ISO9001: 2015 Achieving Successful Certification

Author: Susannah Clarke

Managing Partner, Susannah Clarke, offers some theories about what you can ask yourself and your system to achieve successful certification for ISO9001:2015.


Henry Ford was a man who knew a thing or two about doing things differently and this quote of his is resonating with me right now because of the conversations I’m having about the ISO9001:2015 revision.

There seems to be a plethora of opinions which range from “The new version is going to be really different” to “I don’t think we need to worry, we’ve got all our procedures written down and we can carry on doing our Certification the way we always have.”

So which is it?

Perhaps it is worth looking at what the ISO Committee intends successful certification to accomplish. To do this, I think it is the Quality Management Principles which give us the biggest clue. If you are not familiar with them, these unsung heroes sit in Annex B of the Draft International Standard (once the standard is finalised and published I’ve been advised that they will be freely available on the ISO website).

In the current draft of ISO9001:2015 there are 7 Quality Management Principles (QMPs). The principles are there to be used by senior management as a framework to guide their organisations toward improved performance.

Our first clue!

Principle 1: Customer Focus

The primary focus of quality management is to meet customer requirements and to strive to exceed customer expectations.

In following this principle, the benefits you would expect to see include: increased revenue and market share obtained through flexible and fast responses to market opportunities; increased effectiveness in the use of the organisation’s resources to enhance customer satisfaction; improved customer loyalty leading to repeat business.

Do you see a strong customer focus in your Quality Management System? Is customer focus evident in your organisation’s practices?

Do your people habitually discuss and understand the customer’s requirements in the process of their everyday work?

Principle 2:  Leadership

Leaders at all levels establish unity of purpose and direction and create conditions in which people are engaged in achieving the quality objectives of the organisation.

When Leaders work this way and engage their people with the organisation, people will understand and be motivated towards the organisation’s goals and objectives. Their activities are evaluated, aligned and implemented in a unified way and the miscommunication between levels of an organisation will be minimized. Hallelujah to that!

How does your audit reflect the role of your leadership team and how they achieve this way of working in your organisation?

Principle 3: Engagement of people

It is essential for the organisation that all people are competent, empowered and engaged in delivering value. Competent, empowered and engaged people throughout the organisation enhance its capability to create value.

Our third set of people, interesting, not a procedure in sight yet! This principle is at the core of achieving results through the involvement of people and harnessing their abilities, the right people, doing the right work well. Where this exists, you will see motivated, committed and involved people within the organisation; innovation and creativity in furthering the organisation’s objectives; people being accountable for their own performance; people eager to participate in and contribute to continual improvement.

When you review your audit, how much diagnosis is there about the involvement of your people, how they contribute to the success of the organisation, how they actively seek opportunities to enhance competence, knowledge and experience, openly discuss problems and issues?

Principle 4: Process Approach

Consistent and predictable results are achieved more effectively and efficiently when activities are understood and managed as interrelated processes that function as a coherent system.

I particularly like the inclusion of the words ‘consistent and predictable’ here, it’s not just enough to get results!

When we manage by process and not procedure, what is different?

All too often a procedure may be a documented way of performing a process, but it gives little surety that the procedure is consistently applied, or that it reflects the current best-known way.

When we manage by process we see that the process will have been mapped by the people who own and operate it; will be analysed and measured to understand its performance and capability; will have known and acceptable variation identified and understood; will be continually reviewed to maintain its performance; will have evaluated the risk or impact on customers, suppliers and stakeholders of its performance.

The benefits of working by a process are lower costs and shorter cycle times through effective use of resources, improved, consistent and predictable results, focused and prioritised improvement opportunities.

How much attention is put on the process by which work is performed as opposed to the procedure which is followed and how is this information reflected in your audit report?

Principle 5: Improvement

Successful organisations have an ongoing focus on improvement.

I have yet to walk into an organisation where improvement isn’t one of its objectives, apart from anything else this is a natural, genetic requirement for our species to survive and to do that we need to continuously evolve.

However, the difference is palpable when an organisation aligns its improvement activities at all levels to its strategic intent. In these cases, the organisation sees how it can gain a performance advantage through the improvement of its capabilities and it builds in the flexibility to react quickly when improvement opportunities are identified.

Improvement becomes everyone’s objective for their products, systems and processes; they have established goals to guide and measures to track improvement; they recognize and celebrate it.

How does your audit report reflect your organisation’s ongoing focus on improvement and how this is an intrinsic part of how your people work with your products, systems and processes?

Principle 6: Evidence-based Decision Making

Decisions based on the analysis and evaluation of data and information are more likely to produce desired results.

Cartoon ISO blog

The art of decision making can be a challenge and the best decision makers will tell you it’s a recipe of: data, analysis and experience topped with a spoonful of gut feel.

This gut feel or instinct does play a part, however, it is the system’s ability to provide the analysis and evaluation of data to the people who need it, at the right time, which enables them to make decisions. This can be the determining factor between a good or poor decision.

Data needs to be time-bound, accurate at the point of need, have repeatable measurement methods, it must be analysed using valid methods, and then when you have this, it can be used effectively to challenge, review, change opinions and make decisions. Without this type of data, gut feel is no more than a guess.

How does your data enable you to make informed decisions, demonstrate the effectiveness of past decisions and how is this reflected in your audit report to be able to trust you will continue to have this capability in the future?

Principle 7: Relationship Management

For sustained success, organizations manage their relationships with interested parties, such as suppliers.

Whilst this statement specifically mentions suppliers, the term ‘interested parties’, needs to be understood in more detail so that the organisation knows: who are the interested parties that are relevant to their system; what are their requirements; and have an ongoing process for monitoring and reviewing information about them.

If you haven’t already got one, developing a System Map can really help to flesh out these interested parties, such as:

ISO blog table

It is the integration and alignment of the processes that will achieve the desired results, give people the ability to focus on the strategic areas and will provide confidence to interested parties as to the consistency, effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation.

(See my previous blog on developing supplier relationships)

Naturally we need our people to have the right skills and behaviours to be able to build and manage our relationships with these interested parties, but these skills alone are not enough. We also need a systems approach to managing and leading the organisation to ensure we pay the right attention to the interested parties.

How do you see your organisation as a System of interrelated processes, where everyone understands the purpose of the system, the interdependence of their part of the process within the system and its impact on interested parties?

A good place to start

If, like me, you want your organisation to be the best it can be, then the 7 QMPs are the place to start in terms of understanding how the ISO9001:2015 standard can help you achieve this.

And if you want to know what’s going to be different in terms of the Certification and Audit process to help you achieve the results as intended by the ISO:

  • Get to know the 7 QMP’s
  • Take a good look at your current audit report
  • Compare the information you see in that audit with the 7 QMP’s

And ask yourself:

“How does my current quality management system reflect the 7 Quality Management Principles?”


“How does my certification audit report help guide our organisation towards improved performance?”

Doing that is what is going to be different.

About Susannah

Susannah ClarkeSusannah Clarke leads three main areas of PMI; Open Learning (classroom, virtual and online), Performance coaching, Partnerships/resellers.

She is passionate about the development of leaders and partnering with them to help them sharpen their performance edge and realise their full potential.