5 Costly Mistakes Businesses Make When Implementing ISO 9001:2015
... And How to Avoid Them (Part 1)

Table of Contents

Pursuing ISO 9001 certification is a strategic business decision that can impact on the long-term success and viability of an organization. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 2017 survey there were over 1 million organizations across 189 countries holding ISO 9001 Certification.[1]

5 Costly Mistakes Businesses Make When Implementing ISO 9001:2015

The potential benefits of having an ISO 9001:2015 compliant Quality Management System (QMS) are attractive. It would be a very rare organization that wouldn't aspire to:

The ability to consistently deliver excellent products or services that meet all regulatory and legal requirements

Better, more efficient business processes

Lower costs and less rework, translating to a better bottom line

More satisfied customers leading to increased sales

Increased credibility amongst consumers and regulators

However, as with any business initiative, there are costs associated with the implementation phase. Depending on the size and complexity of the organization the money and time required to achieve certification can be significant, adding up to tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

Experience has shown there are common mistakes organizations make that not only cost them more in the implementation phase but continue to impact on resources long into the future, with potentially serious outcomes.

Don't be one of the organizations that repeat these errors. Read on for Part 1 of our 3-part series that reveal the costly mistakes you could make during the certification process and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Seeking ISO 9001 Certification for the Wrong Reasons

A study by Manders and de Vries (2012) shows that an organization's reasons for pursuing ISO 9001 certification can impact on the degree of benefit derived from the process. Focussing solely on short-term external factors is unlikely to result in the same long-term benefits as those garnered by internal motivators like a quest for higher productivity and efficiency.[2]

The following three reasons are all valid, but unlikely to get the best results if considered in isolation.

Certification as a Marketing Strategy

Research studies show that the majority of consumers who are aware of the standard believe products and services associated with ISO 9001 are of higher quality.[3][4] It stands to reason therefore that advertising your ISO 9001 certification as a feature and benefit in your marketing materials provides a boost to your reputation and credibility. However, implementing a Quality Management System (QMS) solely focused on marketing opportunities downplays the inherent benefits. This approach is unlikely to be as useful in gaining wholesale organizational support as an efficient QMS that improves the way the workplace functions. No amount of marketing of your certification will ensure the success of your business if you're not focusing on ISO 9001 processes that produce quality goods your customers want as efficiently as possible.

Certification Because You Have To

Many businesses, government departments, and non-profit organizations require their suppliers to achieve ISO 9001 Certification before they purchase their products and services. If your company doesn't have an ISO 9001 compliant Quality Management System, you won't qualify as a supplier. Certification is a tremendous opportunity to gain lucrative new business contracts. However, getting certified just because it's mandatory to access particular markets could also backfire if the implementation process devolves into a quest for superficial compliance rather than an opportunity to improve operations.

When your clients insert a requirement for certification in their tender specifications, it is an implicit requirement that you'll implement certain quality processes, not just get a certificate. Once you're certified, they expect those processes are in place. If your focus was on obtaining your certification with the least effort possible, it's unlikely your system will be as robust as it could be. If your systems fail, and you can't deliver on your contractual obligations, not only will your customers be dissatisfied, there may be severe penalties and consequences. Having certification won't help if they black-list your business and you miss opportunities to bid or sell to them again. It will take a lot of effort to regain their trust and convince them any improvements you make to your QMS will guarantee your products and services in the future.

Seeking ISO 9001 Certification for the Wrong Reasons

Certification Because Your Competitors Have It

If all your competitors have an "ISO 9001:2015 certified" logo on their website, you may feel you need to be certified to stay in the race for customers. Granted, your getting certification is one less thing potential clients can use to discriminate between you and is one benefit of having a compliant QMS. However, it's not enough if your actual products and services aren't as good or better than your competition. As with the other "external" reasons discussed above, a focus on keeping up with the Joneses, rather than more long-term benefits such as better quality, greater efficiency, and lower costs, doesn't communicate the full impact that ISO certification can have on the business and that can decrease buy-in.

Why Those Reasons For Certification Are Important But Not Enough

To expend valuable resources just to get a logo you can add to your website and a certificate you can hang on your wall, and not realize the many other benefits of certification makes no real business sense. And yet, many organizations have done just that over the years. Thankful is the Quality Manager who's never had to deal with this situation, but there's probably not too many of us who haven't if they've been in the industry for a significant amount of time.

When the ISO 9000 certification movement kicked off in the 1990's, and businesses started demanding suppliers have a certified Quality Management System, thousands of Quality Manuals and Standard Operating Procedures were created in a frenzy of activity to achieve compliance. Once the certification was granted, the documents sat on the bookcase gathering dust while the organization went on operating the same old way, making the same old mistakes, and receiving the same negative customer feedback. When the next external audit loomed, there would be another wave of activity to try and plug the obvious shortcomings before the auditors arrived. Sometimes it worked, and the business would pass another year. Most times it didn't and the organization would find themselves non-compliant and may have eventually lost their certification altogether after repeated offenses.

Implementing a Quality Management System for the wrong reasons can occur when an organization focuses solely on external drivers that encourage 'compliance' as the primary goal. While it might be quicker and cheaper in the first instance, the maintenance and missed opportunity costs will be higher long term as this approach is less likely to result in real and sustainable improvements in business operations, customer satisfaction, and business sustainability. The quality management processes can become bureaucratic and separate from the way things actually happen. When long-term benefits that improve the way things are done are not forthcoming, whatever support the program had is lost, leading to a downward spiral.

If you're going to expend the time, money and effort to pursue ISO 9001 certification, doesn't it make sense that the organization reaps potential benefits like:

A robust framework for making sound decisions based on information, evidence, and data

Better, safer, more efficient processes that improve product quality, reduce costs and increase profit margins

Improved customer satisfaction, leading to more sales and stronger brand loyalty

More competent, satisfied and motivated employees, resulting in reduced staff turnover, fewer workplace problems, and greater buy-in for continued business improvements

When you successfully implement an ISO 9001 compliant QMS your organization will have another feature for your marketing team to promote, be qualified to become a supplier for organizations that require it, and your competitors will no longer have that point of differentiation.

However, think of those as the icing on the cake, rather than the only gains.

How to Avoid Implementing ISO 9001:2015 for the Wrong Reasons

Bottom line - Work out what the right reasons are and make sure those who need to approve, resource, and influence the implementation process are on board.

The first step before you commit to the certification process is to have one or more person (depending on the size of your business) who'll be driving the process and gain a thorough understanding of the standard and how it applies to your organization. ISO 9001:2015 is a generic standard. The requirements must be interpreted and applied for your unique circumstances.

ISO 9001:2015 is a generic standard: the requirements must be interpreted and applied for your individual circumstances.

Greg Thompson

Greg Thompson, Customer Service Manager, 9001Simplified

Once you understand the requirements of the standard and how they apply to your business, you will have a broad idea of the gaps in the way your organization operates. Rather than think about these gaps in terms of non-compliance, consider how doing things differently will improve things like customer and employee satisfaction, process efficiency, and decision-making processes. What do your customers, employees, and managers have problems with or complain about, and how could implementing aspects of the standard make a positive difference?

Or perhaps you're not sure what they're unhappy about? Then that's already a massive benefit of ISO 9001:2015 because it requires - and helps - you to find out.

So, one of the significant benefits might be that:

"Implementing an ISO 9001:2015 compliant Quality Management System will help us understand how satisfied our customers are, what's important to them, and what keeps them choosing us over our competition."


"Implementing changes based on real data will save us time, effort and money."

Once you have a broader list of benefits, you need to communicate those to key stakeholders who will both impact on the implementation process and be impacted upon. The Top Management Team is key to this. We talk more about them in Mistake 2.

Understanding what benefits are possible will enable you to set up a comprehensive list of goals, over and above just getting your certification. In fact, the certification itself might become secondary to achieving all the other benefits.

If, after weighing up the FULL range of benefits vs the resources required to develop a QMS, your organization decides to pursue ISO 9001:2015 certification, the quality plan should encompass achieving all of those goals. Documenting a clear pathway, and communicating that journey to everyone, increases the chance of realizing your objectives.

To monitor success, you'll need to set up baseline data and performance measures so you can identify if the changes you're making to the organization are contributing to realizing the potential benefits on your list.

That data can play a huge role in keeping everyone on side with the changes and justify the allocation of resources to make them happen.

Defining the right reasons for seeking ISO 9001 certification is one of the first things you can do to increase the likelihood your Quality Management System will be a success.

Naomi Sato

Naomi Sato, Product Development Manager, 9001Simplified

Defining the right reasons for seeking ISO 9001 certification is one of the first things you can do to increase the likelihood your Quality Management System will be a success. In parts 2 and 3 in this series we'll explore four other common mistakes and how you can avoid them as well.


    What are your biggest fears about ISO certification? Do you agree you should be pursuing it for the right reasons? What do you think they are? Let us know in the comments below (all relevant, respectful feedback is welcomed per our guidelines).


    1 "The ISO Survey 2017", International Organization for Standardization

    2 Manders, Basak; De Vries, Henk J. (2012), "Does ISO 9001 pay? - Analysis of 42 Studies", International Organization for Standardization

    3 "Do Consumers Really Care About ISO 9001:2000 Certification?", ISO Magazine, International Organization for Standardization

    4 Murmura, Federica; Bravi, Laura Bravi (2016), "Exploring Customer's Perceptions about Quality Management Systems: an Empirical Study in Italy", Total Quality Management and Business Excellence, 29: 11-12

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