ISO 9001 is perhaps the most recognizable “brand” among the published standards defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). We often see the “ISO 9001 Certified” banners proudly displayed outside manufacturing facilities as we drive past. Many large organizations insist that their vendors be ISO 9001 certified. An entire industry has sprung up around the topic of ISO standards, – including the “9000” family of standards that are focused on quality.
To a casual observer, the ISO 9001 certification might sound like a mysterious and highly technical undertaking, – full of detailed specifications that dictate exactly how an organization should conduct its business. In reality, though, these standards have everything to do with creating a corporate culture where quality can flourish. They read a checklist of the things you need to do to be a successful customer-focused company.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Companies
We’re all familiar with Stephen Covey’s seminal book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In many respects, ISO 9001 reads like a “seven habits” framework for organizations. In fact, ISO 9001 is divided into ten sections (or “clauses”), the first three of which are really about setting the stage. The remaining seven sections are where the rubber hits the road; they call for organizations to define the context in which they operate, establish a strong management commitment to quality, and to plan and execute QMS activities and processes that help them achieve their goals.
So what exactly are those goals? It’s simple; to meet or exceed the customer’s expectations. This brings us back to the core definition of quality: the ability of a product or service “to satisfy stated or implied needs." When organization can deliver that on a consistent basis, – and when they follow well-defined processes for handling any instances of nonconformance, they have achieved quality excellence.
How Does All of This Impact Culture?
A culture of quality begins with a clear understanding of the big picture. Clause 4 of ISO 9001 calls for companies to clearly define the context in which they operate, including products and services, the needs and expectations of various stakeholders, regulatory requirements, risks to the organization, and more.
Clause 5 addresses the need for management commitment, as well as calling for the organization to establish clear, documented policies regarding quality and customer focus, internal communication, and organizational roles and responsibilities. We have stressed this point before, – that a healthy culture of quality is predicated on top-down support from the executive suite. When C-level leaders routinely talk about their vision for quality front and center, it speaks volumes.
Of course top-down pronouncements are only part of the picture, though. The tools, structures, and processes must also be in place to support that quality orientation. ISO 9001 clauses 6 through 9 cover the steps needed to effectively plan and implement quality practices throughout an organization.
This combination of top-down commitment to quality, – that is, the words and actions of management, – with the foundational structures and processes needed for effective quality management will inevitably create an environment in which a culture of quality can flourish. In other words, people know what is expected of them, and they have the tools to get the job done right.
No quality management program would be complete without incorporating continuous improvement. After all, this is one of the foundational principles of good quality practices. Clause 10 of the ISO 9001 standard addresses several specific topics related to continuous improvement, including nonconformance, corrective action, and creating an environment in which continuous improvement can thrive.
In many respects, continuous improvement is more a way of thinking than it is a specific system or process. It calls for people throughout the organization to step up and do their best, exploring ways to make existing processes better, and always striving for greater quality, efficiency, and safety. That’s the very essence of quality culture.
Whether your organization is already ISO 9001 certified, or just getting a quality management program off the ground, Intellect can help you in your own journey of continuous improvement. We help companies automate, streamline, and improve their quality management processes with a highly configurable QMS platform that virtually anyone can tailor to fit their own unique needs. Contact us today; we’d love to discuss your project with you.