One of the important factors to be aware of when you decide to implement an ISO system is that it will require a level of ongoing maintenance. The certification is audited annually by an external auditor and re-certificated every 3 years. So you can’t just leave it all in the file once you have the certificate – it needs to be kept alive.
What is ISO 9001 actually all about?
ISO 9001 is an international standard for a business quality management system. Whether they realise it or not, all businesses run on systems to provide the products and services that they offer. A quality management system documents this system and ISO provides a standard for this documentation. Once the system is in place, the requirements of ISO help to keep it up to date and keep improving it as the business moves forward.
Getting the system
First things first, let’s get the accreditation. This is where there is a little bit of work involved but don’t worry, that’s what Qualiform is here for. With our experience of obtaining ISO accreditation, we can usually create the system for your business by utilising your current business processes. Our aim is to have minimal disruption to the way you already work but simply apply a standard of quality to it. Often, the main things that are needed are records – so that an auditor can trace what’s been done.
There will be 3-4 days of visits to understand how everything works in your company – this will be spread over a couple of months. We’ll pick up what we can ourselves and put this into the form of a quality management system but please note we may need to pick the brains of you or your staff whilst we do this.
Once the system is written and any necessary process changes are made, we suggest that you run with it for a while and we check that everything has been covered and new processes, if there are any, are understood by the team. At this point we can conduct an Internal Audit to ensure we are prepared for the main audit.
Qualiform highly recommend that you get your ISO certificate by a UKAS approved body. UKAS is the body approved in this country to appoint accreditation companies – yes, they need auditing too! This means an audit from the chosen company who will then recommend you for certification.
Once you have the accreditation for ISO 9001, the maintenance tasks typically are as follows:
Weekly checks on customer complaints to ensure that there aren’t any urgent quality system improvements to be made. Once these are put in place, the Quality Manual must be updated to capture this.
Recorded reviews by suitable levels of management of any causes for concern in the QMS.
All of the Quality Management has to be audited annually. This can either be done by a trained staff member or your external consultant. Many businesses tend to opt for the consultant option because internal staff members are used to seeing the business every day and may not spot opportunities for improvements
Annual Quality Audit – this will be done by the accreditation body to ensure that you are still meeting the requirements of the certification that they have awarded.
In terms of actual input from the company on these points, it can be as little or as much as you choose in many respects. Companies who truly value ISO 9001 as a Quality Management System, will throw time at these points to ensure that they are working the system and getting a return on investment from the money that they have invested into ISO 9001. Other companies may choose to simply ‘tick the box’ and scrape through with minimal input. Not our recommendation but that’s the way some choose to go.
The broad answer to how much maintenance ISO systems require is to say that it depends on how much value you want to get out of the investment. If you are just ticking the box with ISO 9001, it will probably only take an average of an hour a week. Some companies even leave it all year and then try and get all the records up to date in the last couple of weeks! But if you want to really work the system and use it to drive a culture of continuous improvement, then you’ll treat it seriously, allocate enough time to it and rely on your consultant for advice as well. After all, they go round many businesses and can help fine-tune things so that they work smoothly as well.
Overall, the investment in the standard is paid off by less quality issues, better efficiency and continuous improvement in your company. Then comes the benefit of being able to use the certificate as a marketing tool.