Reminded me of my brush with ISO 9000 some years ago, do see below.
Ever noticed how many organizations display ISO 9000 certificates? I found one recently in a hospital I've been to innumerable times. Not that I noticed anything fundamentally different about the place now that the sign is up, unless you count the existence of the sign itself.
It's something of a bandwagon, ISO 9000. And I'm hardly one to let bandwagons pass me by. So I once decided to find out something about it. It's an elusive creature, I discovered. When Baroness Orczy asked: "Is he in Heaven? Is he in Hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel!", she might well have been talking about ISO 9000, except that it doesn't rhyme too well.
Me, I have a passing interest in software. So I signed up for something that was advertised as -- and I quote here -- "an important seminar on ISO 9000 for computer software". It was to be conducted by -- I'm still quoting -- "an expert in this field" from a major European country that I will not identify except to tell you that its name begins with "Ger" and ends with "any".
Inspired by these quotes, I trooped eagerly into the seminar. It quickly became apparent that my eagerness was entirely misplaced.
A day and a half and many hundreds of slides and handouts later, our "expert" himself told us: "I can't tell you anything about ISO 9000 for software because I don't know anything about it." This was not a voluntary declaration, you understand; he was asked whether this was really a seminar about ISO 9000. (Full disclosure: By me).
Every slide he showed us had boxes and arrows and graphs and words such as "traceability", whatever that means. But if ever there has been as large a collection of boxes and arrows and pretty pictures that said as little as these did, I'd like to know about it.
There were graphs plotting the "probability density for success" against "attainment level"; others told us that software projects are somewhere on something called a "Quality Surface" (Carefully Capitalized). One slide had four identical -- I'm talking same-to-same identical -- graphs titled "complexity", "centrality", "diffusion" and "embedding". Our expert did not tell us what this meant, if anything at all.
But he did tell us about the "Capability Maturity Model" (Carefully Capitalized), which ranks your company in one of five maturity levels.
Level 1 is "Initial", in which you are "ad hoc" and "chaotic". Up from there is "Repeatable", where "the process is person-dependent but it is managed", thank you very much. At the top of the heap is Level 5, "Optimising", where "the process includes feedback". Your goal, said our expert, should be to make it to the rarified air of Level 5. Of course, our expert is -- and other competing experts are -- eager to visit you and rank your company, or your project. As one of them -- according to still another slide -- did, with 168 projects in the US and 196 in Japan.
And what would you guess were the Capability Maturity Levels of all these projects in these technologically advanced countries? Mostly Level 5 ("Optimising"), or maybe Level 4?
Wrong! As yet another slide told us, 86% of the US projects and 95% of the Japanese ones were mired in the muck of Level 1 ("ad hoc and chaotic", let me remind you). We're talking about the US, the country that still produces an overwhelming proportion of the software in use today. Innovative, useful software.
And it's all done in an ad hoc, chaotic fashion. Get used to it.
"Software is still on a low maturity level", said our expert, explaining these results. I don't know about you, but another explanation occurred to me. These experts and their close kin, consultants, charge huge fees to tell you your company is doing everything it possibly can wrong -- "ad hoc and chaotic", I believe it's called. But when you start correcting those wrongs, they quickly discover a new set of models. According to which, another visit and another fat fee informs you, you are still stuck on the bottom rung. You never get off that bottom rung, but the consultant collects his fee each time. Nice.
Then there were vague non sequiturs such as that ISO 9000 "has no value if not embedded in a Quality Philosophy." This Carefully Capitalized Quality Philosophy is "Total Quality Management" or TQM, one more then-fashionable buzzword, also Carefully Capitalized. TQM itself, said still another slide, is "not precisely defined", and "a safer understanding [of TQM] is coming along with the ISO 9000 series standards".
Got it? ISO 9000 is part of TQM, but TQM can only be understood via ISO 9000. Sure. Yossarian, come home to momma!
Baroness Orczy would have sympathized with us slide-watchers. We could see ISO 9000 here and there. We were told that it was not this or not that. Most confusing of all, it was defined in terms of things that were themselves to be defined by ISO 9000 ... but what was ISO 9000?
That, sadly, remained unclear.
But the expert from that country beginning with "Ger" got his fee.