Scott Dawson is a member of the U.S Technical Advisory Group to ISO Technical Committee 176 (TAG 176).

Dawson sat down with ASQ at a Standards Group Meeting in 2014 to discuss the impact ISO 9001:2015 will have on small businesses, and unique challenges and considerations small business should take into account when implementing ISO 9001.

Small businesses for the most part have been procrastinating to get certified for years. They’ve always had the impression that it’s too complicated, it’s too difficult. But the new standard that has really tried to keep their eye on the small business and make it more reasonable I’d say. For example they’ve really reduced the mandatory documentation the company has to have, they are making it more open ended in terms of what a company has to document and documentation tends to be what everybody is afraid of. They remember back in the early days all the big binders of books that they had to have. So they are really trying to make a big effort to address the needs of small businesses and that can even be a company of two or three employees – I mean a lot of companies like that exist right now.

Value is really the most important question. In the standard there is a clause that talks about customer satisfaction; and what they mean by that is how your customer views your company. It’s what they call Customer Perception. So in terms of value your customers don’t view you through your certificate, you know you get to hold up this nice bit of paper and show how wonderful you are.

Customers view you through your performance. So with the ISO 9001:2015 standard there is much more focus on results that need to be demonstrated. So values kind of 2 parts – internally it brings a focus within a company to improve certain key areas of the company in its processes and performance. So internally a company can become more efficient. But the impact of that should be externally on your customers because now you should be able to perform more efficiently for your customers with fewer problems, fewer delays – that kind of thing. So value really is two parts – its internal and its external and a company really needs to focus on trying to get both of those. The smaller company just by definition have fewer people; the definition of a smaller company – right? So when you have fewer people, there’s fewer people to take on the responsibilities, so it tends to be a bit less formal.

In a small company it’s not so segmented in terms of who’s responsible for different things. So there’s a challenge in that there’s only a few people to work on these things. So incorporating the ISO 9001 process in to day to day into day to day responsibilities, into in day to day communications, maybe holding a monthly meeting just to co-ordinate things or having the management review monthly is important. But with the small business it’s really all about resources and time and there really isn’t a whole lot of people to look around and delegate things to. So that’s a huge challenge for small companies.

A couple of things – one is to wait till the ISO 9001:2015 standard is done. There’s a lot of people even this early while the standard is still on draft format that are trying to get a jump on things and they could end up wasting time because things are going to change because things are still in flux and there are meetings this week talking about additional changes and that’s the process. So, next year when the final draft comes out, it’s probably pretty safe to start working on things so somebody wants to get ahead of it. The other thing is that as they are re-writing the standard, they are trying to build on what we already have had – not replace it, not reduce it.

So the company that’s already ISO 9001 certified has a good quality management system now and an understanding of the few things that have to be modified or adjusted. As an example – there’s requirement that a company have in understanding the context of a business, which is really just a planning process where they think through the customers and the customers’ needs; think through the suppliers’ that they use as well and think through any legal or regulatory requirements that they have to address. So there’s a new requirement to have a planning activity to really understand the business environment that the company works in. That’s just an additional step perhaps again in a monthly meeting that they could have a discussion, make some notes and they would be fine. So I would say the biggest thing is just to realize that it’s still in flux and we are building on what they have already put into place.

First of all ISO 9001- its purpose is not certification; you can be certified or registered to the standard, but that’s not the point. The point isn’t to put up a placard in your lobby and show your customers how good you are. The point of it is to have you review the way you operate your company and use globally accepted standards to make some changes in terms of how the business runs. So, as a small company gets started they really should focus on 3 things – the first is keep it as simple as possible; don’t go crazy with documentation, don’t have too many meetings, don’t have complicated processes but keeping it really straightforward because you only have limited time to work on it. Second is – focus on the value side; we talked about it earlier – the internal and external value of the standard and really focus on getting better for your customer. If you are performing well for your customer, more than likely an auditor is going to be happy with you.

Third, don’t do things just to please an auditor. If you are reading something in the standard and you are not quite sure how it adds value, you are not quite sure you understand it but you know the auditor is going to look for it, O.K, we’ve got to set up this whole thing just to please the auditor. Then you probably don’t understand what’s being asked because an auditor isn’t going to ask for anything more than a good business process that they can review that’s based on ISO standard. So sometimes you get so distracted by this idea of certification that we forget we are really getting audited by our customer every day and so focusing there is also very important.

Small businesses have an opportunity, I think, particularly with the 2015 standard – an opportunity to really differentiate themselves in the eye of the customer. Many small businesses are in a market where their competitors are already certified and they are sort of catching up. Years ago you could get an ISO Certificate, it was unusual and it would raise a customer’s eyebrow because a customer would say – That’s interesting – they are certified. Now if you are not certified the eyebrows get raised and the question is – why don’t you guys get certified? And a lot more businesses find themselves trying to catch up in the market. So the opportunity is – as they get certified, to show their customers why they are doing it and that the certificate isn’t the point. The certification is not the point. The point is that we are going to use the ISO 9001 standard as a benchmark to review our performance so that we can be the supplier of choice for our customers. And if we can focus on outperforming our competitors, meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectations, then you’ve got the spirit of ISO in you, if you will. And you can then show your customers that your certification effort was not for a piece of paper. Your certification was to be a better supplier. But customers won’t necessarily recognize that immediately because what the customer is trying to do, generally, is that when they require an ISO certification is that they are trying to check a box on the requirement. They are trying to qualify you as a vendor or try to keep you as a qualified vendor.

But as a small business goes through that process, they should show the customers the improvements that they are making. Open up the doors and show them the internal values that they are getting, show them the external value for the customer and really make big splash out of your certification. This is the time to beat your drum; beat your own drum you know as you get certified and show that you you’ve really done this for the right reasons.