Quality Policy and Quality Objectives

I feel compelled to write this post because the way some people interpret the ISO 9001 requirements frankly makes me weep. There is just the weird tendency where these requirements are concerned to get the priorities almost 100% wrong, to focus inordinately in relatively trivial aspects of the requirements and to completely (or conveniently?) ignore some of the more fundamental cornerstones

The Quality Policy

I’ve written before about just how much the requirement of clause 5.3 underwhelms me. Unlike a lot of third party auditors I just can’t get excited about it. If it were up to me I’d get rid of it completely. But it isn’t up to me so, so for long as it stays, we must find a way to conform in the most appropriate and practical way possible

The purpose of the Quality Policy is to define a statement of intent or management commitment. It is intended to be highly visible, up to date, relevant and communicated. All that is fair enough, but let us not go over board. There are a couple of myths about the Quality Policy that infuriate me

Myth number 1

“The Policy must be signed”

Check the requirements of 5.3 a-e. It does not

Myth number 2

“If you can’t get the Policy right, there is little hope for the rest of the system”

What a load of rubbish!

As I’ve suggested, so long as the Policy is documented, is up to date (correct company name etc) and is reasonably accessible, that’s good enough for me, and if it isn’t one or more of those things, it is a minor non-conformance, and MOVE ON

If I was being really controversial I could actually make the point the W E Deming was opposed to the use of slogans and the like in the workplace. He suggested they were actually counter-productive. If I am totally realistic and grown up about it (irrespective of what Deming says, even though I happen to agree with him) I will say that the Policy does not affect day to day work one jot. Its effect is neutral at best. We should have more important things to look at

Quality Objectives

Now I can get excited about quality objectives. They are the focal point of the continual improvement process. A weakness in this area will have a more fundamental impact on the way a key organisational process works. I feel strongly that we should be doing better here, as I see many organisations with the most woolly and aspirational statements masquerading as “objectives”. So let’s look at what we should be seeing

Clause 5.4.1 requires that the objectives should be consistent with the Policy and measurable. The “consistency” part of that can be quite difficult to audit in a positive way, but it is very easy to audit from a negative perspective. What I mean there is you need to check that there is no obvious clash or inconsistency, and if there isn’t then by default that means it must be consistent. With me so far?

The second part (the measurable bit) means that it should define the direction of the improvement. It should define what you intend to make better, faster or cheaper (in simple terms).Again, there are a couple of myths regarding the application of clause 5.4.1

Myth number 1

“Every part of the organisation must have its own quality objectives”

Well, no they don’t. The organisation needs to identify its organisational priorities for improvement. They may, for example, need to improve the process for supplier selection and evaluation, to meet the requirements of an important new customer. That does not mean that they also need to think about improvement targets for design, sales, admin, stores etc etc. It is completely unreasonable to ask a compny to try to improve all things continuously. they simply won’t have the resources to do that. Provided they have decided what is important and nailed their colours to the mast by defining the priorities as “objectives” that’s fine

Myth number 2

“Quality objectives must be communicated to everyone”

No they don’t. The standard requires objectives to be “established at relevant functions and levels”. In plain English that means that the people who are affected by the objectives, need to know about them, but it’s acceptable to communicate them on a “need to know” basis

Myth number 3

“Objectives must be SMART”

Many people interpret this requirement as objectives must be S.M.A.R.T – but that is not the case. If the objective is defined something like “We will reduce scrap levels” then that is measurable, you can measure a simple reduction. If the objective happens to be described in a S.M.A.R.T way, all well and good, that is good practice, but it is not required … not by clause 5.4.1 that is …

Quality Management System Planning

Hang on? Isn’t this article about Quality Policy and Objectives? Aren’t we going a little off-topic?

The answer to that question, judging by the way most third party auditors look at Policy and Objectives, would seem to be “yes”. After all, what has QMS Planning got to do with defining the Policy and Objectives? Well, so far as the Policy goes, the answer is actually “not much”. So far as the Objectives go, the answer is “lots”

Take a really close look at clause 5.4.2 a sometime. Hidden in there, in a deep recess, are the words

“the planning of the quality management system is carried out in order to meet the requirements given in 4.1, as well as the quality objectives …”

I would really love to take the technical committee up on the way that this absolutely crucial requirement is incorporated with all the priority of an after-thought. It says that our quality objectives need to be supported by a plan, and, as we all know, a “plan” is a statement that defines how we are going to achieve our goals, our methods, responsibilities, milestones, resources etc etc. It is this complimentary requirement that justifies why our objectives (as defined in clause 5.4.1) don’t necessarily need to be S.M.A.R.T – because the detail (the SMART-ness) can be defined within the supporting plan. That means that looking at the objectives and plan together we have the SMARTs that we want and need to see

My problem is that I have seen countless organisations that have never been held accountable for developing a plan to support any of their “quality objectives”. Is that a problem? Yes, because the absence of a plan significantly reduces the chances of achievement. And even if the objective is achieved, if it is achieved without a plan, the process was likely to have been inefficient at best

Anyway, that’s about as much as I have to write on the topic at the moment. I hope it has at least given you some food for thought. If you have any issues with these views please feel free to post your comments. Happy to hear them

As Featured On EzineArticles

This entry was posted in Auditing, ISO 9000, Quality Improvement and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Quality Policy and Quality Objectives

  1. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » 2009 Annual Management Blog Review Part 3 of 3

  2. Pingback: Beginner's guide to ISO 9001 | Capable People Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.