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Denise Robitaille


Please All, Please None

ISO 9001 helps in the juggling act of (trying to) please everyone.

Published: Monday, July 20, 2009 - 03:00

A father and his son were going to market. Their donkey was laden with the vegetables from their garden and assorted wares they were going to sell. The young son became tired and so his father lifted him up onto the donkey so that he could ride for a while. Shortly thereafter, they passed through a small hamlet where the people scorned the son for showing disrespect to his father. “Look at the son who rides while his poor hard working father who toils every day must trod along without rest.”


The father and son were both greatly ashamed at the offense they had caused. The son alit from the donkey and his father got on. Traveling farther down the road, they encountered a group who were also heading for the market. Seeing the father riding atop the donkey, they sneered, “Look how the man rides pompously while his poor exhausted son is required to trail behind.” Again, the father and son were embarrassed by the jeers of the group.

Determined to cause no further offense, they both mounted the donkey. Soon after, they came upon yet another band of travelers. This group assailed the father and son for their cruelty. “How cruel can you be to this unfortunate beast?” they railed. “This poor animal must bear both you and your wares!”

The father and son dismounted. Concluding that the donkey must truly be weary they decided to carry both the animal and their goods for market. They tied the donkey’s hoofs to a pole and, each hefting one end of the pole over their shoulders, they proceeded to carry him so that he could rest.

Arriving at the bridge into the marketplace they were met by a throng of townspeople who scoffed and howled at the ridiculous sight of the father and son carrying the beast of burden. The donkey, frightened by the noise of the crowd, trashed and kicked, causing them all to tumble into the river where they perished.

I love the fables of Aesop. His stories are startlingly relevant across the centuries. This one illustrates most poignantly the pitfall of attempting to please everyone.

Organizations have multiple stakeholders. There are suppliers who need to make a fair profit to remain viable, customers who want specific products at lower costs, shareholders who need to protect their investments, and employees who would like a raise. While there are probably several others, these are the ones that generally come to mind. There are also the internal stakeholders vying for time, personnel, and resources.

Your quality management system is an invaluable asset in this juggling act as you try to balance and effectively address the needs of the varied stakeholders. As a matter of fact, some of the language in ISO 9001 requires you to ensure inclusion of interested parties as fulfillment of requirements for some processes. This, in turn, points you to other requirements that facilitate your ability to manage multiple needs while dealing with various constraints.

The best example of these is the requirement in the design and development subclause 7.3.1 of ISO 9001:2008. “The organization shall manage the interfaces between different groups involved in design and development to ensure effective communication and clear assignment of responsibility.” The intent of the requirement is not only to make sure that functions or activities aren’t forgotten, but also that their contribution (their stake) is also properly managed.

When managing a design project it’s essential to properly assess needed resources, which links to the requirements found in subclause 6.1 of the ISO 9001 standard. Who is available for the work? Can we borrow two software engineers for a week without adversely affecting the timeline of another project? How much time will we really need? This points us to the ISO 9001 requirements about monitoring and measuring processes found in subclauses 8.2.3 and 8.2.4, as well as the requirements to analyze the data from these activities, as required in subclause 8.4. Do you have an actual calculation of the people hours you’ll really need for your projects or are you using your best guesstimate? Is this a project that is coming out of research and development, while the other one is a prototype for an existing customer? Language about customer focus and understanding customer requirements are sprinkled throughout the standard.

Many times I hear people say that the ISO standard is impractical and not reflective of everyday business. They insist that there are too many individuals clamoring for everything right now and they have too many different people they are trying to please. Purchasing staff need to know if you’re planning to spec in a new supplier’s product so they can allocate the time for assessment. Manufacturing engineers require adequate time to move designs from concept to production. Production and inspection personnel may need new equipment. Uncontrolled or poorly defined, the deliverables become overwhelming.

Yet, some of the wisdom in the standard is exactly what organizations need to better cope with the seemingly conflicting demands from various departments. Rather than dismiss the requirements of ISO 9001, they should avail themselves of the guidance and tools that will help them to address the needs of multiple stakeholders.

Needs cannot be met if they’re not properly identified, quantified, and analyzed. If you don’t know what materials are available, how long things take, or who needs to be involved, you can’t explore options, prioritize projects, or negotiate alternatives.

Organizations that don’t manage these interfaces (as required by ISO 9001), will perpetually be trying to serve multiple masters and may eventually suffer the same fate as Aesop’s trio and perish in the drink.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.


Pleasing people - No kidding!

Dear Ms. Denise Robitaille,

A simple yet thought provoking article. The issue of conflicts and pleasing people across the board in an organisation is a fact that cannot be ignored nor can we overcome it. Telling the importance of handling the situation through a short story and involving the clause from ISO was fantastic. I enjoyed reading it. Congrats and thanks for a nice article.