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ISO 9000 Compliance versus Certification

by Ron Kurtus (updated 17 December 2022)

Over the past several years many companies sought and achieved certification or registration of one of the ISO 9000 series standards.

Other companies have wanted to become ISO 9000 certified but have been unable to afford the costs or have been unwilling to jump through all the necessary hoops required by the ISO 9000 registrar or auditors.

A possible solution is for a company to simply comply with the ISO 9000 standards but not complete the registration process.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Reasons for certification

The reason most companies seek ISO 9000 certification or registration is in order to do business in Europe. Many companies within the European common market have decided they need a set of standardized rules to assure they receive quality good from their suppliers. In fact, within the American automobile industry a similar certification—QS 9000—is required for their suppliers.

Another reason is that some companies feel that being certified gives them a marketing advantage over their uncertified competitors. As more companies register for ISO 9000, that advantage becomes reduced.

ISO 9000 is great concept

The concept of the ISO 9000 standards is great. It is a guide to run a business the way one should be run. It is essentially documenting your plans and verifying that you have done what you said you were going to do.

Standard practices

Many companies have used similar "standard practices" for years. I've also worked at companies that had their good business practices documented but usually bypassed for the sake of expediency or out of laziness.

Relationship with TQM

I always felt that the Total Quality Management (TQM) way of doing business would have been more effective and popular if ISO 9000 would have come out before TQM was started.

Problems with some companies

Although ISO 9000 is a good idea, many companies have become registered simply to gain a marketing edge, especially concerning selling to European clients. These companies have no intention to improve the way they do business. In fact, I have heard that it is relatively easy for a company to "buy" their certification.

One trick that is used is for a company to document only those processes needed for certification. With a minimum of documentation goes a minimum of maintenance. Other things they may do are left unsaid and not noted by the auditors. I know of at least one major corporation that has ISO 9001 certification but avoids following the standards when it suits them.

Compliance for those who want to improve

If a company really wants to improve the way they operate, to reduce waste, and to keep a firm grip on their business processes, that company could easily simply structure themselves to be compliant to the ISO 9000 standards. In other words, I am suggesting that they follow the standards as best they can, but yet they do not go through the formal procedure of getting certified unless they really feel it is worthwhile.

They cannot really advertise that they are certified, but they can show that they run their business in an effective manner.

Another advantage of not being officially ISO 9000 registered is not being required to have auditors check out your company every few years. Sometimes it is good to have a third party check your business, but if you are forced to do it, it can feel like an imposition.


I feel that many companies would be wise to simply comply to the ISO 9000 standards without necessarily becoming ISO 9000 certified. In this way, they could improve the way they do business. Perhaps at some later date they might want to become officially registered, although then they must continue to pay to be audited every several years.

Reliability is important

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


ISO Online - International Organization for Standardization website

ISO Standards Translated in Plain English - Extensive listing

ISO 9000 Certification Information - Good listing of ISO 9000 resources

ISO 9000 References and Resources


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