How to live with ISO9001:2000 when customer requirements are poorly defined?

ISO9001:2000 section 7.2 states that your organization must determine product requirements specified by the customer, requirements not stated by the customer but necessary for the intended use of the product, any legal, statutory or regulatory requirements, and any other requirements as determined by your organization.

In a machine shop type of organization, frequently you get poorly defined product requirements from the customer. I’ve seen customers draw an item on a napkin…literally. Dimensions are crude. Customers often don’t know what kind of tolerances are able to be held during manufacture.

Asking your customer to fix their tolerances can be tricky business, as customers are often entreprenurial types and not engineers.

How can you take on new work, with poorly defined product requirements, and still meet the requirements of your ISO9001:2000 quality management system?

It is often a matter of educating the customer, and requires a bit of patience. ISO demands that you have product characteristics nailed down in advance, and when you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Even if it seems like a bit of an annoyance right now, taking a little time now could save you and your customer both time and money down the road.

If you’re in a position like this, it is imperative that you get your customer to agree to specifications before you start production. If your customer unwittingly specifies some outrageously small tolerances for a product that doesn’t really require them, tell the customer that he can save money by specifying larger tolerances as these will require less manufacturing time. This is, of course, assuming the part does not really require the tight tolerances. If you’re manufacturing spars for the F-22 Raptor, well, you probably need the tight tolerances, and you’re undoubtedly charging a lot. However if you’re making motorcycle exhaust hanger brackets, the tolerances don’t need to be quite so small.

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