Introduction to ISO 9001
Quality means different things to different people. To some, it means a reputation: often derived from an expensive marketing campaign – when it is usually accompanied by a reassuringly heavy price tag. And the quality of the product does (often) match the quality of the marketing.
But when I talk about quality, I’m not thinking Rolls Royce, Tiffany or Versace. Quality to me is about being ‘fit for purpose’. Let me put it this way, by posing a question: who decides on the Quality of the product or service a business provides? Well it’s not the business owner, neither is it their Accountant or Bank Manager. It certainly isn’t me, a Quality Consultant, and it’s definitely not the certification body that awards ISO 9001 certification. The answer is: the business’ customers.
Quality is about providing what your customers want, expect and need, at the right price and in the right timescale. Quality is nothing more – and nothing less – than that.
How does ISO 9001 work?
ISO 9001 is a slim (34-page) international standard that describes what an organisation will be doing if it is providing its customers with what they want, expect and need. In order to be certified to the ISO 9001 standard, a company must demonstrate this to an External Auditor. This can be seen as a three-step process:
“Say What You Do”
The first step is to document what you do. This documentation should be systemised, and it should help you to manage your quality. It is called a “Quality Management System”, or QMS.
The purpose of a QMS is not to create lots of paper and irrelevant processes. Its purpose is to say, in as much detail as is needed for the business, what you do and how you do it. Note that this is “say”, not “write down”. The standard does not insist that there is a documented process: the requirement is that there is a process. If a team of people have a verbal agreement of what is done, and so long as the records demonstrate that that is actually happening, you will be compliant with the standard.
“Do what you Say”
If a company is already well organised and well managed, the second step is easy: people getting on with doing what they do. There is no part of ISO 9001 that a properly run and directed organisation will not already be doing. And every properly run and directed organisation is going to generate the records needed to do their job. This is what is then needed when an auditor says:
“Show Me; Prove it”
An audit is a completely artificial situation. If you really want to understand the quality of an organisation, you need to spend weeks them. An auditor will have a day, maybe two. They therefore have to rely on the records – the audit trail – to get a picture of how the company works.
None of this is rocket science. It is what could be described as ‘best practice’ being put into practice. And any business could do it – including yours.
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