Thursday, December 23, 2010

ISO 9004:2009 Is Out and It Sure Looks Different

by Denise Robitaille
The new revision to ISO 9004 came off the press in the last quarter of 2009. It is significantly different from its predecessor. ISO 9004:2009 embodies the quality management principle relating to continual improvement. The technical experts made bold strides in their quest to address market needs by producing a standard that would help organizations maintain and improve their quality management systems over time. While that was the stated intent with the 2000 version, the fact is that the majority of users considered it a road map for implementing ISO 9001.
Individuals who were familiar with the 2000 version will have several questions. The first is: “Where’s 9001?” In ISO 9004:2000 the entire text of ISO 9001:2000 was embedded into the standard. The clauses, by and large, mirrored ISO 9001 and the structure was identical. Those who utilized ISO 9004 as a how-to guide for ISO 9001 had no trouble finding the relevant clauses. The only problem with that approach is that ISO 9004 was not intended to be a handbook on how to implement ISO 9001. It was intended, as the title plainly indicated, to provide “Guidelines for performance improvements.”
Performance improvements” sounds like a great idea. Until you ask yourself the next question: “Why?” What is the value in improving performance? Within the answer lies the crux and purpose of both ISO 9001 and ISO 9004. That answer is found in ISO 9004’s new title—“Managing for the sustained success of an organization—A quality management approach.”
It’s not good enough to achieve ISO 9001, proudly displaying the coveted certificate on the wall. To conform to the requirements of ISO 9001, it’s important to maintain the quality management system that has been established. It’s important to consistently fulfil requirements found in multiple sub-clauses relating to establishing objectives (5.4.1), monitoring and measuring product and processes (8.4), reviewing changes that could affect the quality management system (5.6.3), and striving for continual improvement (8.5.1).
So ISO 9004:2009 is about what you do after you’ve established and implemented your quality management system to keep it going and to make sure both you and your customers continue to derive benefit from your organization. They get a reliable supplier and you get to stay in business. It also addresses one of the basic truisms of our universe: things change. Hence, the new ISO 9004, and particularly the annexes, is heavily weighted toward monitoring and periodically assessing so that you can respond to change.
The new version of ISO 9004 was structured to facilitate this quest. The sub-clauses flow from the organization’s environment, to strategic planning, through resource management to managing processes, to monitoring and analyzing, and ending up with improvement, innovation, and learning.

Think of it like this: “This is who we are. This is the big plan for the organization. This is what we have to work with. This is how we do things. This is how we figure out what’s working and what isn’t. And these are the things that will allow us to still be around tomorrow—this is how we plan for our future.” Any of these can, and probably, will change over time. How your organization handles those changes will determine your “… sustained success.”
Under the first sub-clause we look at who we are. We also look at stakeholders, or as the standard refers to them, “interested parties.” This concept is situated early on in the standard because interested parties are directly relevant to our organization now and in the future. You could say they are an element of our identity. Interested parties can be customers, stockholders, employees, suppliers, and society at large, just to name a few. Changes with any of these interested parties affect our organization.
The next sub-clause talks about strategy and policy. I think this is a great step forward. It illustrates the very tight bond that should exist between the real business of the business and the quality management system. For too long top management in many organizations has considered the quality management system, and its requirements for management review and management involvement, as an odious infringement on their sanctum sanctorum. Time is overdue to recognize that a good quality management system is in harmony with strategic goals and planning.
Consideration of resources is another key factor that often changes over time. Monitoring what resources currently exist and which will be impacted by changes such as turnover of personnel, slower cash flow, cost of fossil fuel, and scarcity of raw materials, sequels directly into the next section dealing with managing processes. It’s impossible for processes to remain consistent when support such as resources and infrastructure are changing.
You’ll note throughout the emphasis on monitoring. This is carried through to annexes that give you tips on how to assess your organization. Doing it once gives you a starting point. But the assessments, just like any other effective monitoring tool, needs to be utilized cyclically to achieve any real benefit. The annexes are a useful guide; but you can also devise your own methodology to assess your organization. Whatever method you use, make sure that your assessment reflects inter-dependencies and interrelations between various factors. The results should help you identify what needs to be enhanced, what needs to be discarded, and what needs to be improved.
Use ISO 9001 to build a great quality management system. Use ISO 9004 to maintain it and to help it to become even greater.


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