Best Practices in Applying ISO to Product Development

As the ISO standard continues to evolve, it is interesting to observe how successful companies have embraced the standard to increase the quality of their products and services, while balancing the pressures of time to market and product cost. We were interested in learning how some of the best consumer electronics companies were implementing ISO standards in product development, and what were the best practices that were being implemented to optimize the product delivery process including time to market.  In the day-to-day business of developing and shipping products to market, was ISO a benefit or a deterrent to time-to-market?  Did it help?  Or did it hurt?  Our study included the following questions:

  • Does your unit/division/BU follow ISO for Product Development? If so, which standards?
  • How deeply is it applied to product development?
  • How do you ensure that it does not impede time to market?
  • How has it helped or hurt?

And here’s what we learned:

  • The main business driver for ISO compliance is access to foreign markets.
  • When trading off quality, schedule & cost, quality is the priority.
  • ISO compliance is primarily controlled by limiting exposure to a small number of documents, and defining a flexible process for deviating from the documentation.
  • ISO compliance is contained within the existing product development process. No additional processes or documents are generated to support compliance.
  • The range of documents/processes under audit ranges from 3 to 140
  • Typical is around 25
    • Almost all have systems that customize the implementation at the project level to limit impact to time to market
    • “Shrink to Fit”
    • “Rapid Decision Model”
    • “One Director can waive”
    • “2 Year sunset”

So what does this all mean?

Of the nine technology companies benchmarked, all implement ISO within the product development process.  In all cases, efforts required for ISO compliance do not surpass the defined product development process and every company has incorporated a flexible approach in applying the standard and in managing deviations.  Overwhelmingly, ISO compliance is not seen as an impediment to time to market, but has proven to be a key factor in supporting companies in shipping higher quality products to markets.

Below are six best practices that have driven the success of ISO implementation in the area of product development:

  1. Reduce the number of product development documents to a best practice of three.
  2. Reduce the number of signatures to deviate from those documents to one. Allow anyone at the director level or above to approve deviation
  3. Implement a document “sun setting” policy to eliminate documents from the product development process that are not viewed within a two year timeframe.
  4. Do not generate additional documentation in support of ISO compliance. Certification should be based on existing documented processes.
  5. To limit audit exposure, reduce the number of mature processes.
  6. ISO compliance allows companies to avoid costly and time-consuming customer audits.

While the motivation to achieve ISO certification may have originated as a “necessary evil” in order to compete in the global marketplace, we have found through this study that the companies that have embraced this standard and applied intelligence to its application have reaped the benefits of higher quality products and increased organizational efficiency.