Achieving quality excellence with ISO 9001: Our top tips

Worldwide, there have been more than 1 million ISO 9001 certificates awarded to compliant companies in over 170 countries.

This is made possible by the fact the ISO 9001 Quality standard provides a universal framework for developing quality management systems, which can be followed regardless of a business’ location, size and industry.

There’s more than one reason why organisations from all different backgrounds, situations and the like have chosen to invest in quality management, one of which is that nearly half of all ISO 9001 compliant companies win new business through being certified to it.

For the most part, this comes down to the level of consistent quality excellence that can be achieved through ISO 9001 certification and how this impacts a business’ systems, outcomes and adaptability over time.

In the following article, we’re taking a look at why quality excellence is a solid investment for your business and how, as part of the development of quality systems, you can develop lean processes that will improve your business, be more cost-effective and will be easily maintainable long into the future.

Why quality excellence

For a business to make quality excellence a priority, they need to know that their investment will pay off in the long run. In other words, it’s important to determine whether this is not only a feasible decision, but also a financially justifiable one.

So, why invest in quality excellence?

1. Minimise inefficiencies and waste

Quality-driven management systems provide a solid foundation for businesses looking to alleviate inefficiencies and waste, without sacrificing the overall quality of their operations and outcomes. This means organisations can save time and money in a sustainable way, rather than implementing ‘quick fixes’ that will likely catch up with them down the line.

2. Improve product and/or service quality

When everything your business does is stemming from quality systems, you have the ability to fine-tune your product and/or service so it’s the best it can be.

This can, in turn, improve customer satisfaction, which can lead to more customer loyalty and repeat business. When compared to keeping existing customers, it can cost five times as much to attract new customers. With this in mind, keeping your customers satisfied will likely improve your business’ profitability over time.

3. Improve your company’s reputation

By consistently delivering high-quality offerings, which is made possible by your strong underlying systems, you can improve your business’ reputation and carve out a space for your brand in your industry. If customers know they can rely on you for a quality product and/or service, this can translate into more positive word of mouth, which is priceless when it comes to building your brand’s reputation.

On top of this, if you’re perceived as a reliable company to work with, you can also establish long-standing relationships with suppliers, distributors and the like. Solid industry connections can be fundamental in achieving longevity in business.

4. Effectively manage quality requirements

Quality excellence relies on the development of value-driven and thorough management systems. For organisations, this means adopting quality control techniques for managing industry standards and implementing best practices.

5. Leverage compliance software

There’s now an abundance of technology available to organisations. It can be overwhelming sifting through the masses of software available to your company and deciding what’s going to be of real benefit.

Leveraging the relevant software on offer is crucial in helping your business streamline processes, save time and manage data and documentation. Cloud-based systems can help you do all of that – and more! The software used gives your business the ability to build lean, adaptable systems, all of which can be easily up or downsized as your business’ needs change.

6. Improved internal communication

With a quality management system, such as ISO 9001, there’s more cohesion across all organisational levels. This, in conjunction with employees working cooperatively towards a shared vision and mutually understood goals, makes business-wide communication more effective and promotes rapid progress towards business objectives.

7. Company-wide continuous improvement

A fundamental benefit of quality management is the fact that everyone within an organisation is continually reviewing systems and looking for opportunities for improvement. This, of course, helps ensure your company is adapting over time, rather than remaining stagnant and using out-dated, ineffective processes.

Steps to achieve quality excellence with ISO 9001

While it’s clear that quality excellence can offer real value to your business, the task of becoming ISO 9001 compliant to achieve this can feel overwhelming. To reach your certification goals, you need to follow a systematic process that will ensure you don’t miss any key areas of compliance.

1. Choosing a mentor or ISO consultant

Whether you have chosen to DIY or not, we recommend businesses select an expert to support them through the ISO journey. This can help avoid expensive mistakes or unnecessary documentation.

When selecting an ISO 9001 consultant, research several different ISO consultants available to you. It’s best to focus on finding someone who not only has the qualifications and experience, but also has an understanding of your business and industry. It’s also very important to find someone who will be a good fit for your organisation and whose personality and communication style you like. This is an often-overlooked aspect which has a lot of impact on how enjoyable the project can be for the team, and consequently how positively they feel about it and their willingness to embrace the changes which will be required.

Obviously, budget is also a factor and consultant rates can vary widely. However, consider the rate in the context of the consultant’s experience in the standard, the industry and other services they can offer. It is risky to go off price alone (either high or low) when deciding who to go with, as this isn’t always a direct reflection of the service quality.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, you’ll want to find out more information about your prospective consultant’s implementation plan. This details how your consultant actually intends on getting you from where you currently are, to ISO 9001 compliance. Essentially, what’s their approach? Do they have a realistic timeline and milestones for completion?

For more details, check out our blog dedicated to choosing an ISO 9001 consultant.

2. Complete an ISO gap analysis

An ISO gap analysis helps your business determine where you want to be, where you are now and what needs to be done to help you reach your compliance goals.

During this stage, you can pinpoint discrepancies in your current systems, which shows you key areas that will need to be addressed before you successfully get ISO 9001 certified. Done well, a gap analysis will also identify ways you can streamline and improve your systems and is an opportunity for your industry-expert consultant to explain best practice improvements you can make that they have witnessed in the industry.

While you can DIY a Gap analysis, it is almost always more useful to have a fresh set of eyes review your system-even if this is the only time you engage a consultant this can be a very worthwhile investment and can prevent a lot of rookie mistakes. Certification bodies can do gap assessments but are not permitted to consult whereas a consultant can tell you exactly what you need to do to close out any gaps found and can assist you should you require more help down the track.

3. Plan for success

Before jumping in headfirst, it is a great idea to develop a well-thought-out plan to guide you and your team to success.

From our experience, businesses often start too “micro” and start trying to map the clauses of the standard against a procedure or other document. This is an old-fashioned approach and can lead to a very bloated system. The best plan puts the needs of the business first and compliance needs to be practical and incorporated into existing systems. This requires careful thought. A clear project plan on the back of this is essential to give everyone clear direction, and to avoid efforts becoming disjointed and ineffective.

Some of the key points your plan should cover include:

  • Locking in realistic deadlines and timelines for completion;
  • Which resources will be needed to develop quality management systems and, subsequently, which employees will need access to them;
  • How the documentation process will work, for instance, if you’re going to be using cloud based IMS and how this will be set up and maintained.
  • How changes and the reasoning behind them will be communicated with employees;

4. Develop your quality management system

Once you’ve done all of your preparation, you’ll want to start implementing changes based on the recommendations from your ISO gap analysis.

As your plan moves forward, it’s important to periodically review progress to ensure you’re on track to meeting any previously set deadlines. If any business areas aren’t performing as expected or changes are falling flat, proactively make any necessary adjustments to keep systems moving in the right direction. Your ISO consultant can come in particularly helpful here, as they can leverage their expertise and industry experience to help you find practical solutions.

It is also helpful to have a project plan which is continually updated. Cloud based project planning systems are very useful when staff are working remotely and to keep progress continually up to date.

5. Complete an ISO external audit

After implementing your plan, the next step is to select an Accredited Certification Body (who can work alongside your ISO 9001 consultant) to assess how aligned with the standard requirements your systems are now. When doing this, they will review your business’ operations and any relevant documentation to determine whether you are compliant with ISO 9001.

During this external audit, if any points of non-conformance are found, you will need to develop a revised strategy and timeline for making the required changes.

In the first year, certification bodies are required to do 2 audits- a Stage 1 audit which checks your business’ readiness for certification and Stage 2- the “deep-dive” certification audit which generates your certificate if you are successful.

During this external audit, if any points of non-conformance are found, you will need to develop a revised strategy and timeline for making the required changes.

It can be a good idea to seek the assistance of a consultant at this point can seek to help you fill the gaps properly and in time for your Stage 2 audit to avoid expensive rework.

*Note* most certification bodies have a 6-month time-limit between the Stage 1 and Stage 2 otherwise you need to do the Stage 1 audit again. If you have substantial gaps in the Stage 2 you may be asked to redo part or all of the audit with additional costs involved.

6. Get certified

When your management systems adequately satisfy the ISO 9001 requirements, and you complete an audit verifying this, you will be issued an ISO certificate.

Certificates are valid for three years and, after this time has passed, your systems will need to be recertified. In the intervening years your systems will be audited at least annually. These are sample audits which check aspects of your system each year to ensure you are keeping up with the requirements.

Components of an effective quality management system

If you’re developing a quality management system or reviewing existing processes to see how they stack up, here’s what to look out for:

  • Plan for quality improvement and success: with a strong plan guiding your team, you can establish clear direction, as your end goals and what needs to be done to get there is well understood by employees. This also helps you make sure all necessary resources are available to staff, and that they have deadlines to work towards throughout the ISO certification
  • Quality assurance: this involves ensuring that your products and systems are complying with quality requirements, standard guidelines and defined procedures. This is where conducting regular audits is key.
  • Quality control: production processes need to satisfy relevant company policies, and also be compliant with legislation and ISO 9001 guidelines. When it comes to achieving this, companies need to periodically review their operations either through inspections, independent audits or similar.
  • Continuous improvement: this means using systematic and adaptable approaches. If systems are too rigid, this will hold your business back in the long run.

Get in touch with our ISO consultants

If you’re ready to take the first steps towards becoming ISO 9001 certifiedget in touch with our team. We can help you a little or a lot depending on your needs and budget. We’re experts in compliance and can help you reach your compliance goals quickly and effectively.

We also have experience with a range of other services and ISO standards, including ISO 14001ISO 45001, ISO 27001, other standards, legislative services and integrated management systems.

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