ISO 9001 For Beginners



Plenty of people have heard about ISO 9001 but many aren’t quite sure about its relevance for them. Simply put, it can improve your management and help you win new business!

The following step-by-step guide provides a straightforward introduction to all things ISO 9001 and includes the benefits of taking the plunge.

What is ISO 9001?

ISO 9001 was first introduced in 1987 and was derived from the British standard BS 5750. Its designation as an ISO (International Standards Organisation) standard means it is truly international and is based on input from their world-wide network of 159 national standards institutes. Committees within these institutes are formed of representatives across all sectors and industries. The aim is to keep standards fresh and on average, ISO standards are updated every 5 years, requiring 75% support from the world network to make changes.

ISO 9001 is deemed a generic (i.e. process) standard, meaning it can be applied to any organisation, across any sector, large or small and irrespective of whether it produces products or is service related. It has already been implemented by more than a million organisations across 175 countries. Unlike many industry or national standards, ISO 9001 is widely recognised (especially by the public sector) both at home and abroad.

Why choose ISO 9001?

It would be fair to say that most organisations’ motivation for gaining ISO 9001 is to win new business.  However, once on the pathway, they quickly find benefits in terms of improved internal processes, more consistent delivery and less re-work.  Successful implementation can result in a dramatic reduction in costly errors and the resulting consequences for clients.

This has certainly proved the case for the majority of our clients. For example, Stephen Hawkins at Age Concern Hounslow said “We sought ISO certification to improve the quality and consistency of the services we offer to the older people we serve.” Similarly, Peter Keast of ADA Networks said “ISO certification has improved our internal processes and awareness of how we operate and transact business.”

We find a lot of organisations apply to us for ISO 9001 certification because it is a stipulation for public sector contracts. Indeed, it is Government policy to stipulate  standards in central and local government tenders to gain assurance that the supplier is fit for purpose. Understandably, it is particularly important that government and local authorities are able to demonstrate they are spending taxpayer’s money wisely.

ISO 9001 is often a requirement in the private sector too, particular when applying to become part of a large supply chain, where the main contractor has ISO 9001 in place. One of our clients, Nicoll Curtin, certainly found this to be the case. Lawrence Hargreaves, Managing Director commented;

“The value that our clients hold of ISO is really quite huge – in all of our tenders there is now a requirement for ISO certification and some quite specifically ask for ISO 9001.”

We’re also pleased to find that many organisations that originally sought ISO 9001 to qualify for work were pleasantly surprised to see just how much of a positive influence it had on their whole organisation. Lawrence Hargreaves continued;

“Although we previously had quality systems in place, there were processes that were often ‘lost’ and we maybe weren’t as organised as we could be. ISO 9001, in particular, has allowed us to really develop our existing processes and as a result we are much more organised and ready for our planned growth.”

The Benefits

Some of the benefits have already been previously mentioned in the guide. For example, improving internal working and achieving greater consistency will reap benefits over the long term as well as make your customers very happy! It is clear that such all-round improvements lead to increased profitability through increased efficiency and productivity. Many of our larger clients also point to dramatic changes for the better. In our experience, implementing ISO 9001 when an organisation is small and growing can lead to the greatest benefits, as it lays the ideal foundations for the future.

Improving your processes and the way your organisation works boosts not only productivity but employee  motivation too. Replacing bad or even non-existent methods with functional, documented processes invariably leads to a more confident and driven workforce. ISO 9001 also instils a model for continuous improvement, which can only help further.

Outside of bidding for public sector work, the credibility of ISO 9001 throughout the business world gives a clear competitive advantage. It’s not just about winning new business either, as it provides added value to your clients too. In the current climate, keeping hold of your clients is more important than ever. This was certainly proved the case for our client, Omega Lettings.  Their Operations Manager Mario Theodosiou remarked;

“We have received recognition from business partners on the quality of our products and services and feel our reputation has been enhanced as a result.”

When it came to winning more business, Peter Keast at ADA Networks added;

“In more and more commercial situations, having ISO certification has helped us to differentiate ourselves from competitors. It is fair to say we have won business that we may not have done without ISO certification.”

It’s also useful to know that ISO 9001 is part of a group of management standards. As well as quality, covered by ISO 9001, there is a standard for Environmental Management (ISO 14001), Information Security Management (ISO 27001) and Health and Safety Management (OHSAS 18001). They share many principles, so choosing an integrated management system can save you money as well as provide across-the-board benefits.

ISO Case Studies

Choosing a Certification Body

By achieving ISO 9001 certification through a Certification Body, you have proven that an independent third party has verified that you meet all requirements of the standard. Not only is this a powerful message to new clients, it helps provide greater assurance to current clients too.

When comparing Certification Bodies, it is important to compare costs are like-for-like. Pay particular attention to ongoing fees. Whilst some Bodies charge ‘Annual Management’ or other administration fees, others don’t. Regardless of the size of your organisation, some Certification Bodies will insist on visiting you more than once a year, a decision which should be up to you (at least one annual re-audit is mandatory).

Certification Bodies carrying out certification to ISO management standards should be following ISO 17021:2011: Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems. In order to remain objective and impartial, this means they cannot write documentation for you or provide consultancy in conjunction with certification. What they can do is provide ISO training, which can be a useful exercise before committing to the implementation of a standard.

How long does certification take?

As you might expect, implementation of ISO 9001 can take longer depending on the size of the organisation. In order to be successful, a designated representative should take responsibility within your organisation. However, this doesn’t mean you have to appoint a designated ‘Quality Manager’ just someone who is seen as the main co-ordinator would usually be sufficient.

In most cases the principles of ISO 9001 will soon become integrated within the organisation and before you know where you are, it’ll just be the way you do things! For most organisations, the process will take 3-6 months from first visit to the award of certification.

What is involved?

The process starts with what’s known as a ‘Stage 1 Audit’. This is where your Lead Assessor will review your existing systems and provide you with a gap analysis report which will identify the actions required to meet the standard. This can usually be used as a helpful action plan, so don’t worry if you think you’re under prepared. Many organisations find they already have a number of required processes in place, they just need better documentation and communication of what processes are mandatory and who has responsibility for what.

Quote: Externally we've built a better reputation with clients. Internally we have a much stronger structure, and a valuable way to find areas to improve the business.

Once the organisation is ready and has filled the gaps highlighted in the Stage 1 report, an Auditor will visit your premises to carry out a second visit; known as the ‘Stage 2 Audit’. This will reveal the effectiveness of your quality management system and whether it meets all the requirements of the standard. If you are fully compliant, you will be recommended for certification by the Auditor. The Auditors’ report will then be checked via an approvals process and if no anomalies are identified, certification is officially awarded.

Ongoing Certification

To maintain your certification, it is mandatory to have at least one surveillance audit visit per year to ensure you are still meeting requirements. Such surveillance audits sample the ongoing effectiveness of your quality management system and you will receive a written report outlining the results. These can include major or minor non-compliances and observations. Should a major non-compliance be identified, you would be given a set period of time to rectify the situation.

Very large organisations will often be required to have more than one surveillance visit per year. In some cases, if a large number of non-compliances are identified at each surveillance audit, your certification body may require you to undertake 6-monthly surveillance audits for an agreed period.

Every third year a full re-audit is undertaken and this is aimed at identifying key trends of strength and weakness and your certification body would work with you to identify opportunities for improvement. Such third year audits are more extensive that annual surveillance audits and some certification bodies may charge extra to undertake them.

It is our philosophy to work with our clients ‘without fear or favour’. However, to maintain our objectivity and impartiality we cannot undertake improvements for you but we can and will point you to recognised best practice and answer questions with sensitivity and understanding. Ultimately, we want to help you gain the most from certification and reap the benefits that a commitment to continuous improvement can offer.

If you’re interested in finding out the costs of achieving ISO 9001 certification, we can provide a fixed price, no-obligation quote. Please get in touch using the Online Quotation Form or call free on 0800 404 7007.