Stepping Out Of the Forest

ISO 9001:2015 requires top management to make decisions that benefit the bigger picture

by John J. Guzik

Is it time to light a fire under your top management to get leaders engaged and caring about quality? In most organizations, management already does—it just needs some help with the engagement part.

The problem is, top management speaks a different language than most quality professionals. Quality managers often complain that they can’t communicate with top management (the president, general manager and plant manager, for example) like the sales, financial and production managers can.

That’s because they all speak the same language—money. Quality managers must learn to speak that language, too, and ISO 9001:2015 gives them the tools to do that.

Stepping out

ISO 9001:2015, clause 9.3—Management review is, and always has been, intended to engage top management in reviewing the effectiveness of an organization’s quality management system (QMS) and its alignment with the organization’s strategic direction.

But often, top management can’t see the forest through the trees. Management is so wrapped up in individual issues that it doesn’t have a chance to step back and look at the QMS as a whole. Clause 9.3 encourages management to step outside of the trees and take a good look at the forest to determine which areas should be thinned out and which areas should have more trees.

In other words, management reviews should go beyond quality professionals reciting a list of issues. Reviews should provide top management with an opportunity to step back and look at the entire QMS to identify improvement opportunities, necessary changes and resource needs in relation to the QMS—changes that could save the organization money—linking it to the strategic direction of the organization.

The problem is, many organizations don’t let top management step out of the trees. Management is held in the thicket quality professionals know and live with, and it is inundated with information it has heard many times before.

With the new revision of ISO 9001, organizations can make management reviews more effective. Remember, subclause 5.5.1.a requires top management to be accountable for the effectiveness of the organization’s QMS. The only way to accomplish that is for management to be engaged.

A new approach

After helping numerous clients build, rebuild or upgrade their ISO 9001 systems, I can assuredly say that most organizations struggle with management reviews. That’s because the real intent and purpose of management reviews is misconstrued-—and has been for years. Management reviews often are viewed as a necessary evil of certification. If it wasn’t required under the standard, it wouldn’t be done.

Once, while working with a client to rebuild their ISO 9001 system, the owner of the organization told me, "If you can get me out of management reviews, I’ll add an extra day’s rate to your pay."

It was an attractive offer, I said, but it would be unethical for me to even consider it. "But why do I have to be involved?" he asked. "I get no value out of those meetings. I sit there and check my emails and messages while the quality manager goes on and on about things I already know." Sound familiar?

The owner was right. I told him that, after reviewing the records of the organization’s previous management reviews, it was evident that the reviews provided no useful information. So, I facilitated the organization’s next management review. After doing so, the owner approached me and said that it was much more beneficial than past reviews.

The difference is the way in which I approach the review topics. Instead of looking at them as report points, I turn them into discussion points. The perspective of each topic also is adjusted.

Too many organizations approach management reviews as the quality manager’s State of the State address, in which he or she repeats back to top management a summation of issues that top management already knows about—much like what I just described. For effective management reviews, top management must step outside of those trees so it can see the forest. Top management must look beyond each issue to identify areas of improvement in the QMS.

Look for change

Take, for example, corrective actions (input requirement, ISO 9001:2015, subclause 9.3.2.c.4). A management review report commonly says, for example, that an organization "issued 15 corrective actions since the last management review; 13 are closed and two remain open, but not late." This information is pretty vague and doesn’t help top management make any changes.

Consider the same example, but now the management review report says the organization "issued 15 corrective actions since the last management review; seven are related to document control issues and the others are sporadic," This report is much more useful than the previous report. It tells top management that there is a trending issue in document control and that perhaps some discussion should ensue regarding the best approach to resolving it. Perhaps the document control system is overcomplicated and a time-drain. Perhaps there is an overload of documentation in the first place, or the document control system is antiquated.

Typically, top management is relating a situation like this to a resource issue that must be contained. Top management should start asking how much time and effort (money) is being wasted on these issues, and should start considering reshaping the forest.

Another example is the input requirement for audit results (ISO 9001:2015, subclause 9.3.2.c.6). This portion of a management review should look at the positive and negative results of all audits—internal, supplier, customer, certification and, if applicable, regulatory.

To address the internal audit points, top management should consider and discuss the last time:

  • A management review considered the effects—especially the monetary effects—of the internal audit program on the audited areas.
  • The organization polled the internal auditors and solicited their input on the methods of the internal audit program.
  • The organization considered changes to the internal audit program or schedule, or taught the internal auditors new techniques.
  • Managers of the audited areas were polled to determine their thoughts about the value of the internal audits.
  • Interviewees were polled to determine their level of confidence that their information was valuable for improvement, rather than detrimental to their position.

An opportunity to improve

Use the transition to ISO 9001:2015 as an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of your management review process. Top management is accountable for the effectiveness of the QMS. The expression "strategic direction" is mentioned in a few places in ISO 9001:2015, and all but one reference (clause 4.1) are incorporated into top management responsibilities. Use these to engage top management in its role in the QMS.

Here are some things to consider that have helped me in the past:

  • Provide top management with the data to be reviewed prior to the management review so it can review and digest the information, and consider comments.
  • Limit the management review to an appropriate amount of time, and manage the review to that time limit. Some organizations may require stringent time management. To stay on schedule, avoid excessive discussion on singular issues unless their magnitude warrants it, and do not allow side conversations.
  • Change the approach to the data, as noted in the earlier examples.
  • Require top management to do more than just attend the management review. Require top management to participate and present information relevant to their areas. In some cases, ask management directly for its opinions.
  • If a member of top management is distracted by his or her phone or tablet, intentionally bring him or her into the conversation.

These are just a few ways to light a fire under your top management to engage it in management reviews and the entire QMS.

John J. Guzik is principal of Impact Management in Hanover, PA. He is a participating member of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO Technical Committee 176 and the ASQ ASC Z1-Q subcommittee on quality management.

Since I started working for my current company 3 years ago, I have been trying to get them to change the way they present for management review. This year I got some buy in to streamline the process so we present highlights of issues that need decisions and not just flood the powerpoint with graphs of product parameters. We will also present the issues in terms of cost (cost of quality). I think this will be much more meaningful and effective for top management. It has to be about the $$.
--John Elwer, 12-12-2017

The importance of articles like this to a consultant should be emphasized. Top management is usually much more receptive to an authoritative outside source. Additionally, it is those flesh eyes who can better see what changes need to be made to the structure of the management reviews.
--TonyAdams, 12-01-2017

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