Approved Supplier Lists: Quality Weighs In

I was recently following a discussion on Elsmar Cove, a forum for quality professionals (free, but registration is required), on the subject of an approved supplier list (ASL). Someone wanted to know whether having an approved supplier list was a “shall” under ISO standards and whether you had to evaluate every single supplier for the ASL. Now the majority of people who read and contribute to Elsmar Cove are what I would call dyed-in-the-wool quality folks or quality assurance wonks. They tend to be precise and follow all rules and regulations carefully. If ISO says to do something, for example, then you try to follow it to the letter of the law. You don’t want to lose your certification. But sometimes people follow the rules without thinking about the business impact on the organization.

Most the responses to this question about approved supplier lists were about following the ISO rules. No good tips on how to do so, best practices or good resources, or even a discussion about why you might want to develop an ASL other than because it’s an ISO “shall”, as in a thou shalt commandment.

Then someone posted a comment about the crux of the problem: “Supplier management is one of the most troublesome disciplines within a management system.” There you have it. It’s those troublesome supplier management people. This type of statement made me concerned about the lack of strategic thinking going on in quality, not that it isn’t exacerbated by non-strategic thinking in procurement as well. And it reminded me of how quality and procurement can get trapped in their own stovepipes in an organization, optimizing their own functions and sub-optimizing greater organization goals.

While the quality people should rightfully be concerned about ISO requirements and we need these people to help keep us on course with ISO, they should also be thinking about an Approved Supplier List from a business point of view. It isn’t just an arbitrary nuisance required by ISO and done in conjunction with the “troubled” discipline of supplier management. It has a sound business purpose that when conceived of and implemented properly, can help improve the performance of the supply base and keep it aligned with a firm’s performance requirements and expectations.

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