Section 4.1 – Objectives: Real Value from your ISO 9000

by Colin Gray

Tucked away in section 4.1.3 Quality Policy Statement, is a requirement that management formulate objectives for quality. This is one area that is frequently overlooked when implementing ISO 9001 and just as frequently is overlooked by auditors during ISO 9000 assessments.

Generally speaking, and this case is no exception, objectives should link strategy and policy to plans and procedures. In a quality system, quality related objectives should contribute towards achievement of the stated policy.

While there is no requirement in the ISO 9000 standard to guide in the choice and formulation of objectives, Juran provides excellent information in his Quality Control Handbook. He states that objectives should be: Measurable, Optimal to the overall result (no individual objective should contribute to a bias result which subjugates the overall aim), All-inclusive (objectives should cover all activities so that all are equally high priority), Maintainable (elements can be revised without redesigning others), Economic (the value of achieving objectives must be greater than the cost of setting them). He also points out that, in order to work, objectives must be perceived as: Legitimate (undoubted official status), Understandable (language of those faced with meeting them), Applicable (fit with the conditions in which they are to be used), Worthwhile (preferably to those working towards the objective as well as the whole organization), Attainable and Equitable (the difficulty in obtaining them should relate to reward).

Companies usually run by numbers. There are numbers for sales targets, budgets for production materials, labor costs, etc. All the ISO standard is asking is for management to identify numbers which will indicate quality performance. These numbers will be different depending upon the business type, quality system structure and management focus. In fact many of them may already exist. Common numbers include turnaround time, throughput rates, scrap levels, yields, rework costs, on-time delivery rates. However each company, each management structure needs to work out its own numbers. Having picked the measures, these need to be recorded, trended over time and the formalization of plans to improve the numbers.

Formalizing the process forces management to make sure they are focusing on the right information and to ensure that the numbers are working. One client highlighted how successful their customer satisfaction was by the low frequency of customer returns and the low value of returned product. An objective viewpoint however, that of their President, was that the cost of the returned material included, shipping, restocking and loss of face with customers. His numbers indicated that there was work to be done.

Successful companies rarely happen by accident. Somebody somewhere is watching, and controlling, the numbers. This ISO requirement extends this thinking to the quality field, positively impacting quality issues, and then the business as a whole.