Having company standards and following industry standards, such as AS 9100 or ISO 9000 are a great thing. In today's market they are pretty much mandatory in order to be competitive, or even to be considered by a top tier company as a potential vendor. The benefits are many; consistency of process and product, increased efficiency, higher maintainable quality, etc. It is easy to see how these benefits are achievable. By creating standard work instructions and following a set of predefined "if than" options, re-thinking the same processes over an over can be eliminated.
But unfortunately, standards can be a double edged sword. I have had the opportunity to work for a defense contractor that is heavily involved with ISO 900 and AS 9100 procedures. A major problem with creating detailed work instructions and following a strict set of standard procedures is: when a situation arrases that does not meet those exact standard procedures, some people just stop dead in their tracks. I call it being stuck in the "ISO rut."
The ruts are extremely deep at this defense contractor, so deep progress on a project is often stopped dead in it's tracks. For one project I worked on for close to two years, the customer required all test assets, components and assemblies be shipped to their location via Fed Ex. The contractor's standard carrier is UPS. Every time I wanted to ship something, I had to walk the shipping department through the process.
"Do you really want this shipped Fed Ex? Normally we use UPS, because they stop here everyday. If I ship Fed Ex, I have to call them and sometimes it takes an extra day." is the response I got EVERY TIME I shipped something. I would respond "Yes, the customer requires Fed Ex and they are fine with the shipment taking an extra day." Instead of an "okay" or something similar the shipping person's response was usually "But, per our work instructions we ship UPS. If I ship Fed EX, I have to call them."
I got to the point I would leave the box on her desk with a note that said: "Please ship to the customer via Fed Ex. The customer requires shipments via Fed Ex and they are okay with the shipment taking an extra day, due to you having to schedule a pick up." Even with this note, about half the time I would get an email or a phone call asking if I was positive the parcel couldn't be shipped UPS. Stuck in the ISO rut.
This problem was not isolated to the shipping department. On another occasion, a part that needed to be shipped soon, was held in the inspection department. When I asked why the part was not moving on to it's next operation, they told me they couldn't inspect it. The work instruction for that part stated to use the Ziess CMM. Unfortunately the Ziess was off line for repairs and not available for use. I asked if there was a reason why the part couldn't inspected using other equipment. I asked if there was a feature that could only be inspected by the Ziess. The inspector said no, the part could easily be checked by other means, but the work instruction clearly says to use the Ziess. I told him to please inspect the part by any means possible, for we would miss our delivery date if we wait for the Ziess to be repaired. In a state of disbelief he say "But what about the work instruction? It clearly says use the Ziess." Stuck in the ISO rut.
I could bore you with other examples from engineering, purchasing, machining and assembly departments from this company of people, normally smart people, being stuck in the ISO rut. The downside with a system that is reliant on standards and procedures is if you're not careful, people will no longer trust their common sense and be lost without specific directions.
There needs to be a constant effort to make sure people will use there best judgment when a situation arises that does not meet the standards. That, after all is the very reason to adopt a ISO 9000 style standard. Originize your work and operations, create a maintainable order out of the chaos. That way you can spot potential problems before they become problems, giving you time to react.
People should keep vigilant and make sure company policies or procedures (ISO 9000 or otherwise) are not only being followed, but are helping bring the most out of the company, not limiting it inadvertently.