ISO 9001:2015 certification signifies to potential customers, as well as key internal and external stakeholders, that an organization is committed to customer satisfaction. That commitment is shown by constant improvement of organizational processes through a quality management system (QMS).
While ISO 9001 represents an international standard set by the ISO, it’s an umbrella term that includes several sub-standards. However, ISO 9001:2015 is the only one that an organization can be certified to, per ISO.
What Is ISO 9001:2015?
The ISO 9001:2015 standard requires adherents to pursue customer satisfaction through increasing efficiency and improvement of procedures based on observations and assessment. According to ISO, the standard incorporates seven core tenets: customer focus, leadership, engagement, process approach, improvement, evidence-based decision-making, and relationship management.
The onus is on the organization to define the terms of the standard. What looks like customer satisfaction, leadership or engagement for one organization probably won’t look identical at another. But the standard does clarify the steps necessary to monitor, assess, evaluate, revise, and repeat processes in an ongoing method. ISO 9001:2015 can apply across sectors, from manufacturing to service providers. And it’s scalable from small to large companies.
According to ISO, more than a million certificates were issued in more than 180 countries. This doesn’t count the organizations that have adopted ISO 9001:2015 standards but have not sought certification. While ISO sets the standard it does not itself carry out the certification process; that is left to third-parties only.
Benefits of Certification
Certification to ISO 9001:2015 may be desirable or required, depending on the standard, the company, and the industry. It’s not a quick or inexpensive process. It can take several months to more than a year, with a lot depending on how close an organization already is to practicing ISO 9001:2015 standards.
There are certain benefits that come with certification:
- Insight. With the analysis required for the certification process, company leaders can gain the insight needed to facilitate growth, whether that’s new markets or new products. It can also identify areas of risk so that steps toward mitigation can be undertaken.
- Premium. Certification may allow companies to place a greater premium on their services, having demonstrated their commitment to excellence.
- Customer Satisfaction. Adherence to ISO 9001:2015 standards may result in improved customer satisfaction, whether those customers are consumers or internal/external stakeholders, and could encourage loyalty or repeat business.
- Efficiency. Greater efficiency through streamlined processes can cut down on wastes of time, money, and resources, thereby improving the bottom line.
- Compliance. Awareness of and compliance with local, state, and federal laws and regulations as part of ISO 9001:2015 compliance can reduce chances of civil or other penalties.
- Requirements. Certification may be required as part of standard business operations in some cases or in some sectors (e.g., some state governments can only work with certified vendors)
- Rigor. Even if not required, organizations can benefit from the discipline mandated by the ISO 9001:2015 standard.
Requirements for Certification to ISO 9001:2015
Any organization planning on applying for certification must have an established and functional quality management system in place. Very broadly, an organization must be able to document their quality management system. (See quality management software to learn more).
Processes must be in place for identifying problems and how to fix them. Organizations must also demonstrate a commitment to professional development and/or training, internal auditing, and make correction based on the results of the internal audit. Additional requirements may vary by industry.
Here’s the order of events of a typical certification process:
- Typically, an organization makes the decision to pursue certification and locates a certifying agency that meets its needs. Some of these third-party companies have industry accreditation. For some organizations, that will be the minimum standard they’ll consider hiring.
- An auditor from the certifying agency will carry out an audit to determine where the gaps or weaknesses in the quality management system are.
- Once the organization determines the appropriate steps to fix the gaps or weaknesses and follows through on them, the external auditor returns for another review.
- If all goes well, the auditor recommends the organization for certification.
- The application is then submitted for official approval.
- An organization must carry out annual audits and a recertification process every three years to maintain their credentials.
Deciding to pursue certification to ISO 9001:2015 is a big step for an organization. While some may already have a few of the standards in place and need only minor modifications to some processes, other organizations will need to build a quality management system from scratch. That being said, the benefits can certainly outweigh the costs.
Additional ISO resources: