Dispelling the ISO 9001 Myths



Early versions of ISO 9001 earned a reputation being confusing and complicated to implement, therefore eroding the suggested benefits.

Despite massive changes over the years, some myths remain. In the article below, we separate fact from fiction.

The history of ISO 9001

The ISO 9001 standard can trace it’s roots back to the 1960s, with it’s origins lying in quality management systems for the Ministry of Defence and NATO. As the standard evolved and started to be implemented by industry, there was a growing need to revise the standard away from it’s military background. By now, there were many standards in existence, but in 1979, there was an agreement to focus on a common standard called BS 5750.

The next revision saw the use of the now familiar ISO 9000 family name. Further improvements were made over the years to reduce the bureaucracy of creating of shelf-loads of procedure manuals. The big change was with ISO 9001:2000, placing the concept of process management at the heart of the standard, making it clear that the essential goals of the standard – which had always been about ‘a documented system’ not a ‘system of documents’ – were reinforced. The goal was always to have management system effectiveness via process performance measures.  Expectations of continual process improvement and tracking customer satisfaction were also made explicit in this revision, with a new set of eight core quality management principles also introduced.

The fourth and latest edition of the standard (ISO 9001:2008) was published on November 14th 2008. This revision consisted of minor amendments. The aim of this revision was to clarify existing requirements and to improve consistency of approach with other management standards, such as the environmental standard ISO 14001.

Myth #1: “ISO 9001 is expensive to implement…”

It’s important to remember that a core principle of the ISO 9001 standard is to improve consistency and traceability. These internal benefits reduce re-work and therefore any associated costs.

Looking beyond the short term financial investment, there are other benefits that are reaped from successfully implementing ISO 9001. Particularly, ISO 9001 has been proven to help win both public sector tenders as it fulfils many stipulations. ISO 9001 also sets out documented policies and procedures which assist in the submission of response to Requests for Information (RFIs) during competitive tender processes.

In our 2010 Client Satisfaction Survey, many of our clients commented on ISO 9001 being essential in gaining more work:

“A tick box for many tenders” – Comms Express

“Because we had to in order to reach the client group we were aiming for – not short listed otherwise” – Panthera Group

“Requirement of public sector tenders” – Thomson Environmental Services

“Required by majority of our suppliers/traders” – ASB (UK)

“To further our business opportunities, was being requested more and more by potential clients” – FPH Rail

Many organisations believe a consultant is required to implement ISO 9001.  Actually, the vast majority of our clients do not use a consultant, saving them potentially thousands of pounds. Instead, by having a champion within the organisation, it not only saves money, but tends to improve buy-in from the rest of the workforce, which is essential for ISO 9001 to become an ongoing success.

Myth #2: “ISO 9001 is only for big businesses…”

It’s true that ISO 9001 is held by many large organisations throughout the world, but it’s just as well suited to small businesses too because it’s a generic standard.

Organisations with complicated processes couldn’t function well without management systems. Therefore, it can be argued that these matters are best addressed whilst an organisation is small and growing, rather than after issues after have occurred within the organisation is much larger.

No matter what size your organisation is, when applying to join a large supply chain, ISO 9001 is often a requirement. This ensures a certain level of consistency where otherwise quality levels may be difficult to monitor.

Myth #3: “ISO 9001 is only for service providers…”

There has been some confusion that, because ISO 9001 isn’t a product standard, that it is only for service providers. ISO 9001 concern the way an organisation goes about its work. It is neither a product or a service standard, it’s a process standard.

The reality is then, ISO 9001 is suited for both product and service providers. Likewise, it can be used in any sector, be it a business enterprise, a public administration, or a government department.

Myth #4: “ISO 9001 is complicated…”

It’s true, early versions of ISO 9001 were complicated. As outlined in the History section however, revisions of the standard, culminating in the latest ISO 900:2008 revision, has brought the standard back into focus.

Despite improvements, there is still a common belief that implementing ISO 9001 can create a bureaucratic documentation nightmare with masses of complicated procedures requiring heavy oversight and manpower to create and maintain. That is not really the case. In fact, implementing ISO 9001 can actually streamline and simplify your documentation/record creation and management.

ISO 9001 does not have complex or complicated documentation requirements. In fact, they are quite simple; there are only six required procedures; which are:

  • Document Control
  • Record Control
  • Internal Audit
  • Control of Non-Conformities
  • Corrective Action
  • Preventive Action

While it may difficult for most organisations to get by with these six procedures alone, the fact that these are the only required procedures defy the perception of the opposite, ISO 9001 does not require reams of procedures.

An important concept to understand is that procedures are only one way to document processes, and the ISO standard recognises this. Processes can be documented by instructions, visuals aids, or training materials. The real requirement by ISO is that key processes are understood and consistently carried out.

It’s also worth noting that many clients we certify already have effective quality management systems (or parts of)  in place, without even knowing! The amount of work involved is therefore much less than initially anticipated.

So what are the disadvantages?

As a Certification Body that aspires to being recognised as the most customer focused certification body in our industry, we only recommend a service where it will realise a genuine benefit. If the ISO 9001 standard was perfect, it wouldn’t require updating, and despite many revisions, there are some potential downsides.

For ISO 9001 to be successfully implemented, it requires top-level management involvement, otherwise an incomplete understanding of the process and it’s requirement can waste time and effort. To ensure implementation goes smoothly, a representative within the organisation needs to take charge. The decision should not be made lightly, the person should encompass a genuine and passionate commitment to quality and success, knowledge of processes and systems within the company, and power to influence employees at all levels. If all that is missing is knowledge of the standard itself, there are familiarisation  training opportunities available. Alternatively, using a consultant with expertise in your organisation’s sector can speed up the implementation process, as they will help to write necessary documentation.

Of course, being certified costs money. There is also an annual audit to ensure your organisation still conforms to the standard, so you can retain certified status. Despite the implementation costs, ISO 9001 has been proven to actually reduce cost in the long run, by improving quality and efficiency in the long run. The implementation of ISO 9001 ultimately far out weighs any disadvantages.

For further explanation on how to get started with ISO 9001 certification, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.