What is ISO 9001?

Hi all

I'll bet you are wondering what ISO 9001 is? I go on about it all the time and yet I don't always explain, so here I am!

ISO 9001 is an International Quality Standard published by the International Standards Organization, a worldwide group that brings professional people together from industry who decide how best to help companies and organisations flourish. Based on past and new experiences, this standard forms a benchmark for quality - in other words, a commitment to continual improvement, relying on sector best practice and experience.

ISO 9001 is the standard for Quality Management Systems, it's a framework that an organisation commits itself too in order to progress itself. Basically the standard is all about improvement, learning and practice; it's about focusing on all areas of a business and progressing them to the point where it becomes a positive vehicle for continuous improvement.

I have mentioned improvement, learning and practice because it's about bringing in experienced and thinking people to motivate the organisation to get better at what it does. Driven by these people, quality becomes a benchmark for success.

Let's take an example of an engineering company, it may buy materials - how do they control goods in and out? Is it organised or dis-organised? It uses engineering equipment - do they calibrate the machinery or do they just leave it to chance? These are the types of questions that an organisation should face up to when trying to continually improve. Ok, so I've taken the example of an engineering company, let's now talk about the pharmaceutical drugs you may consume, maybe from the chemist, boots or prescribed by a doctor... would you approve if their technicians were experienced in the manufacture of pharmaceutical drugs? Yes of course you would, that's quality. Would you prefer it if their machines were regularly tested against known standards? Yes of course, that's calibration, well known in the quality world.

So now you build up a picture in your head of what you expect of companies, that's standards.

In the world of ISO 9001 quality is many things, it depends on the organization, but let's look at the standard itself. Nowadays the standard asks you to look at the context of the business, in other words what it does and who it affects. The ISO 9001 standard now asks you to look at risks and opportunities facing the business in a number of areas, to name a few, legal, social, environment, marketplace, technology; the standard asks you to decide how your company is affected under these headings. It then asks you to write down your risks, and the opportunities to improve.

The standard also asks that you look at interested parties and how you may affect them - or how they affect you. What we write is of importance - how does your customer affect you? How do your suppliers affect you, how does your bank affect you, how does your insurer affect you and so on. This builds up a picture of how you are affected by these groups and you can decide what to do about it.

That's the basis of the ISO 9001 standard. Coupled with that is the need to have a documented system for example written procedures telling you how the company operates. I always try and liken this to what you would say if you were taking visitors around, basically you explain how the company operates. But this needs to be on a deeper level, how does sales operate with enquiries and new clients, how does purchasing operate, how does manufacture or service operate? Now we are drilling down to the finite details, explaining on a word processor how your business operates.

From there we look at personnel and resources, what do you expect of joiners to your business? Do you train them? Do you further educate them and so on. This leads onto looking after machinery if you have it and even onto vehicles if you have them. The standard is wide ranging, it fits all.

This is the basis of the ISO 9001 standard, or your foundation, once that's right it's onto service and delivery, internal audits, reviewing the system and focusing on continual improvement by way of action, not words.

So in a nutshell, that's what ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems is all about!

I hope you feel enlightened! Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

Best regards


Steven Burgess is a Consultant to companies in the UK and also a Data Protection Officer for Disclosure Services Limited, a company that process data relating to criminal record checks.