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ISO Certification: ISO 9001:2000–Beginning the Transition

April 1, 2001
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For ceramic manufacturers wishing to become certified to ISO 9001:2000, one of the most common questions is where to begin. The answer is always the same: Prepare a transition plan, and put a review of your current quality policy at the top of your list of priorities.

One of the key differences between ISO 9001:2000 and the older ISO standards is the focus on business objectives. The new standard is intended to deliver measurable quality objectives based on a quality policy. However, to be effective, the quality policy must be consistent with the plans and strategy of the business. Most quality policies will need to be updated to accomplish this objective. The average quality policy is often a rather vague statement covering a general commitment to quality and compliance to ISO 9001 requirements and is rarely focused on business objectives. Equally few quality policies are regularly reviewed for suitability in line with any changes to business strategy.

Figure 1. To be effective, the quality policy must be linked to business objectives.

Establishing Criteria

The ISO 9001:2000 standard requires that the quality policy address the company’s commitment to continuous improvement, customer requirements, and legal and regulatory requirements, and that it provide a framework for establishing quality objectives. A false assumption is often made that the “ISO quality policy” should be a separate entity from any established business policies, vision, mission statement or strategy. This is not the case—in fact, the more integrated the policy is in the established operation, the better. A framework for reviewing objectives should be developed, and the need for specific objectives for business process performance should not be overlooked (see Figure 1).

Focusing on Business Improvement

As a case in point, a clay roofing tile company was deliberating the move to ISO 9001:2000. One of the production director’s concerns was that the current quality system was not helping the company move forward. He knew there were problems in the company, but these problems were not being identified in routine certification visits.

When the company began reviewing the potential benefits of transitioning to the new standard, it conducted a general discussion on the company’s strategy. One of the key points originating from the discussion was that the company had a good name in the marketplace for product quality but was generally considered “difficult to do business with.” The concerns in developing new business centered on the in-stock availability of the correct product and the ease of getting through to someone who could provide technical support. In essence, the key to future success was the service element—an element that was completely missing from the company’s current quality policy, which dealt only with product quality and compliance to standards.

Despite a change in company owners, the existing policy had not been updated since it had been issued over five years ago, and it was focused only on the manufacturing areas. While essential to maintaining product quality, the current system did not cover production planning, essential to ensuring adequate availability of stock, or the technical department, which provides technical support to potential and established customers.

As part of its transition to ISO 9001:2000, the company updated its quality policy to reflect the importance of the service element to its business. While adding the planning and technical departments to the quality system was not a mandatory requirement of the new standard, the company decided that these departments would need to be included if the quality system was to truly add value. Specific, measurable objectives were set for product availability, accuracy of production output to the plan, and response times for technical support. Although a number of issues have been raised as part of a recent certification audit, the company is focused on business improvement, in line with its plans for the future.

Developing an Effective Quality Policy

Developing an effective quality policy is crucial to achieving the full benefits from ISO 9001:2000. Companies should review their established policy, required by the old version of ISO 9001, and should ensure that their policy is consistent with their current business plans and strategies. A quality policy should cover all of the quality-related aspects of a business that affect the success of that business. In many cases, the quality system will need to be expanded to cover parts of the company that may not have been included in the old policy.

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