ISO 9001:2015 Quality Manual – What is a Quality Manual?

By Scott Dawson
June 22, 2020

2023 Update:  As you dig into the development of your company’s quality management system and the requirements of the ISO standard, you may find yourself asking the question that the 2015 revision brought to organizations in pursuit of certification – should we create an ISO 9001 quality procedures manual?

It is first important to understand exactly what a Quality Manual is.

What is a Quality Management System?

What is a Quality Manual?

A quality manual is a document that states the company’s intentions for operating and executing the processes within its quality management system. It can include policies for all areas of the business that affect your ability to make high-quality products and meet your customers and ISO’s requirements. These policies define how your department managers will implement procedures within the boundaries specified in the quality manual.

An important note: many other quality management system standards based on ISO 9001 are still requiring a quality manual. If your standard requires one, then you must maintain a quality manual.

The quality manual’s purpose is to serve as the how-to document of your company’s operational processes. Any policy within your business that affects your ability to deliver high-quality products, meet your customer’s demands, and satisfy ISO requirements can be detailed in the manual. The document can then be used by your department managers as they implement procedures, and will define for them the boundaries and specifications they must satisfy.

A quality manual is an important tool for companies implementing an ISO Quality Management System to create because it will outline the intentions of your daily operations within your quality management system. It sets the expectations for your team’s performance and for the caliber of your deliverables.

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Uses of a Quality Manual

In addition to serving as a tool for managers, the manual can be used for several other important purposes.

  1. To communicate management’s expectations to employees
  2. To demonstrate the company’s plan to conform to the requirements of ISO 9001:2015
  3. To demonstrate the fulfillment of Clause 5.3, which states that organizational roles, responsibilities, and authorities must be assigned, communicated, and understood
  4. To provide a starting point for auditors, either internal, customer-affiliated, or the ISO certification body.
Quality Management System

What’s the Difference Between a Quality Manual and Quality Plans?

If you’re responsible for introducing a quality management system into your company or department, you must understand the differences between a quality manual and a quality plan. Though these documents go hand in hand with an organization’s quality management, they entail different things.

Quality Manuals

Quality management system manuals are sets of documents used to clearly define and communicate a company’s quality management system. These resources serve as a framework for meeting quality system requirements and convey a business’s commitment to this system.

QMS manuals comprise all the following records:

Quality policy statement: This document details the level of commitment an organization exhibits in maintaining quality.

Quality policies: The quality policy outlines a company’s plans in great detail and includes extensive documentation.

Standard operating procedures: These procedures identify the parties responsible for carrying out each activity and their allotted time frames.

Work instructions: Work instructions highlight the activities and procedures set to occur.

Quality Plans

Quality plans comprise a collection of documents specifying a quality management system’s quality standards, resources, specifications, practices, and all activity sequences relevant to a specific project, product, or service. Their purpose is to identify all organizational requirements that must be established to produce a product or service as intended.

Quality plans outline all procedures that fall under the following activity types:

Quality assurance: These activities include all proactive preproduction efforts, such as developing quality standards and creating process checklists, and striving to improve process accuracy

Quality control: Quality control procedures refer to reactive post-production efforts focused on identifying any defective goods or services. Examples include product monitoring and inspections.

In short, a quality manual defines a business’s quality management system, while a quality plan explains how a company will meet quality requirements for a specific product or service.

What Are the Benefits of a Quality Manual?

Creating a QMS manual is an excellent business decision, as these resources:

  • Aid in designing quality management processes.
  • Enable companies to build effective quality management systems.
  • Facilitate continuous improvement within an organization.
  • Present a clear, concise system overview.
  • Don’t require the assistance of a consultant.
  • Provide a more efficient means of running a business.
  • Facilitate easy registration.
  • Save companies time and money when implementing ISO 9001 quality management systems.
Quality Management System Consultant

Content:  What to Include in Your Quality Manual

For users of ISO 9001:2015, the contents of your quality manual are completely up to you and are largely dependent on your processes. ISO requires that you show evidence of the intentions, actions, and outcomes of your QMS. When you are determining how to prepare your quality manual and what to include, be sure that your main focus is on ensuring that the policies you include reflect your actual practices.

Here are some common topics included in quality manuals.

  • Quality policy
  • Explanation of the company’s documentation structure
  • Organizational chart
  • Policy statements for each applicable ISO requirement
  • Reference to operating procedures

These are not required by ISO – your quality manual may not cover each of these topics, or it may include much more. The trick is to find a balance between all that could be in there and what truly needs to be included, and understanding the crucial inclusions that will make a difference in the effectiveness of your manual.

Development: Quality Manual Creation Steps

After you have determined what should be included, you will need to know how to write a quality manual. As you work to write your quality manual, be sure you have a solid understanding of the ISO standard requirements. Be sure you have read, interpreted, and digested the complete standard before you begin work on developing policies and creating your manual.

4-2-2 Quality Manual

At Core Business Solutions, we recommend six steps to help you break down the task, creating a manageable and approachable process.

  1. List policies to be written i.e. a Quality Policy (note any ISO requirements that do not apply).
  2. Draft policies based on applicable ISO requirements.
  3. List operating procedures or refer to them as appropriate.
    • Including the operating procedure for each process included in your QMS.
  4. Determine format and structure of the manual and make the first draft.
    • The format of your quality manual is dependent on your specific needs and company. Remember to aim for simplicity and focus – it doesn’t have to be long, it just needs to be applicable and effective.
  5. Circulate the draft manual for input from all departments and address inadequacies identified.
    • Lean on the experts within each process to ensure that this “how to” document is as accurate as possible. This could include review by process handlers in addition to management and leadership.
  6. Attain a formal approval and release.
    • “Release” is the complete and thorough communication of the manual to your full team. Your company will need to be intention with regard to training and communication so that the manual truly serves a purpose (as opposed to just being something you “have”).

The quality manual is a controlled document that must be carefully handled, requiring stringent communication protocols throughout its creation, as well as and regular reviews to update and maintain accuracy of the manual.

ISO 9001:2015 Quality Manual Example

The following excerpt is taken from an active quality manual. This example reflects the requirements of ISO to hold management reviews to evaluate the effectiveness of a QMS. Note how the requirement itself precedes the company-specific policies and records information.

4-2-2 Quality Manual

XX Management Review

XX.1 Requirement: Top management conducts planned reviews of the QMS to ensure its suitability, adequacy, effectiveness, and alignment with the strategic direction considering:

  • the status of actions from previous management reviews;
  • changes in external and internal issues that are relevant to the QMS;
  • information on the performance and effectiveness of the quality management system, including trends in:
  • customer satisfaction and feedback from relevant interested parties;
    • the extent to which quality objectives have been met;
    • process performance and conformity of products and services;
    • nonconformities and corrective actions;
    • monitoring and measurement results;
    • audit results;
    • the performance of external providers;
    • the adequacy of resources;
    • the effectiveness of actions taken to address risks and opportunities;
    • opportunities for improvement.

The outputs of management review are to include decisions and actions related to:

  • opportunities for improvement;
  • any need for changes to the quality management system;
  • resource needs.

Retain documented information as evidence of the results of management reviews.

NOTE how this section directly addresses the REQUIREMENTS of what is EXPECTED of each management review meeting. It OUTLINES what is to be executed during each session.

XX.2 Policy: Our management reviews are planned and occur on a [interval] basis. At a minimum, these reviews are attended by:

  • President
  • VP, Business Development
  • VP, Operations
  • Quality Manager

The Management Reviews are scheduled and a meeting agenda consisting of all required inputs is prepared.

Outputs from Management Reviews include the actions and decisions relating to any opportunities for improvement, needed changes to the QMS and resource needs.

This is short and to the point, stating the expectation of this specific section of the manual and the requirements related SPECIFICALLY to Management Review Meetings.

XX.3 Records: The meeting minutes and outputs are retained on the [record name].

Once more – simple and to the point, this section simply states where one can access the records of the management review meetings.  You may follow this same format as your work through the additional applicable requirements for your system and business.

As you work toward certification, it’s crucial to be constantly vigilant to purpose, benefit, and balance as you create the required or supporting documentation. Careful considerations of how policies, procedures, and records are reflected can help organizations ensure they are completing tasks and living up to the standards they have set for themselves.

About Scott Dawson

Since 2010, Scott Dawson, President of Core Business Solutions, has been an active voting member of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO Technical Committee 176 (TC 176). TAG 176 members meet to discuss and develop U.S. positions for Quality Management standards, including ISO 9001:2015, which will be revised in 2025.

Scott Dawson

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