Standard of Living

Look to your life for ISO 9001 lessons

by David Ricker

ISO 9001:2008 describes the requirements to establish and continually improve a quality management system (QMS), without prescribing the means to do so. At its core, ISO 9001 is a common-sense approach to managing an organization.

It is not uncommon, however, for quality managers to find themselves challenged with explaining ISO 9001 basics to employees in a way they’ll understand. I’ve experienced success relating the concepts contained in ISO 9001 to normal, everyday activities. For example: An ISO 9001-compliant morning routine.

In an organizational context, a quality policy is a document jointly developed by management and quality staff to express the quality objectives of the organization, the acceptable level of quality and the duties of specific departments to ensure quality. A personal quality policy might state, "Wake up on time every day and obtain the tools needed to go to work."

The personal quality policy would cascade downward and serve as the basis for procedures. Procedures explicitly describe how certain key processes within the organization must be performed. Morning procedures might include:

  1. I will wake up on time for work every day.
  2. I will follow a set routine each day.
  3. I will follow all safety rules required.
  4. I will ensure required documents are the correct revision.
  5. I will ensure preventive maintenance is completed on machinery.
  6. I will monitor and take corrective and preventive actions.
  7. I will conduct a personal review on a regular basis.

Work instructions detail how to perform a work process. While actual work instructions to support a process would be far more granular, for the purposes of demonstration, the work instructions for the morning routine might entail:

  1. Set the alarm for 6 a.m.
  2. Visualize your daily routine step by step.
  3. Gather the tools needed for going to work (for example, vehicle keys, lunch and wallet).
  4. Exit your home, commute by car or public transportation and arrive at work.

You might further explain the third work instruction by giving examples of tools needed in the morning routine. For example, vehicle registration is required. Is it in the vehicle? Is it still valid? What do you do with the obsolete copy? Where do you keep it?

Imagine you left for work and realized that you forgot your lunch. You can turn the car around and go retrieve it if you’re not too far into your commute. This will cause minimal rework, but it will affect arrival time and increase gas use.

You could deviate from the instructions and buy lunch. But before you approve the deviation, you must ensure you have enough money. You also must determine if corrective action is needed so you don’t forget your lunch again.

Work instructions to maintain safety in your morning routine might include checking your vehicle’s front and rear lights, adjusting its mirrors, wearing your seatbelt while driving and obeying the speed limit.

Going full circle

Continuous improvement is at the heart of the ISO 9001 approach. Relating ISO 9001 to daily life and routines is effective because continuous personal improvement is also a way of life for many people.

The procedures and outcomes of the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle of improvement can be applied to many daily activities and situations to help explain its use in conjunction with ISO 9001 (see Figure 1). Many people apply PDCA without even realizing it. For example, most people monitor their expenses to a certain degree, audit their checkbooks and credit card statements, and adjust their budgets according to their income and expenditures.

Figure 1

As you relate ISO 9001 to daily life, each employee will have a different vision of what can transpire or how different situations relate to QMS basics. These differences in opinion are great opportunities for one-on-one or group discussions.

The approach of using examples and anecdotes derived from daily life to explain ISO 9001 also may help get everyone up to speed when the revised standard is released in 2015.

David Ricker is a quality engineer at VT Hackney Kidron in Montgomery, PA. He is a senior member of ASQ.

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