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Many companies don't benefit from their ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS). Some even find it nothing but bureaucratic busywork. We'll show you what can be done to improve an underperforming QMS and turn it into an ISO system that benefits operations and increases profitability.
Nine out of ten underperforming quality management systems have been improperly set up from the beginning (the remaining ones dropped the ball along the way for various reasons).
Setting up the QMS incorrectly often stems from customer pressure or too strong a focus on getting certified for marketing purposes; operational improvements are of no consideration. The implementation method is chosen based on price or convenience, without realizing that a poorly implemented system can result in costly inefficiencies and productivity losses.
No matter if a consultant set up the ISO 9001 system in isolation or the company used a cheap DIY documentation kit, the typical results are ill-fitting procedures that add bureaucracy and hinder efficiency.
ISO 9001 certification is a two-sided sword. Not only is it great for marketing, it also increases customer expectations. If an ISO 9001 certified company disappoints a customer either due to problems with its products or services, or due to organizational issues like customer communications, the customer's complaints may lead to decertification.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides recommendations to customers who are dissatisfied with an ISO 9001 certified supplier. The recommended steps are:
Make a formal complaint with the supplier.
If you are not satisfied with the supplier's response, bring the matter to the attention of the registrar (their name is shown on the supplier's ISO 9001 certificate). The registrar will investigate the problems during their surveillance audits of the supplier, or, in critical cases, may decide to carry out a separate investigation.
If you don't receive a satisfactory response from the registrar, then you should complain to the registrar's accreditation body (see supplier's ISO 9001 certificate or the IAF website).
If you are not satisfied with the response from the accreditation body, you may directly complain to the International Accreditation Forum (IAF).
Any of steps 2-4 can result in the supplier losing their ISO certification.
If your company finds itself confronted with the choice of following inefficient procedures or falsifying records in order to pass the next scheduled audit, then it's time to reevaluate and improve your ISO system.
The ISO 9001 standard was developed by the International Organization for Standardization as a tool to help businesses improve their operations, run more efficiently with less scrap or rework, increase customer satisfaction, resulting in increased sales and profitability. Certification and the associated marketing benefits should be considered important but secondary bonuses.
Several things can be done to improve your quality management system.
Setting certification as the primary – or only – objective when implementing ISO 9001 is usually the reason why quality management systems subsequently fail. You simply won't get an effective QMS unless you aim for it.
The first step on the path to improving your QMS is for management to set the right objectives. Consider issues like customer and employee satisfaction, process efficiency, scrap and rework, and decision-making processes. What do your customers, employees and managers have problems with or complain about? Now make the improvement of each of these issues a primary objective of your QMS.
Consult our special guide for more tips on how to set and reach your goals.
ISO 9001 is supposed to be used by management as a tool in daily operations. Once managers (and senior executives, in particular) understand both the standard and the benefits it can bring, it's important that they demonstrate their support for it and actively utilize the QMS.
Executives can get a solid overview of the standard and learn their role in the quality management system through our concise online course.
In order to succeed and be sustainable, your ISO system needs the support of all employees. Everybody should be involved, take ownership, and contribute to the aspects that are relevant to their job.
While it's essential that employees understand what ISO 9001 is and how it can benefit them, it's hard to demonstrate the positive side of ISO once dissatisfaction, negativity and doubt have set in. Our short, motivational video course may be all that's needed to turn things around and generate employee buy-in.
Documentation is at the heart of your QMS. Procedures describe how work processes are to be conducted, and forms and checklists not only simplify the collection of required data but also support certain processes. In other words, the effectiveness of your operational processes is directly impacted by the quality of your documentation and its suitability for your company's needs.
Take a look at your documents and evaluate if they are user-friendly, describe efficient processes that fit your company's operations, and basically just make sense. If you find your documentation inadequate or incomplete, consider filling the gaps with our templates that can easily be adapted to your company's situation. You may even want to consider a fresh start with our ISO 9001 Documentation Toolkit.
If you find yourself in a situation that calls for radical improvement to your QMS, we recommend you follow all the tips above. Merely improving your documentation without involving all employees, without getting full management support or without setting the right objectives, won't result in a truly efficient ISO system.
So, again, to improve your QMS you need to follow each of our four tips.
If all of these issues are carefully managed and resolved in tandem, your company's QMS should improve dramatically and you'll be well on the way to reaping the rewards that ISO 9001 is renowned for.
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