We get several calls each week from prospective clients saying that they are getting nowhere with tenders which require applicants to have a certificated quality management system, such as ISO9001. If they don’t have a qualifying system then their tenders are relegated to the state of  “also- rans”.  Inevitably these enquirers want to know how quickly it can be incorporated into their business, and of course, how much it will cost.

I explain that ISO9001 as well as other management standards, needs to be set up and then operated for three months before undergoing formal assessment.  I will often be asked if this time-frame can be reduced.  My answer is always the same; an assessor can only assess what you are doing and not what you planning to do in the future.  This is why the three month operational requirement is so important. 

In addition to this, a business will have to have undertaken an internal audit, carried out by suitably trained auditors, and a management review must have taken place.    If any one of these has not taken place then the assessment will fail.

The costs of preparing for assessment will vary from business to business and whether external help is employed.  In my experience businesses “doing it themselves” often make fundamental errors and are surprised when the assessment fails and results in a re-visit because it does not meet the requirements of the standard.  At the other end of the spectrum is the business that has procedures for everything and very prescriptive procedures at that (an example would be “take screwdriver in right hand, insert the blade into the screw head and turn clockwise” . No consideration has been made for left-handers, cross point screws or left-hand threads.  Making procedures so prescriptive actually sets you up to fail, while insulting the intelligence of operators.  It is often better to state “using an appropriate screwdriver tighten the screw to the correct torque”.

External consultants are often a cost effective method of achieving compliance to ISO9001; not only have they done it all before, you will have a simple workable system and you are guaranteed to pass.
We, at Quality Matters have a large sign in the office K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid) which makes us realise that any quality system we produce has to be easy to use by our clients and effective. 

The official blog for independent Management Training
Consultancy, Quality Matters Limited.
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