Conformity, Conformance, or Compliance?

Do you say conformity or compliance?  Is it okay to use conformance instead of conformity?  Does it matter?

The ISO 9000:2000 Fundamentals and Vocabulary standard defines conformity as the fulfillment of a requirement. A note says conformance is synonymous, but deprecated (meaning use of that term is considered obsolete). ISO 9000 definesnonconformity as the non-fulfillment of a requirement. It doesn’t define compliance.

Although QS-9000 doesn’t define conformity, it does define nonconformity as a “process” which does not conform to a quality system requirement. It makes the distinction that a nonconformance is a “product or material” which does not conform to customer requirements or specifications. So, QS-9000 uses both conformity (process) and conformance (product). However, ISO 9000 uses conformity as fulfilling either process or product requirements.

ISO/TS 16949:2002 (the replacement for QS-9000 by 2006) uses the ISO 9000:2000 definitions for conformity andnonconformity. It dropped the QS-9000 use of nonconformance.

TL 9000 Release 3.0 refers to the ISO 9000:2000 definitions for conformity and nonconformity. The Release 2.5 definition of compliance has been dropped. The prior release defined compliance as an affirmative indication or judgment that a product has met the requirements of the relevant specifications, contract or regulation; also the state of meeting the requirements.

ISO/IEC Guide 2:1996 defines conformity as “fulfillment by a product, process, or service of specified requirements”.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines conformity as acting or behaving in accordance with socially accepted standards, conventions, rules, or laws. It defines compliance as the disposition or tendency to yield to the will of others.

Conformity can be viewed as internally driven, such as our voluntary, consensus-based standards. Compliance can be viewed as externally imposed. So, we should use conformity, not conformance or compliance, when referring to fulfilling product and process requirements. Of course, if customers impose conformity to ISO 9001, your organization may feel like it has to comply rather than conform.