ISO 9001 Quality Objectives
Every ISO certified organization is required to define and establish their ISO 9001 quality objectives along with plans to achieve these objectives. Objectives should be aligned and focused on driving overall performance improvement throughout the organization.
Behind each major objective should be planned initiatives associated with continuous improvement activities. This serves as the “A” or “Act” part of the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle. Remember that it is only those things that you measure and report that will get attention and improvement!
ISO 9001 quality objectives can and probably should extend beyond the quality management system and so let’s call them what they really are, “Business Objectives”. You can choose to establish objectives and plans for just about any aspect of your business that you see fit. Consider what areas of your business you need to change or improve today: market share, product or service differentiation, sales revenue, product quality or defects, process performance, product or service offering, value proposition, operational efficiency, employee retention, profitability, etc. The sky’s the limit.
What are Objectives
Objectives are high-level goals and initiatives that your organization wishes to obtain. They are fundamental to the long-term success of the business, support the quality policy, and are aligned with the organization’s strategic direction. There is a good chance that your top management is already measuring some key business indicators that drive and determine your organization’s overall performance and success. If so, start with those measures and refine and expand them as needed to satisfy the ISO requirements.
As you may remember from the ISO 9001 Policy & Scope article, the quality policy establishes a framework for your objectives, so we now need to translate that policy framework into several (six, eight, ten?) measurable objectives. You will also need to establish a process for evaluation and improvement which will demonstrate how to further reduce these objectives down to tactical measures and metrics. Consider the major processes within your organization and define key measures to continually track, report, and improve performance.
Requirements for ISO 9001 Quality Objectives
The ISO 9001 standard stipulates a number of specific requirements to be satisfied for quality objectives. Let’s take a closer look at these:
- Objectives must be established at relevant functions, levels, and processes within the management system: Broad strategic level objectives will certainly impact the largest areas under the management system, but you are welcome to establish objectives with a narrower focus which might target more select functions and processes. It is really up to you to define the objectives that are most impactful to your organization. Some of your objectives will most likely be associated with continual improvement initiatives.
- Objectives must be consistent with your policy: We’ve touched on this already, but just make sure there is alignment between your policy and some of your objectives. If your policy touts “customer service” as being important to the organization, then make sure that one or more objectives are focused on customer service actions. Identify the key elements from the policy and make sure there is at least one objective associated with each element. However, not all objectives need to relate back to the policy. You can establish objectives that reach beyond the policy, but don’t go overboard with objectives. Eight, maybe ten at most, otherwise they tend to lose significance. You can always define some lower level functional performance metrics to add additional measures in the organization. We’ll explore this more when we develop the Evaluation and Improvement activities later in our DIY article series.
- Objectives must be measurable: This one is pretty cut and dry. Any type of measure or metric must be quantifiable. How else will you be able to track performance against it and know if you have or have not achieved the desired outcome. Quantify the goal to be obtained and if possible include a time or date to obtain the goal if applicable. Once the objective has achieved determine whether to remove it, replace it, or perhaps modify the target and reach for higher performance. Consider developing SMART goals and objectives.
- Objectives must take into account all applicable requirements: Just make sure any objectives consider and comply with the ISO 9001 standard or other standards and regulations that might be applicable to that particular objective and your organization.
- Objectives must be relevant to conformity of products and services. Just about any good business objective should have an impact on products, services, and/or customers. Make sure one or more of your objectives can be tied directly to products or customers in an obvious manner.
- Objectives must be monitored: Someone in the organization must periodically evaluate and review progress and results of actions taken towards the objectives. The most obvious way to do this would be for the leadership team to review results and make associated decisions at management review or other strategic meetings. You might also consider use of a dashboard with periodic updates (monthly, quarterly, etc.) between management reviews. Use weekly, monthly, or quarterly leadership or staff meetings to review and monitor those measures that need more frequent evaluation.
- Objectives must be communicated: The bottom line is, just like the quality policy, employees need to be aware of the corporate goals, why they are important, what value they provide to the organization, how they are measured, and how the employees individually impact progress towards the goals. Develop a communication plan and methods to disseminate objective information throughout the organization. Consider use of the dashboard mentioned in item 6 above to post performance and progress on bulletin boards, through company newsletters, or on an internal intranet site. This action ties to the ISO 9001 awareness and communication requirements.
- Objectives must be updated as appropriate: Someone must periodically review and update the objectives. Again, leadership action during management review meetings is probably the best forum for this. Leadership should consider the goal of each objective and current results towards those goals and determine the ongoing disposition of the objective. Options might be to eliminate the objective, replace it with a new objective, modify the associated metric or target goal, or change the timeline to achieve it.
- Objectives must be documented: You must maintain documented information defining your business objectives. These can be maintained in a high-level corporate or quality manual, perhaps as an addendum, but that would require you to revise this document each time the objectives changed. You can also create a separate independent document to maintain detailed information about objectives and the associate initiatives or projects. No matter where and how you decide to document your objectives, be sure to review and update them periodically.
- Objectives must be planned: Most major strategic objectives will be associated with some internal initiative or project. This doesn’t necessarily require complex project management but should be appropriate for the complexity of the work required to achieve the desired objective goals. Planning must define the work or tasks to be done, the required resources, who has overall responsibility for the project, dates for completion, and how the results will be reviewed and evaluated.
We have created a free worksheet to help with the development of your ISO 9001 quality objectives which can be downloaded from the following: (MS Word Version / PDF Version). This includes a template for documenting and planning your objectives along with an example of what this might look like in a typical company.
At this early stage of your ISO 9001 management system development, these objectives aren’t permanent or final and you will have plenty of opportunity to refine and finalize them before launching your management system.