ISO 9001 Certification Audit
It’s celebration time! You completed all the work to implement your ISO 9001 management system, successfully navigate the ISO 9001 certification audit, and now your ISO 9001 certificate has arrived. You’ve certainly earned a break and a party to celebrate this great accomplishment with everyone in the organization. Sooner or later though, life returns to normal and work must be done to manage, support, and improve the management system. Consider how you will continue pursuing excellence with ISO 9001 and other operational excellence tools.
So now that your ISO 9001 system is running and certified, what needs to be done going forward? The first thing is to use it! Don’t get complacent with all the new processes and go back to the old ways of working. Old habits die hard, and it will be tempting and easy to fall back into the old processes and ways of doing things. Everyone, starting at the top down, must stay diligent and work to follow the new processes and ensure that they are embedded within the organization and culture. When a process regresses, everyone must take action to address the issue immediately.
Be sure to implement your measurement system and keep performance metrics current and in front of people throughout the company. Use simple, effective scorecards posted in appropriate areas or on intranet pages where people will see them. Make sure the metrics are relevant and facilitate personnel to improve what they do and how the organization performs.
Define your key improvement objectives and stay diligent with measuring and monitoring progress to achieve these objectives. When things start to go off the rails, management must get involved and take action to correct the course.
While you may have defined management review meetings as an annual gathering, it might be good to meet more often during the first year or until the new management system settles down. We often recommend quarterly management review meetings for the first year or so until new processes and the overall system becomes stable. As feedback into management reviews, periodic spot audits of key processes and functions might be of value to both identify potential issues and give your new internal auditors some much needed experience.
When issues do arise, utilize key ISO 9001 processes such as customer feedback, corrective action, and change management to drive the necessary changes and improvements. Failing to actively utilize these systems will be a key indicator to auditors that the new management system isn’t really be used and maintained. Finding only one or two corrective actions in the system that were added six weeks prior to the audit is a big red flag to auditors.
Organizational leadership should continuously show support for the management system with frequent communication and action. If the leadership team is lax with their responsibilities, the remainder of the company will do the same. Leadership should continuously speak of the merits of the management system, the need to exercise all system processes, and take an active role where appropriate.
Finally, reach out for help when needed. If something isn’t working or certain processes have stalled, get your consultant involved to help find solutions and perhaps different ways of doing things. It is not uncommon at all to find some of the new processes just aren’t as effective as originally envisioned and changes are needed.
While gaining ISO 9001 is a tremendous achievement and something to be proud of, remember that you are an ISO 9001 rookie. Some organizations may be further along than others, but they are still new to this stuff and there is significant room for growth and maturity. There is a reason that ISO 9001 puts so much emphasis on improvement which is to ensure that organizations continue to mature along a path to better performance.
Picture your growth to excellence as a twelve-rung ladder with the top rung being the optimal state of operational excellence and performance for your organization. Your initial ISO 9001 certification probably puts you on one of the first two or three rungs. You need a plan and correlating action over the coming months and years to keep climbing the ladder. The best companies know that they need to continue to mature and never stop their pursuit of growth, improvement, and excellence. And neither should you!
Pursuit of Excellence
So you may be asking yourself, what is excellence? What does organizational excellence mean for our organization? Well, that depends on many factors and your organization’s leadership will need to do some soul searching to determine what excellence looks like for them.
The American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines excellence as “a measure of consistently superior performance that surpasses requirements and expectations without demonstrating significant flaws or waste”.
The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award defines a framework for achieving excellence that considers seven criteria operating within a system to define, achieve, and measure organizational excellence:
- Strategic Planning
- Customer Focus
- Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
- Workforce Focus
- Operational Focus
Notice any similarities between the ISO 9001 principles and requirements and Baldrige criteria? In fact you can find all seven Baldrige criteria within the ISO 9001 standard and supporting ISO principles.
Another excellence platform to consider and learn from is the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) institute which defines a set of best practices for organizations to follow on a path to maturity:
- Ensuring Quality
- Engineering and Developing Products
- Delivering and Managing Services
- Selecting and Managing Suppliers
- Planning and Managing Work
- Managing Business Resilience
- Managing the Workforce
- Supporting Implementation
- Sustaining Habit and Persistence
- Improving Performance
Again, we see significant parallels the ISO 9001 requirements and principles.
Excellence Within Your Organization
We can’t define what operational and organizational excellence looks like for your company. That is something that you will need to invest time and effort to define and pursue. Google “organizational excellence” and start educating yourself on this term and the underlying tools to help get you started. While this might seem to be a little daunting at first, remember that this a journey up the twelve-rung ladder that takes most organizations many years to accomplish. Also remember that there really is no end to the journey. The top performing organizations continue to evolve, grow, and mature endlessly in their pursuit of excellence.
Also, we aren’t telling you to go all in and implement any of these “excellence” models or tools on top of ISO 9001. We are just providing additional insight to help you define excellence within your organization and some tools that might help you get there. ISO 9001 provides all the necessary requirements, processes, and tools to move you up the ladder, but sometimes fails to provide the incentive, push, and guidance to get you started and moving.
While the ISO 9001 standard does require improvement and growth, the established ISO audit and certification structure tends to facilitate a standard of mediocrity rather than a challenge to grow and achieve excellence. We presented our thoughts on this in an article early in the ISO 9001 DIY series (Why ISO 9001 Culture Matters). To recap our thoughts:
- The Management System should be soundly integrated into a company’s DNA: The system should be seamless with the business vision and mission, strategic and operational plans, and functional processes.
- To be successful, the Management System must be ingrained into the organization’s culture: This is accomplished through empowerment, ownership, and control of the System by everyone in the company.
- Drop the word QUALITY and approach ISO 9001 as simply a Management System: The intent is an interconnected set of processes that govern, support, and drive the entire organization; not a “bolt-on” accessory or after thought just focused on product or service quality. This system applies to the entire organization.
- The Management System should start and end at the top of the organization: The organization’s top executive and executive leadership team are totally accountable for system effectiveness, while demonstrating belief, support, and commitment for the system through actions and words every day.
- Quality should provide Strategic Value: The Quality function should be represented on the Leadership team and provide direction and value in shaping and defining the strategic direction of the organization.
- Top Leadership should adopt and practice the seven core ISO Quality Management Principles: All seven principles are fundamental and foundational to the success, growth, and performance of any organization:
- Customer Focus
- Process Approach
- Engagement of People
- Evidence-Based Decisions
- Relationship Management
- Develop and practice fundamental business methods: Top Leadership should practice Strategic Analysis and Planning, Performance Measurement (Objectives, Metrics, and Reporting), and Risk Management.
- Promote a discipline of Excellence rather than Quality: The traditional quality paradigm drives a state of compliance to minimum standards and achieves mediocrity at best; an Excellence model pushes an organization to its highest level of capability and achievement.
- Establish a performance Baseline, then plan for long-term Maturity: Rather than maintaining compliance through an ISO Certification Model, utilize a Maturity Model to continue elevating performance to a position of excellence which taps and exposes the organization’s full potential.
Those final two bullets emphasize the need to adopt an excellence mentality and push for long-term maturity of the organization and the management system. This most likely will not happen by just maintaining the ISO 9001 requirements and satisfying the auditor during your annual audit.
Take pride in and celebrate your tremendous accomplishment of achieving ISO 9001 certification. But be sure to let everyone in the organization know that there is still work to be done and that a continuous daily effort must be made to not only maintain, but also work to continue pursuing excellence with ISO 9001. Establish a culture of excellence while creating new goals and objectives to get better at what you do and how you exceed customer expectations. Remember that excellence is a mental state that is embedded in the organizational culture, the very fabric and DNA of the organization, and an excellence approach involves constant diligence in the form of improvement. As Tom Peters once said, “Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change”.