ISO 9001 and Advantage In the Marketplace
It's fine to advertise, but the real benefit is the QMS itself
by John E. "Jack" West
You have completed the ISO 9001 certification audit process and received an accredited certificate of registration from the registrar. Your organization has joined the nearly one million others around the world to achieve this distinction.
Is it time to celebrate and advertise your success? Yes, but it is also time to assess how well the process went, what results you have achieved to date and how you will meet your future commitments to continual improvement. These system successes might or might not be related to your certification.
It is always better to promote successes resulting from quality management system (QMS) implementation (more about this later), but it is normal for organizations to want to simply advertise that they have achieved certification. There's a right way to do this.
You might think you can claim such things as, "We are ISO 9000 certified," or, "Our ISO 9001 certification means you get great service." These and a lot of other claims are also wrong.
Table 1 shows some of the do's and don'ts for promoting your certification. There is much more detailed guidance in an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) pamphlet titled Publicizing Your ISO 9001:2000 or ISO 14001:2004 Certification. A free PDF version is available for download.1
Product vs. system certification
Keep in mind the difference between product certification-when a certification body has tested a sample of the product and certified that it conforms to a product standard-and management system certification-when a certification body has audited the organization's management system and certified that the system conforms to ISO 9001.
As the names imply, the first is certification of the product, the second is not. It is completely improper in any way to imply that your system certification to ISO 9001 represents certification of your product or any product related guarantee.
So, promote away, but first download and read the ISO brochure. If you stop there, however, you will miss the greatest promotional opportunities of all.
You have expended a lot of effort to get your QMS up and running. If you have done it well, you should have already achieved many operational improvements, some of which will have resulted in improved customer satisfaction.
Too few organizations take the time to carefully assess how well a project, such as implementing a formal QMS, has gone. Take sufficient time to do a good assessment of where you are, how you got there and where you need to head next (see the sidebar "How to Perform a Success Assessment").
How to Perform a Success Assessment
- Involve as many of the people who helped establish the QMS and certification as you can.
- Make a consensus list of the areas that are important.
- Use brainstorming or nominal group techniques to encourage input without challenge. List the positives and negatives of each area.
- List measured results that are related to each area.
- Get consensus on the positives, negatives and measured results.
- Make sure top management and marketing/sales are involved in the process; they will be key to promoting your results.
- Prepare a report.
The assessment should include at least the following areas:
- What went well and what didn't.
- What results you have achieved to date and why.
What went well and what didn't? This should be determined through a review process. The focus should be on identifying lessons learned that can be applied to future work on the management system and other projects. This is the easiest assessment to make and can be an eye-opener because perceptions often vary widely.
In doing this part of the assessment, list the aspects of the QMS implementation and certification process that went smoothly and those that proved troublesome. This portion of the assessment should include:
- How well did you plan system development and implementation?
- How well did you follow your plan?
- Were mid-course corrections needed, and were the corrections identified and made in a timely manner?
- If you used consultants, did you ask the right questions during consultant selection? Were you happy with the selection? What benefits did you get from the consultation?
- How did the registrar selection process go? Did you ask the right questions during the selection process? Were there any surprises? Were you happy with the selection?
What results have been achieved to date and why? Your assessment should include a review of the results and why those results occurred. The purpose is to identify the benefits that were caused by the QMS implementation and certification process. This part of the assessment should include:
- A review of the decision to pursue ISO 9001:2000 implementation and certification. There must have been a reason (something you wanted to achieve, objectives you wanted to meet) for deciding to develop the system and go through certification. Have those objectives been achieved? Will the new system lead to their achievement? Why or why not?
- Comparison of the organization's quality and business objectives before implementation started with those after the system was certified and fully operational.
- Measurements of how resulting performance improvements have boosted customer perception of your organization and its products.
- Determination of how resulting performance improvements have changed the perception of the organization among its stakeholders, such as employees, owners and people in the community.
- Other measurable results such as system level performance improvements that might not be obvious on first examination (see the sidebar "Less Obvious Results").
Less Obvious Results
System level improvements can include less obvious results such as the following:
- Even though design and development cycle time might have increased, greater design rigor could have eliminated problems with product introduction.
- Even though a process might have slowed significantly, overall process throughput could have changed because of capacity gained by better quality output of one of the processes.
The changes required to sustain improvements of this nature are sustainable only if top managers clearly understand relationships between results in one area to those of the overall system.
If the additional design and development costs are small compared to the cost of past production introduction problems, the increased design rigor could become a welcome part of top management�s support for the system. If slowing one process to drive out defects actually drives overall throughput up, there should be celebration.
The results should be listed and quantified in terms easily understood by top managers and customers. The language of top managers is money, so make certain such things as reductions in costs and increases in revenues, margins and operating income are included.
Customers also understand money. If you have been able to reduce prices, tell them. But customers are often more interested in other factors, such as fewer problems with your products, faster service that is right the first time, improved on-time delivery, fewer returns and more satisfaction with your product or service. Get agreement on results from management team members and display the results graphically.
Don't wait for future improvements to happen. Plan them now. First, make a list of the things you know you should have done prior to certification but just never quite got around to. The registrar's auditor will eventually notice some of these things.
You might not have had time to work out how to achieve potential efficiencies noted during QMS implementation. Make an improvement project list, assign responsibilities and start work. Link each project for improvement to the internal processes and measurable improvement results.
Start this work quickly, resisting the temptation to relax and just let the system run for a while. Otherwise, you are likely to never do it. Dust off your copy of ISO 9004:2000, Quality Management Systems-Guidelines for Performance
Improvements2 and start looking for new
opportunities. Get into the habit of always maintaining the improvement project list, and always have active improvement projects in process.
The many potential sources for your list include:
- The list from your QMS success assessment.
- Audit findings and recommendations, although not all audit findings belong on the list (see the sidebar "Opportunities List").
- Analysis of customer data, including complaints and customer satisfaction information. Customer issues might include valid complaints that come from nonconforming product, late delivery, poor service or even inadequate billing.
- Analysis and understanding of nonvalid issues. Customers are not always right and are sometimes unreasonable. But they are customers, and they pay the bills. Analysis of these nonvalid issues could result in process improvements that make the issue go away with little or even negative cost.
- Analysis of nonconformities to determine trends or patterns that offer opportunities for improvement. When you analyze the nonconformities, look for patterns and links to customer feedback. A pattern of internal nonconformities in an administrative process might correlate with customer complaints about the output of the process. Such items make wonderful improvement projects because fixing the problem often has multiple benefits: customers and the people who work with the process are happier, and costs are lower.
- Look for preventive action opportunities. Conduct design review and process failure mode effects analysis to determine common high risk items that could require overall process changes or broader system modifications.
Some, perhaps even most, valid audit findings can be resolved by simple system changes that can be implemented quickly with little study. On the other hand, there are sometimes findings that require a good deal of study and long-term thinking.
For example, some findings would appear to require a tremendous expenditure of resources to resolve with minimal return. But a problem solving team with a long-term view might find a way to fold the needed change into a future capital project or might find an innovative solution that actually costs less than the current process.
Difficult audit findings are often written off as undoable or lacking benefit, but they might belong on your list of improvement projects.
This improvement project list, along with the status of each project, should become a key tool during management review. Even with the most mature system, real-life organizations normally find more potential improvements than resources to tackle them. Top managers should determine priorities, allocate resources, review results and celebrate successes.
Success assessment report
Summarize the results of your assessment in a QMS success assessment report that includes what went well, what didn't, what results were achieved and what improvements are planned. Get top managers to concur with the report.
With the exception of planning for future improvements, all this work could seem like unnecessary bureaucracy. And if you do nothing but file the report, that is what it will have been.
But there is a purpose to this madness. You need to make this report the basis of every manager's everyday dialogue. It forms the basis of efforts to use the certified QMS as a tool for promoting your organization.
Every employee who talks to customers should use the information to promote the organization's successes. The report should give customers the facts related to your improved performance, and those facts will be supported by the real data you have included.
Remember, with lots of certified organizations in the world, you need to distinguish your certification from the rest.
Telling your story
After you perform this assessment and prepare your report, it is time to decide how to tell your success story. There are many ways to promote an organization's successes.
Such claims can easily be attributed to your quality system without reference to certification. Provide customers information about your success in terms they can understand-better conformity to their requirements. Customers like to be shown the difference, so there must be a means to do this.
Start by asking customers what they don't like about your current product. Then demonstrate to them that you have fixed their problem. The best way to do this is face to face, so the sales force often must carry the message. As with product improvements, be careful not to imply your system certification also certifies the product. Instead, do the following:
- Show customers how your product is better than the competition's.
- Ask customers how you can better serve them, couching the question in terms of the new QMS. Point out that you now have a system in place to respond to changing customer needs, expectations and requirements. Then ask them, "How can we serve you better?"
Build a history of successes with this strategy. That means you need to start small with the most important customers and provide a rapid response to their input. Then you need to go back to these same customers and ask whether you got it right. If you did, great. If not, you need to rapidly repeat the process.
Whether you have just gone through the certification process or are an old hand, it might be time to review your system in this light.
Promoting your certification is easy. Just go to the ISO website, download the brochure, follow it exactly, and advertise to your heart's content. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
On the other hand, if you really want to use the QMS for market advantage, you need a robust system, great results and a strategy to tell your story.
Reference and note
- Click on "Publicizing Your Certification" on the International Organization for Standardization website at www.
- ANSI/ISO/ASQ Q9004-2000, Quality Management Systems-Guidelines for Performance Improvements, ASQ Quality Press, 2000.
John E. "Jack" West is president of Silver Fox Advisors, a Houston based organization of executive mentors, management consultants and business advisors. He served on the board of examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award from 1990 to 1993 and is past chair of the U.S. technical advisory group to ISO technical committee 176 and lead delegate to the committee responsible for the ISO 9000 family of quality management standards. West is an ASQ fellow and co-author of several ASQ Quality Press books.