The latest revision to ISO 9004 focuses on organizational success
by Paul Palmes
An international standard’s progression from one revision to the next is always a much-discussed topic in the standards community. The latest revision to ISO 9001, for example, continues to dominate conversations because of its new approach and emphasis on context, interested parties and risk-based thinking.
As a close relative, ISO 9004—Managing for the sustained success of an organization—a quality management approach always had been of interest because it followed ISO 9001 through its revisions, offering additional insights to promote excellence beyond compliance. ISO 9004 and ISO 9001 were a consistent pair—ISO 9004 provided clause-by-clause guidance to ISO 9001’s compliance requirements.
ISO 9004:2018, however, has taken a major step in defining itself as a standalone document that is related to—but separate from—ISO 9001:2015. It’s all about business, with a primary focus on organizations’ sustained success.
Recognizing the potential impact of the 2018 revision, Alka Jarvis (past chair of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 176) and I combined our resources and experience to further expand on ISO 9004’s contributions to quality management’s body of knowledge in the book Business Sustainability: Going Beyond ISO 9004:2018.1
A first look at ISO 9004:2018’s Clause 4—Quality of an organization and sustained success indicates the document’s new emphasis on organizational success. It states:
"The ‘quality of an organization’ is the degree to which the inherent characteristics of the organization fulfill the needs and expectations of its customers and other interested parties, in order to achieve sustained success."2
The focal point is no longer generic quality and improvement but the overall success of an organization. The note that follows this statement further clarifies the standard’s business-centric approach and provides a foundation for the rest of the standard:
"NOTE 1: The term ‘quality of an organization’ is from the definition of ‘quality’ given in ISO 9000, 3.6.2 (‘the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfills requirements’), and from the definition of ‘requirement’ given in ISO 9000, 3.6.4, (‘needs or expectations that are stated, generally implied or obligatory’). It is also distinct from the purpose of ISO 9001, which focuses on the quality of products and services in order to give confidence in the ability of an organization to provide conforming products and services and to enhance its customers’ satisfaction."3
The standard goes on to say, "To achieve sustained success the organization should go beyond the quality of its products and services and focus on anticipating and meeting the needs and expectations of its interested parties and not just those of its customers alone, with the intent of enhancing their satisfaction and overall experience."4
In our book, Jarvis and I expanded on these concepts:
"Retention of buying customers and a strong competitive position creates a solid financial position; a noticeably strong financial performance is foundational to sustainable success. The most visible sign of sustainability is market growth. Whether this growth can be sustained for a longer period depends on how poised your organization is to identify and embrace new strategies and recognize where new challenges will be. Sustained success requires leaders of organizations to look for new opportunities to innovate, grow, and retain market share."5
Subsequent clauses continue this directed approach by providing examples that go beyond traditional quality guidance. The net effect is a highly impactful document that offers answers to questions about how an organization can prosper.
For organizations still grappling with context, for example, ISO 9004:2018 combines the interactions of interested parties and internal and external forces in an expanded list of market and operational possibilities that many organizations will find helpful. This guidance is relevant, business-centric and insightful, as is the entire standard.
It is the standard’s expanded attention to practical and business-minded content that provides an opportunity to dig deep into its leadership and policy clauses:
"While policies are important, personal policies of the organization’s leadership are extremely so. The progression from entrepreneurship to bureaucracy can be slowed significantly through demonstrated policy-based behaviors that true leaders exhibit throughout the day … Leaders use, practice and embrace policy to everyone’s advantage; the organization is understandable and its practices consistent through just watching and listening to its leaders. Rather than emphasizing reliance on requiring an employee to remember organization policies, leaders know that employees learn most directly through observation of how they interact with all employees."6
Although the ISO 9004:2018 writing committee didn’t have the luxury of writing complete narratives, it still lived up to its mandate. Businesses of all shapes and sizes—especially those that are ISO 9001:2015 compliant—now have access to meaningful guidance to improve their standing in the marketplace and, as the title suggests, achieve sustained success.
The words "sustained success" were chosen carefully and may be confusing to some people because ISO and quality management system-related standards consistently promote improvement in their titles. ISO 9004:2018 broke with that tradition to convey the message that no matter what an organization attempts, it must first adopt sustainability as a bedrock principle.
The guidance provided in ISO 9004:2018 was predicated on presenting a complete description of the factors that should be effectively managed by good stewards of their organizations. Its approach to improvement is from a consistent perspective of sustainability that serves everyone in the quality and business communities with its approach and guidance.
- Paul Palmes and Alka Jarvis, Business Sustainability: Going Beyond ISO 9004:2018, ASQ Quality Press, 2018.
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ISO 9004:2018—Managing for the sustained success of an organization—a quality management approach.
- Palmes, Business Sustainability: Going Beyond ISO 9004:2018, see reference 1.
Paul Palmes is principal consultant with Business Systems Architects Inc. in Fargo, ND, and Prescott, WI. He is chair of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to the International Organization for Standardization, Technical Committee 176 (ISO/TC 176), and chair of ISO/TC 176, subcommittee 1, responsible for ISO 9000:2015. He is the coauthor of Business Sustainability: Going Beyond ISO 9004 (ASQ Quality Press, 2018) and ISO 9001:2015: Understand, Implement, Succeed! (Prentice Hall, 2015), and author of Process Driven Comprehensive Auditing, second edition (ASQ Quality Press, 2009) and The Magic of Self-Directed Work Teams (ASQ Quality Press, 2006).