On Purpose

Use your QMS to ensure everyone works toward the same goal

by Jonathan D. Port

W. Edwards Deming references the need to have constancy of purpose in his 14 points and seven deadly diseases of management.

Quality management systems (QMS) that conform to ISO 9001:2008 can take advantage of the requirements relating to constancy of purpose that are built into the standard. When an organization has constancy of purpose with all members aligned with that purpose, productivity increases.

Having constancy of purpose first implies having a purpose. Ask yourself a few key questions: What are the organization’s goals? Where is it going and how does it get there? Why does any of it matter? How does it affect me? All these questions relate to having purpose, and each person needs answers, personally and professionally.

Long view

Constancy in purpose implies consistency in the purpose with a long-term goal. If that’s lacking, productivity suffers.

For example, I had a boss who gave me a list of my top 10 objectives. Every week, he handed me an updated list. Most of the time, the priority of the items changed. New items came, and some items left. Sometimes, it was a whole new list. This can be deflating when most objectives require months to complete. The result was that not many objectives were met. This is why constancy of purpose is so crucial.

Purpose may fulfill an aim or vision. The aim of an ISO 9001-compliant QMS is described in clause 5.2—to increase customer satisfaction. How the company has decided to reach this aim should be described in the QMS quality manual, as defined by clause 4.2.2.

Likening the QMS structure to the U.S. government, the quality manual is the Constitution. It defines the QMS scope and links all the procedures that make up the QMS. It is the document or structure that all other documents or structures flow under and answer to (see Online Figure 1).

Online Figure 1

The quality policy is the most important part of the manual and can be likened to the preamble of the Constitution. The company mission and vision provide insight into the "what." The values and the quality policy provide guidelines for "how."

The policy may have specific statements, but it also provides moral guidance because not every directive or situation can be documented. The policy helps describe the spirit of the law and helps define expected behavior. If the policy becomes trivial or is not enforced by management, the rest of the QMS will quickly become ineffective.

Meeting milestones

Section 4.2.1 of ISO 9001 requires determination of appropriate objectives, which are milestones toward the goals, aim or vision.

With the aim, objectives, policy and manual in place, the standard requires management (clause 5.1) to be responsible to spread this type of constancy of purpose to the rest of the organization through effective communication (5.5.3) and establishment of additional objectives at appropriate levels and relevant functions (5.4.1).

The whole organization must be unified toward the purpose by describing the interaction of system processes (4.2.2) to the degree that employees understand their importance and how they contribute to it (6.2.2.d).

Think of this approach as an inverted version of the original QMS structure (see Online Figure 2). Then, make it a cone or funnel that channels the function of the organization toward its purpose (see Online Figure 3).

Online Figure 2

Online Figure 3

When the whole organization is aligned, it creates synergy and increases productivity. Everyone wants to get their product or service to market the fastest, and alignment is necessary for speed. All the horses need to be pulling in one direction for effective travel. An effective QMS provides constancy of purpose, moving the organization closer to success.


  • Deming, W. Edwards, Out of the Crisis, MIT Press, 1992.
  • International Organization for Standardization, ISO 9001:2008—Quality management systems—Requirements.

Jonathan D. Port is an owner of Beacon Quality Services LLC in Eden Prairie, MN. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering management from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. A senior member of ASQ, Port is also an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality engineer, quality auditor and manager of quality/organizational excellence.

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