The Basics of ISO 9001 Explained

This article is based on an hour-long webinar on the Best Practice TV Youtube channel which you can access here, where I take you through an in-depth look at the business hierarchy of needs. Subscribe to our Youtube channel for early access to our videos, as well as a notification when we’re going live with one of our comprehensive webinars.

In the most simple terms, ISO 9001 is the management system designed to give structure to the promises you’re making to your customers. As an organisation, we make promises to our customers regardless of your industry, and the ISO 9001 framework is a way to design and implement a set of policies that make sure these promises will stand the test of time, to deliver exceptional services and products to your customers. In turn, your marketing team can begin to communicate the high level offering you’ve got, and your sales team can convert this offering into cash flow for your organisation. The systems and processes you build in your organisation, as well as the training and competencies tie into your core vision, and your ISO 9001 certification makes this possible, and provides the building blocks to continuously adapt as you move into the future.

This too applies to the promises you’re making to your shareholders, your suppliers, and your staff. You need to be focussed on what you’re marketing to customers, what your unique selling points and competitive advantages are.

One of the common mistakes with this is that people try to get hands-on in their operations before determining exactly how the standard can help them. The best approach for a first-timer with ISO 9001 certification is to talk to your sales and marketing department, and find out exactly what these promises are. More specifically, you could lean into your sales team and identify your top five clients. Then, ask your sales team exactly what it is that the organisation in question values in your product or service; this will, of course, differ depending on your organisation’s industry, but the fundamentals don’t change: other businesses want your organisation because of x, y or z. When you’ve identified these key characteristics, you’re better positioned to build out a system that fortifies your x, y or z strong-points with ISO 9001’s quality management objectives.

While the wording from the standard itself might be a little different, when we’re talking about delivering on expectations, I like to think of it as surprising and delighting your clients. Think about it in the sense of, what process or new way of operating can you implement to surprise and delight your current and prospective clients. When internal audits, management review, strategic objectives and targets step into play, all we’re talking about - albeit with different terminology - is looking for opportunities to surprise and delight your customers, to eliminate potential friction points in your organisation that upset customers, to streamline the delivery of your product or service, and to make sure that your business is constantly looking to improve to deliver upon the changing expectations of your clients.

Now, to one of the misunderstood things - thanks to the phrasing from ISO - that I often see people new to the world of quality management systems often raise is that the standard demands “uniformity in the structure of different management systems, alignment of documentation to the clause structure of this standard, and it is not the intent to use the specific terminology of this international standard within this organisation.” Understandably, ISO’s wording can get convoluted, so I can empathise with the confusion. A simple ‘Kobi’ rephrasing would be that you shouldn’t have a numbering system in your management system that matches the standard, don’t align your documents to match the standard and don’t use the terminology of the standard. The intent of the standard isn’t to get you to copy their words, the intent of the standard is to help deliver on your promises. This is about improving, not semantics.

Rather than learn a completely new language, a new-comer to the world of ISO 9001 should be focussed more on establishing your organisation’s vision and mission statement, otherwise known as your ‘why’ in the words of Simon Sinek. Then, you move to your management review sessions, establishing a regular set of meetings for your executive team to start taking note of what should be addressed, which forms the basis of your issues list. From here, map out your one-page business plan and strategic objectives, keeping in mind those promises made to customers. Map out both the customer journey to identify any shortfalls in how people interact with your organisation, as well as establishing a set of statistics to measure any improvements in your dashboard of statistics.

To wrap this all up, while it might appear as though there’s a lot of different terms being thrown around, a seemingly insurmountable list of tasks and a daunting amount of homework to do, the process as a whole is extremely simple. ISO 9001 is a way for you to improve your organisation, and to improve the promises that you’re making to your clients. I’m sure there’s no need to remind you just how competitive the business landscape is in the best of times, so why not put as many weapons into your arsenal as you can and become the best organisation you can.

Thanks for your time, and I'll see you in the next piece.

Kobi Simmat.

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