Organizational Excellence through ISO 9001:2015 Standard

By Dr. Omer Tigani

For its journey towards total quality management and organizational excellence, organizations have the liberty to choose one or more than one approach or platform to use. The ISO 9001 Standard is a very well-known platform and tried for a long time. Although the latest version of the ISO 9001:2015 witnessed remarkable improvements, unfortunately still some organizations are not yet able to attain the maximum benefits out of its concepts and principles. In the below lines we will be discussing some practical strategies and ideas that might be helpful for organizations to benefit from using the ISO 9001 Standards as a vehicle for their journeys towards total quality management and organizational excellence.

ISO 9001:2015 Standard:

The ISO 9001 Standard stipulates a minimum set of requirements that the organization has to maintain evidence of implementation in order to be eligible for attaining the ISO 9001 Certification. The latest version is the ISO 9001:2015 which has been launched in September 2015. Major changes and enhancements have taken place to the ISO 9001:2015 version; setting the guidelines for organizations to be in the right track heading correctly towards total quality management and organizational excellence.

Obtaining the ISO 9001 certification for organizations should not be the ultimate goal of the organization but should mean that the organization has the rights tools and techniques to sail into a fantastic endless continual improvement journey for its whole life. For example, if student graduated from a college of engineering, that does not mean he is an engineer but it means he/she has been approved by the university or college that he/she has been equipped by the right tools and techniques that will enable him/her to work as an engineer. The new 2015 version requirements have been developed to boost the understanding of that ISO 9001 is NOT merely a set of requirements thrown on the shoulders of the organizations that has to show compliance (by any ways and means) to get the certification paper. On the other side, the certificate (as a paper) should not be the only target, the organization should understand that the stipulated ISO 9001 requirements are the minimum requirements that the organizations must always strive to exceed and go beyond at all organizational levels and aspects.

The term Quality Management System (QMS) is used to describe a set of documents developed to document how the different operations and daily activities should be performed as well as some additional processes introduce to guide the organization in maintain and continually improving the QMS. Those documents include (but not limited to):

– Quality Policy (it’s a one pager document approved the President, CEO or GM shows the leadership commitment to meeting ISO 9001:2015 requirements and what must be done in that context)
– Quality Objectives (Ambitious targets set for each department or key process, the progress of the quality objectives should be monitored, documented and reported to leadership)
– QMS Procedures (e.g. Internal Quality Audit, Client Satisfaction, Management Reviews, Risks and Opportunities Management, Non-conformances, Document Control, Records Control, Corrective Actions, etc.)
– Work Procedures (each procedure contains process steps write up, process flowcharts, roles and responsibilities, process inputs and outputs, Key Performance Indicators – KPIs, etc.)
– Work Instructions (set to describe a very specific (e.g. technical) processes)
– Quality Records

Organizations who has matured QMS, the name of the ISO 9001 is not heard so frequently among the organization staff simply because of that the focus is not in satisfying the ISO 9001 requirements only, but to go beyond the requirements and set a framework that paves the way for the organizational performance to improve in an endless journey to achieve sustainable outstanding performance (i.e. Excellence). Many (if not most) quality and organizational excellence practitioners agrees that QMS based on ISO 9001 represents a strong foundation for achieving organizational excellence.

Organizational Excellence:
As defined by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM), “Excellent organizations achieve and sustain outstanding levels of performance that meet or exceed the expectations of all their stakeholders”. Organizational Excellence focuses on achieving high performance and excellent results at all organizational aspects such as Leadership, Strategy, People, Customers/Stakeholders, Products/Services, Processes, Suppliers and Business Results.

Excellence models are the tools that used to gauge the current level of organizational excellence of organizations based on global best practices. Excellence models are also amazing drivers for generating and accomplishing organizational excellence initiatives. Normally, excellence models are equipped with best practices examples pulled out as guidelines and mind-triggers for organizations to imitate at its different organizational aspects.

Excellence Canada (formerly known as National Quality Institute) established in 1992 through start-up funding provided by Industry Canada. Excellence Canada is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to advancing organizational performance across Canada. Excellence Canada established the Canadian Framework for Business Excellence in conjunction with Industry Canada and quality experts across Canada. Excellence Canada is also the custodian and adjudicator of the Canada Awards for Excellence (CAE), under the Patronage of His Excellency, the Right Honorable David Johnston C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D., the Governor General of Canada.

A globally well-known organizational excellence model is the EFQM Excellence Model, which was introduced in 1992. The custodian of the EFQM Excellence Model is the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) was founded in 1989 to enhance the competitiveness of businesses in Europe. The EFQM also manages the EFQM Global Excellence Award Program and the associated assessment process. It was recently estimated that there are at least 76 countries operating national business excellence awards. In Europe alone, the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) believes that at least 30,000 organizations are using the EFQM Model.

Achieving Excellence
From the wide experience the author possesses in designing, building and implementing QMS for different types and sizes of organizations operating in different industries and sectors, the following points could be considered by organizations who are genuinely willing to have QMS that leads to enhanced performance on the daily activities, processes and adding tangible values to the final services/products and better business results accordingly.

– Awareness Power: Prior designing and establishing the QMS, the quality champion(s) should organize intensive awareness sessions, workshops and meetings with all employees at the different organizational levels to ensure that every employee has the correct understanding and knowledge to start the quality journey. Down the line in the quality journey, sessions and meetings can be held on regular basis (e.g. one session, workshop, meeting per month or so).

Leaders should take an important part of the awareness. Yes, it’s always challenging to find spot in their busy schedules but leaders are crucial to buy-in and commit to not only support, but also to adopt the new QMS and to be implemented all across the organization’s functions, activities and processes. The more intensive and effective awareness sessions/meetings the quality champion(s) conduct prior and during establishing and implementing the QMS, the smoother and fruitful quality journey the organization shall end up with.

– Quality is a Journey: Yes, Quality is a journey, Excellence is the destination and ISO 9001 Certification is only a milestone. A word that Author frequently uses in presentations and meetings is that “As a Quality Manager/Director, I have no magic to use to enhance the organizations performance over the night”. Everyone in the organization has to understand that things need some time to improve and change needs some time to happen, the time length depends on the buy-in of staff and how far the organization located from the desired outcomes is.

– Quality is Everyone Concern: Employees at the different levels of the organization must know by heart that they have an important role to play in the quality journey. Meaning, quality works is not the job of the quality team or the quality champion only, everybody should be a quality ambassador in his/her team and his/her role. Actually, nothing should be called as ‘quality works’, every organization’s work is a quality work and every quality work is the organization’s work.

– Leadership Influence: Commitment and support of organization leaders is extremely crucial for the organization to succeed in establishing and implementing an effective QMS that really benefit the organization and achieve the desired outcomes. Unfortunately, many (if not most) of the quality champion(s) are deceived by that organization leaders saying or nocking their heads that they will support the QMS but when it comes to reality and actual conflicts with resisting staff member, leaders supports evaporates. Organization leaders must commit (not buy-in) and genuinely believe in the viability of the QMS for the organization.

– Easy-friendly QMS: The most challenging part ever in the quality journey for organizations is how employees could accept the newly established QMS and implement it as in their DNA. The name of the game for lesser hurdles during the implementation stage is to design and establish an easy-friendly QMS which exactly reflects the actual processes taking place on the ground. Continual rounds of improvements shall definitely assist the organization in leveraging the quality of the QMS towards the best practices and best-in-class levels. A common mistake that many organizations unintentionally do is that they initially target too high to establish a QMS that close to or meet the international best practices or first-in-class practices, while the employees are not yet ready to implement the quality concepts and use the best practices. This situation makes a gap and forms huge wall of resistance among the teams and make it extremely challenging to start or to sail into a successful quality journey.

– Continual Improvement: Unfortunately, not too many organizations develop their improvement plans and seriously monitor and report its progress. The continual improvement culture should be built in earlier awareness stages. The quality management system of the organization should be developed to be dynamic and agile enough to easily incorporate improvements as well as reacting to any changing internal and external issues. Changes and updates to the QMS should be well controlled and rapidly adaptable simultaneously. There are many sources for continual improvement initiatives such as:

– Quality Audits – this includes internal quality audits (i.e. first party audits), second party audits and third party audits. Audits normally result in findings that require the organization to investigate various issues using unbiased analyses tools to identify the root cause of the problem or the process heck ups, and then take the necessary actions to permanently remove or mitigate its undesirable effects. Agree that the first objective of quality audits is to verify conformance to pre-determined requirements, but that should NOT be the ultimate aim of the quality auditors. Effective quality audits must add value to the Auditee and to the process(s) been under audit. Auditor’s mind-set should change to focus on reporting genuine opportunities for improvements that enhance the process(s) under audit and the overall performance of the organization. That’s why it’s highly recommended to select auditors who have background and experience matches or relevant to the process(s) under audit.

– Management Reviews – management reviews are normally performed in meetings held by executive management team members to discuss a) changes in the internal and external issues that might affect the QMS; b) the performance of the QMS processes, progress of objectives, customer satisfaction (survey, feedbacks and/or complaints), audit results, performance of suppliers, etc.; c) adequacy of resources; d) status of risks; and e) opportunities for improvements. Unfortunately, few organizations attain a real benefit from the management reviews as a fantastic continual improvement tool. Many organizations (if not most) organize the management review meetings once a year or twice a year in the best scenario. Management review meetings should be used to review the performance of the entire organization (e.g. core and supporting business operations, QMS performance, financial performance, business results, etc.). That’s why the frequency of management review meetings should be bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly as maximum. The Quality Champion (i.e. Quality Director, Quality Manager, etc.) can be the coordinator of the management review meetings, but it must be chaired by the most top person at the organizational chart (i.e. Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, General Manager, and the like).

– Process performance measurement – process performance is one of the most improvement drivers in organizations. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) have to be set for key processes’ outputs based on process cycle time, processing costs and/or quality of the process final output. If the targeted KPI(s) has not been met, then root cause analysis should be conducted to find the root cause of why not meeting the pre-determined target(s), then corrective action(s) to be taken accordingly in order to ensure elimination or mitigation of the negative effects of the root cause(s). Thus, the organization processes go into endless improvement cycles towards achieving the best practices, as discusses earlier.

– Stakeholder feedbacks including complaints – stakeholders are individuals and/or entities who affect or being affected by the performance and final products/services of the organization, like direct customers, employees, shareholders, community, etc. The healthiest relationship with stakeholders is built on two-way communication and constructive feedbacks basis. The stakeholders’ feedbacks and comments (including complaints) on the received service or product are a brilliant source for improvement initiatives. Therefore, stakeholders’ feedbacks must be handled carefully and properly documented, analyzed and reported to leadership and/or the concerned department(s) in the organization for proper resolution up to the satisfaction of the stakeholders.

– Lessons Learned – few organizations that have a well-established system for recording, analyzing and reporting the lessons learned during and/or following the completion of the task or the project. Lessons learned could be a unique incident, a challenge that had been overcome, a proactive idea, action and/or decision that had added value for the completed works/projects, and so forth.

– Training and Coaching: Training or coaching of organization staff (including leadership team members) must be in the DNA of quality champion(s) and has to be conducted formally and informally on ad-hoc and/or regular basis. Quality champion(s) should be patient while communicating with staff the importance of the QMS. Quality champion(s) has to learn how to use every occasion to harness and leverage the knowledge of the organization employees about quality concepts, principles and tools. This enables everyone to be on the same page and talking the same language; it lessens the resistance and paves the way for a healthier environment and excellent start of the quality and excellence journey.

– Change Management Strategy: One of the most effective strategies to build a sustainable QMS that contributes to improving the organizational performance is to treat the quality journey as a huge change that needs to be well managed. Having that said, change management strategies and approaches must be used such as: a) Kurt Lewin’s model of De-freeze, Change and Re-freeze; b) Jeffery Hiatt model of ADKAR which stand for A (Awareness of the need for change), D (Desire to support the change), K (Knowledge of how to change), A (Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors), R (Reinforce to make the change stick); and the like. Using such change management strategies puts the quality champion(s), organization leaders and all organization employees on the same track since the initial awareness stages up to having the QMS well established, implemented and improvement initiatives running perfectly. This dramatically reduces the resistance, time and efforts wasted in managing conflicts.

From what have been said above, organizations have to prioritize and give more focus on working hard to exceed and go beyond the ISO 9001 requirements by implementing genuine continual improvement cycles with real evaluations for the achieved outcomes, then the evaluations results to be considered as inputs for the new targeted outcomes and so forth.

Dr. Omer Tigani is a quality management and organizational excellence consultant and expert with more than 18 years of experience in leading organizations design and establish robust management systems that build organizational capabilities and enable the achievement of continually improving and sustainable performance.