Probably the most consistently read post on this entire blog is the one where I contrast the approaches of ISO 9001 and EFQM. It would seem to be a topic that interests people, especially in the Middle East.

Occasionally it leads to questions like “which one is best?” or “which one should we use?”.

In this post I will outline the factors that should be taken into consideration when making that choice, as EFQM and ISO 9001 tend to be used in different ways and to achieve different outcomes. Let’s look at the advantages of ISO 9001 application first.

The benefits of ISO 9001 certification

The main benefit that most companies receive from ISO 9001 certification is that it gives access to contracts and tendering processes. Many companies, when they put out tenders and pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) specify ISO 9001 either as a prerequisite or a requirement. It is widely used in Business to Business (B2B) supply chains as a pre-selection tool. This, as any fool can see, gives a certified company a significant advantage. Without certification it is excluded from many bidding processes. ISO 9001 is less widely used in B2C supplier relationships and therefore it is generally of lesser value for a B2C company (that is, a business that has the public rather than another business as its customer).

In situations where ISO 9001 is not actually NEEDED for contractual purposes, it can help a company develop a platform for a management system and therefore a consistent way of doing things. Obviously a company may well be able to develop a management system using its own gumption without going anywhere near ISO 9001, so the benefits it can deliver can be achieved by other means. It does, however, provide a ready made off-the-shelf package for management system development.

Where I think the benefits of ISO 9001 are over-stated are when people start rambling on about how much “improvement” it will deliver. Generally speaking it won’t. It will help provide a platform that COULD deliver improvement, but it won’t deliver improvement in itself, despite what the snake oil consultants might tell you. Remember, they may have a vested interest in having you believe that. In the words of Mandy Rice-Davies “They would say that, wouldn’t they?”

EFQM is a different beast altogether and just as mis-sold

The benefits of using EFQM

The EFQM Model is not a standard. There are no “met/not met” criteria and no respected and recognised certification processes that matter. I have never seen use of the EFQM Model being used as a pre-selection criteria on contracts, and it generally won’t give a company the advantage in a tendering process that ISO 9001 might. So what is it?

The EFQM is a framework for self diagnosis. It has a set of criteria and scoring methodology that enables a company to introspectively assess what its strengths and weaknesses are. Putting it simply, it is a more sophisticated SWOT analysis. It can help an organisation look objectively and holistically at itself and add balance to a strategic planning process. It can also develop a life of its own, get out of hand and deliver nothing but wasted effort. I refer you back to my earlier post for some background as to how that can happen.

So which is better?

I am saying there is no answer to that. The comparison is not one of “apples with apples”. ISO 9001 is not a diagnostic, and EFQM is not a standard. ISO 9001 might offer contract advantages, while EFQM will not. I could go on but, if anything, my message in this post is that if you are asking the question, you need to understand the needs of your company first, before being able to answer the question. The answer could well be “neither” or “both”

Hope this provides you with some food for thought.

Shaun Sayers

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