuing ISO 9000 registration frequently begin the process by hiring

consultants. Although registrars must meet certain accreditation requirements, ISO


9000 consultants have no overseeing bodies to qualify their competence. Many ISO
9000 or quality consultants have a variety of licenses and certifications showing
mastery of specific knowledge, but education and special training don't necessarily
make someone the right person to help your company achieve registration. What
follows are some simple issues and criteria to consider when hiring an ISO 9000
consultant.

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It's important not to confuse contractors with consultants. The difference between the
two will affect outcomes, expectations and fees. A contractor will spend a significant
amount of time at your company performing tasks such as conducting audits and
writing procedures. The contractor provides an additional set of hands to do certain
tasks for you. Contractors may spend 50 percent or more of their time working with
you over several months. The contractor is a worker, not an adviser, and generally
doesn't take part in the strategic project planning necessary to achieve registration.

Contractors are useful for companies whose employees lack the ability, time or
inclination to do their own auditing and procedure development work or who need a
significant amount of hand-holding to work through these tasks. Contractors are also
useful in lean organizations that lack readily available personnel resources or that
contract out many functions as a strategic choice.

One of the primary difficulties in hiring out the ISO 9000 development work to a
contractor is that your full-time employees may not be directly involved in building
your quality management system, so they may not fully buy into the ISO 9000 quality
system and make it their own.

Consultants, on the other hand, are advisers who help lay out a strategic plan and
organize the necessary resources. A consultant acts as a coach on the sidelines,
encouraging and motivating your employees to perform the tasks necessary to reach
registration. The consultant helps everyone stay on track, brainstorm solutions and
knock down barriers. Knowledgeable and capable consultants have worked with
several companies and have learned first-hand some of the typical pitfalls companies
face when pursuing registration. Because they have identified many of the same kinds
of problems before and understand that it's possible to overcome these problems,
consultants are less likely to be discouraged or frustrated by bumps in the road.
Moreover, because consultants don't own the process and have less emotional
commitment to the organization than do full-time organizational members, they may
be able to bring an unbiased and unemotional perspective to problems and evaluate a
variety of potential solutions.

One of the most obvious indicators of whether the individual you are considering
hiring is a contractor or a consultant is the amount of time and the kind of work the
person proposes to do for your company. If the individual willingly takes on specific
work or determines that he or she must spend a great deal of time with you, you're
dealing with a contractor. Consultants, on the other hand, will make a concerted effort
to ensure that you're able to stand on your own, deal with the requirements of the
standard and be prepared to undergo your registration audit. Good consultants want to
minimize the time they spend at your location; they strive to provide you with what
you need in order to do your own work and take hold of the ISO 9000 quality system
as your own. Most important, consultants want to help clients figure out their own
solutions based on what's best for their company and customers.

The most important advantage of hiring a consultant rather than a contractor is that
employees are able to use and maintain the system after the consultant leaves the
company. If you plan to maximize the value of your ISO 9000 registration, you
should design a quality management system that's owned by your line and operations
personnel. A consultant should be able to help you start your project and meet with
you periodically to assess your current status and help you evolve your plan. Once the
project is up and running, the consultant should work with you one or two days about
every six weeks. Between visits, you and your employees work on your ISO 9000
project.

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ISO 9000 isn't a quality issue; it's a management concern. The ISO 9000 standards
provide a framework upon which to build a management system that ensures
customer satisfaction by reducing nonconformance and variation in work processes,
products and services. ISO 9000 registration is definitely not a quality control or
inspection activity. Consultants need to be knowledgeable about quality issues, the
standard, and auditing and documentation practices. However, because ISO 9000 is a
management issue, the consultant also needs to understand--and have experience
with--business strategy development, project management and resource budgeting.
Given a choice between a consultant with a strong quality background and one with
more management experience, all other factors being equal, you're probably better off
hiring the consultant with line management and budget responsibility experience. This
individual will most likely be better able to help you and your staff understand how
ISO 9000 works in and affects all elements of your company.


  

Most ISO 9000 registrations have been in manufacturing companies and within
certain types of industries. More recently, service organizations and other industries
new to the standards are discovering the value of registration to their bottom line. As
more types of companies seek registration, demand for industry-specific experience
rises. However, expecting to find a consultant with 20 years' experience in your
specific industry may not be feasible, and it's probably unnecessary.

More important selection criteria for a consultant include the similarity between your
company's size and that of the other companies the consultant has worked with; the
kinds of markets and technology experience he or she has; and the specific kinds of
line, budget and management experiences the consultant brings to your project. For
example, an individual who has significant experience working with a major
international organization or who's spent a career in a highly regulated industry will
have to make a mental adjustment to understand how a smaller or less-regulated
company successfully manages its tasks. Similarly, the consultant needs to understand
your markets and your types of customers and what you need to do to satisfy them.

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Benchmarking is key to organizational improvements and the support of ISO 9000.


This process is based on the idea that a company can study how another company,
from any industry, developed a superior solution to certain tasks or activities. The
idea is to find a company that has devised a streamlined, effective and efficient way to
accomplish an activity and then use those ideas as a starting point or model to devise
your own solution. Smart consultants are always looking for and learning new ideas
that can be adapted to fit their clients' needs.

The "sea story" consultant is a proponent of the "how we used to do it back at my old
companyÑ " mentality. There's wisdom in experience only when the experience can
be tailored to fit current needs or to avoid traps, errors or delays. Capable consultants
are able to parley their experiences to find new, unique solutions.

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One of the most important characteristics a consultant can have is the ability to work
well with you and at every level within your organization. Good consultants can work
with senior management as comfortably as with the most junior individual in your
organization. You must be comfortable with him or her. Because your contact time
with the consultant will be limited, you need to be sure that you can work
cooperatively and efficiently together so that this time will be productive.

It's worth investing in an airline ticket to have the consultant visit for a day before
you make a hiring decision. The consultant should be willing to waive his or her daily
fee for this visit. You should have a fairly extensive list of questions to ask, issues to
address and concerns to satisfy, but all of the factual issues--such as experience and
fees--should have already been resolved. Your meeting day should be devoted to
arriving at a clear consensus of what you're looking for and what kinds of help you
need, as well as planning how the consultant will work with you. The consultant can
help you achieve this goal. The consultant is your vendor or subcontractor; therefore,
you should use the care that you would use to assess any subcontractor who is
important to your company's strategic success. Both you and the consultant need to
make sure that you both clearly understand your expectations of each other and of the
desired outcomes before you enter into a consulting agreement. If you're unable to
clarify these expectations and establish a level of comfort and trust with the
consultant, find someone else. Similarly, good consultants walk away from a project
that they believe is a poor match for their strengths and weaknesses.

     

A very old saw says a consultant is someone with a suit and a briefcase who travels
more than 50 miles, looks at your watch and tells you the time. Organizations seeking
a consultant may be inclined to look for someone located close to them, thinking it
will save time and money. However, you may be doing your organization a grave
disservice if you limit your search to local talent. Contractors should be local, but
airfares shouldn't discourage you from hiring the right consultant. With careful
preplanning and good scheduling, this expense can be minimized.

A more important consideration is the consultant's availability and responsiveness to


your needs. Telephone, fax and e-mail are all useful tools for staying in touch with
your consultant. Regrettably, some consultants overbook themselves--either from
greed or from a failure to understand their own limitations--and have difficulty
spending the time necessary to focus on and be available to their clients. Obviously,
the only thing a consultant has to sell is time and expertise. The consultant who must
catch a red-eye flight to get to another client the day after visiting with you is
probably overbooked.

Experienced and savvy consultants spend up to 50 percent of their time marketing


their services and performing administrative tasks to establish a steady pipeline of
business. They have considerable flexibility during those scheduled
marketing/administrative periods, so they often can respond to you on short notice. In
contrast, road warriors try to book every minute several months in advance and lack
the flexibility to respond appropriately to their clients.

Your consultant also needs your cooperation to schedule meeting times as far in
advance as possible. Scheduling is an important issue, so you need to resolve this
question early to make sure that your potential consultant will be able to meet your
needs.

   

You don't need to hire a consultant to help your company achieve registration. ISO
9000 is not an esoteric and complex undertaking. You can always learn the standard
yourself and figure out how to apply it to your business. Companies hire consultants
for one reason: to bring experience and insight to their registration projects, thus
saving time and smoothing the process. An ISO 9000 consultant should help you
organize your project and avoid or resolve difficulties in this process as well as help
you devise the simplest system that works well for your customers and your company.

Your primary consideration when hiring a consultant should be value. Most


consultants charge comparable fees, so cost shouldn't be your most highly prioritized
factor. Instead, establishing what you want from your ISO 9000 project and what you
need from a consultant to help you reach your goals should be the basis of your
decision. Thinking through these issues will help you establish a mutually satisfying
and productive relationship with your consultant.