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Quality Resources

Quality Resources | Books & Standards

(E)Quality for All: You, Your Job, and ISO 9001

By Govindarajan Ramu

SunPower Corporation's ISO 9001 recertification audit was getting close. Seeking to communicate the upcoming audit to employees across the organization, senior management of the quality function asked for an article to be included in the company newsletter.

The initial instinct that comes from wearing the quality expert hat was to write a technical article. Resisting that direction, we opted instead for a simple discussion that addresses basic questions about the purpose and value of ISO 9001. We published an article that is easy for all employees to understand, including those in the construction field, remote sales offices, service functions, and corporate office.

The version presented here has been edited for use by any organization that might be trying to communicate the ISO 9001 message to all staff, regardless of functional responsibilities.

At some point in your career, you’ve probably heard the phrase “ISO 9001.” And while you’re aware (vaguely or otherwise) that having this descriptor attached to your company’s name is a good thing, you may not completely understand what ISO 9001 certification really means – or, what it means to you. 

Is it a big deal for your organization to be ISO 9001 certified? Absolutely. ISO 9001 certification affects everything from how your customers perceive you, to how effective your processes are, to your organization's ability/qualification to bid on major projects.     

So…What Is ISO 9001?  

ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards. The acronym was derived from the Greek word “isos,” which means “equal.” National standards institutes from more than 160 countries belong to the ISO network, with the system being administered in Geneva, Switzerland. 

ISO 9001 is the international standard for quality management systems (QMS). It provides a company with a set of principles that ensure a commonsense approach to the management of business activities, thereby enabling customer satisfaction. Globally, more than 1 million companies have been ISO 9001 certified in sectors including aeronautics, healthcare, manufacturing, government, education, and more.

Exactly what does an ISO audit evaluate? It’s all about how an organization establishes quality management systems (QMS) and adheres to standards in business. If you don’t have documented, structured and well deployed business processes, you cannot ensure repeatable results. Whether you’re a local three-person pizza delivery shop or a multi-billion-dollar global organization, ISO 9001 reduces uncertainty and strengthens the fundamentals of your business processes.

A Shared Responsibility

According to the principles of ISO 9001, every one of us has a role to play in improving process efficiency and effectiveness. Responsibility is shared by every single employee, even those who aren’t specifically assigned to the quality team. When you’re part of an ISO 9001 certified organization, your most important consideration is, Am I doing the very best job that I can? 

Consider how a copywriter in the marketing function may perform under ISO 9001 principles on any given day: 

  • Process input: A meeting with an executive to determine marketing objectives and messaging. 
  • Process output: Effective branding for a trade show or text for the company website. 
  • Are customers’ expectations met? The feedback loop should improve the perception of the company’s brand. 

Valuable, Yet Resource Intensive

Certifying an organization for ISO 9001 compliance requires the work of both internal and external auditors, who examine all business processes annually. The process involves an enormous amount of time and effort. In the end, audit results are valuable feedback to the business.

Organizations can apply for registration to ISO 9001 for individual business units and site locations separately, or together. Usually organizations are certified site by site, because obtaining certification for multiple parts of a company simultaneously uses a lot of resources all at once. 

Once your business unit or organization has achieved ISO 9001 certification, you will need to maintain it. Your certification will remain valid for a period of three years, and then you must recertify. 

The ISO 9001 Advantage

SunPower Corporation ground panelsMarch 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of ISO 9001. Since the early 1990s, certification to the standard has been an expected condition of doing business, especially in Europe. The U.S. and Asia caught up much later. Now, more and more customers turn to ISO 9001 certification as a criterion for selecting suppliers and other business partners. If you aren’t certified, many potential customers won’t even entertain your bid.

SunPower Corporation, the organization I work for, is one of just a handful of solar companies that can tout ISO 9001 certification. Along with the benefit of standardized business processes, certification gives us a powerful competitive advantage. 

SunPower manufactures, designs, and delivers high efficiency solar technology for homes, businesses, public agencies and power plants. In the residential sector, homeowners may not know or care that Sunpower has the ISO 9001 certificate. What they do care about is that when they call for support, their issues will be promptly resolved. And the quality of products and services they receive is definitely tied to the effectiveness of ISO 9001 implementation.

For commercial customers, the decision to work with SunPower is a no-brainer. ISO 9001 certification is written into most contracts. By maintaining ISO 9001 certification, SunPower provides customer satisfaction through dependable, repeatable processes. 

Not Just an ISO Job

Whether you’re new to the concept of quality or a business efficiency expert, ISO 9001 status comes down to the following:
  • Say what you do (document)
  • Do what you say (deploy)
  • Prove what you do (show evidence)
  • Improve what you do (continually make it better)

One final thought: If you work in an ISO-certified organization, you may occasionally hear your coworkers say, "Let me finish my regular job and then get to the ISO job." There’s no such thing as “an ISO job.” Every job you do is an ISO job. Everything everyone does has an impact on the quality of a company’s processes and systems. The level and complexity of individual jobs will differ, of course, but all employees can embrace the idea that ISO 9001 is integral to and a part of their roles.  

About the Author

Govindarajan (Govind) Ramu is Director of Quality Assurance-Global Quality Management Systems at SunPower Corporation. Previously, he served as senior quality manager and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt for JDS Uniphase Corp., an optical technology leader. A Fellow of ASQ, Govind has overseen quality functions in manufacturing operations in India, Malaysia, Thailand and Canada, as well as the U.S.

SunPower contract editor Marianne Lucchesi Hamilton also contributed to this article. 

All photos courtesy of SunPower.   

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