Don’t talk about ISO 9001:2015

As Hyphen marks 25 years since our first quality management registration, I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve learnt and what changes I would like to see in the future…

If there is one thing that fills me with trepidation when buying a new product, it’s the instruction manual that comes with it.  However good the product, it is usually let down by disappointing instructions that fail to focus on the user’s needs, leaves out the vital piece of information which is key to its operation, contains information  that only the manufacturers need to know – usually in 15 languages, and translated poorly from its original Mandarin.  The result is something so confusing that it is easier not to be tempted to read it in the first place.

Implementing a quality management system can feel a little like the new product.  Once you take it out of the box, you have every expectation that it will succeed, however the instruction manual skulking in the bottom is ISO 9001:2015.  I accept that it is not completely fair to compare ISO 9001:2015 with a poorly written instruction manual, but I believe that successful quality management doesn’t begin with reading ISO 9001:2015.  You cannot simply take ISO 9001:2015 and apply it to your organisation.  It will fail because it is not embedded in your company’s values and culture.

Historically, if an organisation wanted to implement ISO 9001, senior management would appoint a quality manager with the expectation that certification would be achieved for them. Now there is much greater focus on senior management to take ownership of quality management.

When you want to implement a quality management system, you can’t just talk to staff about the operational aspects of ISO 9001 (the substance of standard and clauses).   In fact, it is probably best not to talk about ISO 9001:2015 at all.  People don’t need this kind information or the level of detail.  The focus must first be on why quality management is important for the business.

Quality management begins with looking at your strategic objectives, how the business operates, what you do, how you do it and why.   This will help to define your quality management system. Of course, if you want to be certified to ISO 9001:2015 then you would have to ultimately meet the compliance requirements, but ISO 9001:2015 only provides the structure for a quality management system, it should not define its purpose.

I do believe that ISO 9001:2015 currently provides a robust framework to developing a quality management system and is a positive tool to help a company grow and develop.

If I also think of ISO 9001:2015 as the instruction manual for a successful quality management system however, I can see it has its faults. I am already anticipating the next revision of the standard.  I have a ‘wishlist’ for what this will include.

I anticipate a positive move away from a reliance on evaluations, inspections and monitoring and more motivation towards building long-term relationships with stakeholders based on loyalty and trust.  I hope that there will be more recognition of the value of teamwork throughout businesses, informing business strategy so that quality does not totally rely on top management dictating policies and procedures.

Finally, my ISO 9001 wishlist includes a greater recognition of every company’s biggest asset – its people – so that it encourages companies to foster a culture of quality among their employees. Once there is a requirement in the standard for a company to demonstrate commitment towards investing in its people, we will start to have an instruction manual that will truly support quality management. Then I think it will be time to talk seriously about ISO 9001.