2020 Update: Understanding the ISO Quality Policy
To develop a quality management system that works toward effectiveness and positive results, organizations must clearly define their purpose, context, strategic direction, and quality policy and objectives. Together, these fundamental subjects form the basis for directed progress and success. The quality management statement is a key piece to achieving compliance to ISO standards.
What is a Quality Policy?
(As defined by ISO) a Quality Policy is simply a general statement of the organization’s commitment to quality. But when you dig into its function and purpose, you’ll find that it’s a critical component to your success.
A quality policy drives the function of your entire QMS. A brief statement that aligns the purpose and strategic direction of your company, the policy lays the framework for all future quality objectives. In addition, it states your commitment to meeting requirements (regulatory, customer, ISO, etc.) as well as your pledge to work toward continual improvement. It serves at the top-level quality directive to leadership as they guide the company forward.
Understanding the Requirements of the ISO Quality Policy Statement
Creating a purposeful, meaningful quality management policy statement is more than just writing a slogan. The carefully-crafted declaration must clearly convey how those fundamental subjects make an impact on the output of the company and are put in place to hold the organization accountable to achieve the stated expectations. The standard requires the statement to be written, documented, communicated, and enforced by top management, with the goals and direction gleaned from their high level of knowledge and rooted experience with the company’s growth.
There is a series of further requirements that must be met in order for your quality policy to meet ISO standards. The policy must both meet the goals set forth by ISO for compliance and appropriately relate to the purpose and context you have determined for your organization, actively (and properly) serving your business.
The statement must also clearly support the company’s strategic direction and serve as a basis for establishing quality objectives (that being, when you determine an objective, it must work toward the overarching goal of the policy). Be sure to include your company’s pledge to fulfill all applicable requirements and your commitment to the continued improvement of your quality management system.
By way of documentation, the quality policy must be kept up-to-date and be made easily available to all interested parties. Again, it is imperative that it is understood and applied by all employees, so easy-access is key.
Why is it necessary to have a Quality Policy?
The quality policy serves an important role in the function of your QMS and, therefore, your overall business. It provides the highest level objective for your system’s function, providing direction for each action and decision by all members of your team. When the Quality Policy is thoughtfully and intentionally created and circulated, it has the ability to affect the full culture of your business, aligning each member of your team to the common goal. It isn’t just important – it’s a crucial component of the success of your QMS.
Because of its role in your success, companies must prioritize the education of their team in regard to the policy. Communication is key.
A high-level planning topic, this statement must resonate with and be understood by all members of the team. During the certification audit, the registrar will ask employees to tell them about the company’s quality policy. Each member of your team will be expected to be able to convey the main themes of the policy and tell how it relates to their day-to-day actions. It isn’t required for them to recite it verbatim, but it’s crucial that they are able to demonstrate their understanding of the policy’s goals.
In order for your team to contribute to your audit’s success, you must do the work to educate them on the policy – it’s function, purpose, and content.
Once your policy has been created and approved by leadership, create a communication plan that targets each member of your organization. Employ multiple channels, providing both auditory and visual explanation of the policy, and be sure to provide ample time to allow the policy to seep into your team’s vocabulary.
The following are just a few suggestions you may consider as ways to communicate your quality policy to your team:
- Town Hall-style meetings, where the entirety of your team receives the information directly from your quality department or business leaders.
- Email communications, sent to team members and key stakeholders, detailing the new policy and offer an in-depth explanation into its purpose and importance.
- Print materials – posters, stickers, even t-shirt – that give each team member the quality policy in print for them to see and read independently.
- Repetitive stating of the quality policy at key points in your team’s experience, such as during morning during announcements or at the start of each team meeting.
When it comes to communication – especially surrounding a new, complex topic, companies are often met with a bit of push back. Stay diligent. Consistently remind your team WHY you are pursuing ISO certification, and WHY their thorough understanding of the Quality Policy and any following objectives is important to them. Convey the direct benefits they will receive from the creation of the quality policy. For example, it could help set clearer expectations for their role, guide safer and more efficient processes, or even lead to the contribution of their continued learning and opportunities for the future.
So how do we write it?
Because of its importance in the success of the management system as a whole, writing a quality policy statement can cause a lot of anxiety for project directors, especially as they prepare for the audit. Naturally, they seek out quality control policy examples, quality policy samples, and information on the proper quality policy format to ensure they are well-prepared to meet compliance requirements and achieve certification.
But it’s more than just finding a good quality management policy sample, copying it, and calling it done. You must take into consideration the nuances and specifics of YOUR company and it takes care and commitment to getting it right.
To create a quality policy that works for you and provides guidance for your company to see real improvement, you must dig deep to discover what drives the company at its core.
Begin by evaluating your business at its roots by defining three key functions:
Purpose: the fundamental reason an organization exists
Context: the internal and external issues that affect the company, and the parties involved
Strategic Direction: the desired path of progress for the organization as a whole
Taking your discovery into consideration, you will draft your quality policy statement, flowing together these functions, aiming them at quality, and stating your intention, commitment, and goals.
Take note: this information – your company’s purpose, context, and strategic direction – may very well already be stated on any number of planning documents. From financial goal planning and forecasting to growth and development plans, these three components are often the common denominator that keeps the whole company rowing in the same direction.
If these foundational building blocks of the business don’t exist – if you’re a very small company, a start-up, or if you have simply focused more on getting the work done than writing stuff down – make a point to pin down your executive leadership team to determine these three critical definers. Your businesses’ overarching purpose, context, and strategic direction should take center stage, driving forward the mission and growth of your organization.
When you sit down with your QMS implementation team to write your quality policy, you will weave together your purpose, context, and strategic direction into a statement that focuses on your quality goals and commitments. With the deep work completed, the policy itself will fall into place. Above all else, make sure your ISO quality policy is specific to your business, setting the baseline for the quality objectives that will make the biggest difference for your specific company.
Take for example these Quality Policy Samples
We just stated that in order to fully understand a company’s quality policy, you must first know some of the fundamental drivers of their business. There is no specific quality policy format that organizations must follow, but they should be sure to address their purpose, context, and strategic direction through their statement.
Take for example XYZ Products:
XYZ Products Commitment to Quality Statement Example
Purpose: manufacture precision products
Context: small workforce, new fierce competitors entering the market
Strategic Direction: maintain and expand market share and offer new, innovative products
Taking these baseline factors into considerations XYZ Products crafted the following quality management statement.
“XYZ Products is committed to manufacturing cutting edge products of extremely high quality to our existing and growing customer base in an accurate and timely manner. We satisfy all customer and ISO 9001:2015 requirements and continually improve our processes to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.”
Review again the company’s purpose, context, and strategic direction. Can you draw the parallels to the quality policy?
Let’s examine another statement, this time for a service-oriented company.
Widget Services, Inc. Commitment to Quality Statement Example
Purpose: provide network management and support services
Context: consistently changing technology, high-cost industry, a large number of competitors
Strategic Direction: provide superior services to edge out the competition in order to maintain existing client relationships and expand into new markets.
These fundamentals translate to the following quality policy.
“Widget Services, Inc. strives to provide superior consulting services in network management and to assist clients by completing tasks in a prompt manner, without compromising quality and customer service. We will assist our customers in product and solution development to achieve top quality at the lowest possible cost. We are committed to continual improvement of our services and proudly adhere to ISO requirements for excellence. It is essential that we meet or exceed our customers’ expectations and all other applicable requirements for our industry.”
Again, you are able to clearly draw the lines from the company’s fundamental baselines into their concise quality management statement.
So, Then What?
Once your quality policy statement has been developed and approved by all interested parties, you will use that statement to guide the development of all quality objectives for your organization.
Quality Objectives are the desired, measurable result of processes in regard to quality. You can set quality objectives for any number of your company’s specific facets that relate to and affect the quality of your deliverable. They take the policy steps down into your operation and helps to guide each process, system, and requirement to deliver the high-quality product or service your customer desires.
For example, XYZ Products’ policy states their desire to address customer base in “an accurate and timely manner.” One way in which they can actively demonstrate this piece of their policy is to create an objective that centers on the time it takes to send quotes to customers. This might be written as “address all customer requests for quotes within 24 hours of receipt.”
Some organizations may need to set quality objectives around supplier lead times, while others may need specific objectives related to customer complaints, productivity, or even maintenance workflows.
If it impacts the experience your customer has with your product or deliverable, it’s eligible to have a quality objective related to it.
So how can you possibly address all of the internal and external factors that apply to the many processes that impact the quality of your output? It’s important to define not only what could be addressed with a quality objective, but more importantly which processes should be addressed – which workflows make the biggest impact on your product – and they’ll help you manage the objectives that tackle your organization’s largest risks.
Breaking down your workflows can be overwhelming, which is why it’s helpful to seek the advice of expert consultants.
Maintaining your Quality Policy and Quality Management Statement
You’ll do the bulk of the work on your quality policy in the early stages of planning and implementation of the ISO standard, but that doesn’t mean that you can close the book on it and call it done. Your quality policy will be released as a controlled document and will become a working piece of your quality management system. At least once a year, it should be evaluated during a management review meeting and assessed for its continued suitability to your company’s baseline. Business is always fluid, and your organization’s purpose, context, and strategic direction is always subject to change. When those changes occur, your quality policy and the related objectives will likely need to be changed too.
Take the time to understand the impact your quality policy will have on your quality management system and on your business as a whole. Be thoughtful and well-articulated in the crafting of your quality policy statement, and use this exploration into your organization’s foundation to define clear intentions, create effective change, and set objectives for quality and growth that will drive your company forward.