The application of ISO 9001 to service organisations

ISO 9001 is a generic, one size fits all standard. Designed to be equally applicable to a service organisation as to a manufacturing organisation. That’s the claim anyway, but it’s not quite right. Whilst it may be applicable to service organisations, the claim that this is a significant “design” consideration doesn’t quite ring true. Anyone who has skimmed ISO 9001 once will twig that pretty quickly. It’s literally peppered with manufacturing terminology from start to end. If it is to be applied effectively in a service organisation, some nifty interpretation and common-sense application is called for. Here are a couple of pointers around some “classic” trouble spots

Section 7: Product Realisation
Now here’s a term that’s not even in heavy use in manufacturing. Ask someone to tell you about their “Planning of Product Realisation (clause 7.1)” and more often than not you’ll get nothing more than a vacant expression and maybe some mutterings suggesting you’d better talk to QA about it. Ask them to talk to you about their approach to production planning on the other hand … Ahhhhh! Production planning!

With a service organisation it’s not quite so straightforward, but the solution is the same – just a simple case of word substitution. Here’s the trick – wherever you see the words “Product Realisation” (Yuk) – just substitute the term “Service Delivery” and hey presto! It works. That means clause 7.1 becomes “Planning of Service Delivery” and it covers our deliveries, shift patterns, hours of work, scheduling of work, roles and responsibilities etc etc. And so it carries on throughout section 7. Easy

Clause 8.3 Control of non-conforming product
This term is lifted straight from its manufacturing origin where it still makes perfect sense, but it translates less easily (surprise surprise) when we attempt to apply it to foreign territory – service industries

In order to understand it better, we need to be clear about what it means historically. Basically in manufacturing applications you make things and every now and again you’ll identify through your product inspections and tests that you’ve made a wrong ‘un. Clearly we don’t want this defective item boxed and packed off to the customer, so we need some sort of procedure by which we identify it and put it safely to one side while we decide if it can be salvaged, or if we have to scrap it. This is commonly known as the “Quarantine Procedure”. All manufacturing facilities will have something akin to a “Quarantine Area” which, at various times will be populated by sorry items waiting to learn their fate. So let’s be clear about one thing. Clause 8.3 is not a procedure for “control of non-conformities” – it is a procedure for a special type of non-conformity where we need to apply some sort of isolation or STOP! to the process. Not all non-conformities require a STOP! as such. For example complaints may require corrective action, but they may not initiate any sort of isolation activity, so we need a broader “Corrective Action” procedure (or procedures) to define what we do with other kinds of problems

So what happens if you don’t make “stuff”? You can’t isolate something that is intangible like a service. Well, yes you can, just not in the same way. If you are a service provider, your product is your service – you may provide financial or legal advice for instance – and these services need to be fit for purpose and do what they’re supposed to. Now it could be that somehow we discover that our service is not doing what it’s supposed to – our financial advice may be out of date and it could fail to take into consideration some new piece of legislation for instance. In that instance we’ve got to take that service off-line till we sort it out. That would be our “quarantine procedure”

It takes some thinking through in some cases, but think it through we must, as I’m sure many of you old hands will have spotted, it’s one of those areas where a procedure is MANDATORY

Lesson over. Hope this helps

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