This month’s question

Recent changes to ISO 9001:2015 emphasize alignment of quality objectives to top-level company strategies. What is the best way to ensure alignment?

Our response

The recent revisions to ISO 9001:2015 do require an organization’s quality objectives to be compatible with its strategic direction. ISO 9001:2015 subclause 5.1.1, General, states: "Top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to the quality management system by ensuring that the quality policy and quality objectives are established for the quality management system and are compatible with the context and strategic direction of the organization."1

In the past, without this requirement, organizations would keep their quality policy and objectives the same irrespective of changes to the organization’s strategic direction. Most organizations review their quality strategy annuall—even though the strategy isn’t likely to change every year. Typically, strategies are set for three to five years, and for some organizations, as long as 10 years.

Due to the disruptive nature of some industry sectors, however, an organization may make changes to its strategy more frequently based on context and requirements from interested parties. Changes to a quality strategy could be a technology roadmap, outsourcing manufacturing processes or going to market, for example. Previously established quality objectives may no longer be compatible with the new or revised strategy.

My organization, for example, has successfully used tools like A3 planning sheets and functional dashboards to align quality and strategic objectives.

Strategic goals and objectives are set at overall organizational, business-unit levels and cascaded down to operational objectives and further down to departmental and functional objectives. ISO 9001:2015 subclause 6.2.1 states: "The organization shall establish quality objectives at relevant functions, levels and processes needed for the quality management system."2

It is a misperception that quality objectives are the quality department’s objectives. In my experience, I have seen the following typical quality objectives: customer returns defective parts per million, reliability failure, customer satisfaction, on-time delivery and customer compliant response time.

While these are good candidates for quality objectives, an organization may not have considered whether the objective is compatible with the organization’s strategic direction. Table 1 shows an example of aligning quality objectives with the organization’s strategies.

Table 1

Mature organizations further cascade functional quality objectives into their employees’ performance management. As employees collectively achieve their performance objectives, functional, operational objectives are met, and the organization successfully moves in its strategic direction.


  1. International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ISO 9001:2015—Quality management system—Requirements, subclause 5.1.1.
  2. Ibid., subclause 6.2.1.


Dennis, Pascal, Getting the Right Things Done, Lean Enterprise Institute Inc., 2006.

Ramu, Govind, "Metrics That Trigger Actionable Discussions: Prioritize Process Improvements Using Gauge R&R and SPC Capability," ASQ Six Sigma Forum.

Ramu, Govind, "Selecting and Developing KPIs," Quality Progress, January 2014, p. 8.

This response was written by Govind Ramu, senior director, global quality management systems, SunPower Corp., San Jose, CA.

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