ISO 9001 Made Practical, Simple and Effective
Need clear information on ISO 9001? Get it here. Why do it? See What are the benefits? in FAQs.
What is ISO 9001?
The international standard for a quality management system. It says what your system must have for consistent quality of services or products and to increase customer satisfaction. Mostly, it is a set of statements of what you must have or do, called requirements. They're grouped into these main categories in the current 2015 version:
- Top level: requirements to think about your business context, customers and other 'interested parties', your aims and plans, how to assess if you're achieving them or not, and consider risks and opportunities.
- Requirements for the system: create, operate and maintain a suitable quality management system. Use a process approach (don't know what that is? - short video here). Top management - ie, the decision-makers - must demonstrate leadership and commitment, keep focus on customers, set the quality policy and objectives, and ensure suitable planning occurs for the system and the products or services
- Support and infrastructure: make sure you have what is needed to support what you do, from having competent people through plant, tools and equipment (if needed) and documenting certain information.
- Operations: have suitable processes to do what you do, from design (if applicable) through developing/making/supply/delivery. Make sure your services/products meet (conform to) requirements and control nonconformity.
- Assess and improve: have suitable methods to assess your performance (of the system, your services/products and your processes), based suitable data. Improve what you do and how you do it, including via internal audits and corrective action to fix weaknesses and prevent recurrence.
ISO 9001 requirements in a nutshell has a longer summary. Really, the requirements of 9001 are just good practice and pretty much common sense. Some examples: you must establish what your customers want. You must provide (product/make/design) whatever you agreed. You need to plan, manage and control your processes and operations to get the results you want. People must be competent for the work they do. See what I mean about good practice and common sense?
What's a Process?
A fun animation to introduce the concept. If you subscribe to my Youtube channel, you'll get notified when new ones are posted.
How do you get ISO 9001?
To get ISO 9001 certification or 'ISO accreditation' as it's often referred to, your quality management system has to meet all the requirements. You prove this at a formal audit, called a certification audit, to assess whether your management system does meet all the requirements of ISO 9001. Note this is an audit of your management system (not your financials) and it has to be done by a properly accredited certifier (auditor).
Some myths around 9001
Myth: It's only for large businesses.
Reality: Small businesses can get enormous benefit from using and applying the 9001 Standard, regardless of whether you choose to become certified or not.
Myth: It's only for manufacturing.
Reality: No, definitely not. It is used successfully by service businesses, including consultancies, importers, distributors and retailers. Almost 40% of certifications are now issued for services. And the 2015 version for the first time recognises this, by referring throughout to 'products or services', whereas it only used to mention 'products'.
Myth: It's only for commercial businesses.
Reality: wrong again. It is used successfully by many non-commercial organisations, including schools and colleges, statutory authorities including government departments and police forces, charities, churches and missions.
Myth: It dictates exactly what you have to do and how.
Reality: Nope. While ISO9001 does say what you have to do or have, it does not specify the how. An example: the Standard requires you to plan what you want to achieve, organise your processes to achieve your goals, and operate, maintain, improve and control your processes to get there.
But it doesn't prescribe any specific methods or ways to do anything. That's up to you. Which is good news. You see, the vast majority of standards are very specific and highly prescriptive, but 9001 isn't. It's what's called a generic standard, meaning it can be used by any kind of business or organisation, small or large and in any field. Use it to improve what you do, irrespective of whether or not you decide to become certified.
Myth: You have to document everything you do. 'Say what you do and do what you say'.
Reality: also wrong. Yes, you do have to have some things written down, but probably far less than you think. Many people still repeating this tired old chestnut are far behind the times -stuck back in the 1990s! The Standard has changed a lot since then, and all for the better.
What's the catch?
One of the biggest: someone creates a difficult and bureaucratic system, because they don't know any better and think it 'must be like this' to get the certificate for ISO 9001. That's just not true. You can do it with an intelligent quality management system, one that's simple, practical and effective. I've been helping people do it this way for close to 20 years.
Doesn't everyone do that? Unfortunately, no. Some struggle with complex and bureaucratic systems, weighed down by practices and documents that are hard to understand, let alone use. Expensive to create - far worse to try and use.
How does that happen? Most often it's a lack of understanding and experience. Because you really do need knowledge and experience: pitfalls for the ignorant or unwary are many. To recognise the most frequent and see how to avoid them, get my free report on the most common mistakes with ISO 9001. Or the Youtube video for an animated version.
Why settle for less than a simple, practical and effective quality management system? So you can do what you do now, but even better, and use the power of ISO 9001 to get tangible improvements?
Author: Jane Bennett