Continual Improvement: Why It Pays to Outsource Your QMS After ISO 9001 Certification

Continual Improvement: Why It Pays to Outsource Your QMS After ISO 9001 Certification

The International Organization for Standardization does not derive its abbreviated name, ISO, from an acronym alone. Instead, ISO comes from the ancient Greek word ísos, which means equal or equivalent.

And that’s the underlying idea. The goal of the ISO is to provide common standards among countries. A consumer or client can be assured that a product or service that meets ISO certification is safe and of high quality. 

A quality management system (QMS) helps your company meet and maintain ISO standards. There’s even an ISO standard for QMS—ISO 9001—which is the most used QMS in the world.

ISO has developed more than twenty-four thousand international standards, and companies in all fields use them. These standards deal with IT and data security, environmental management, health and safety, and many other activities and products. One of the better-known standards, ISO 27001, deals with information security management.

After the standard is achieved, the QMS lives on and evolves to reflect your company’s changes. To achieve the benefits of and maintain the ISO certification, a commitment to “continual improvement” is required. A specific requirement of ISO 9001:2015 is “continual improvement” – this refers not only to a company’s products and services, but also to the QMS. The standard states: “The organization shall continually improve the suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the Quality Management System. The organization shall consider the results of analysis and evaluation, and the outputs from management review, to determine if there are needs or opportunities that shall be addressed as part of continual improvement.”

At the end of the year, the company must submit a new assessment. Many companies hire a quality manager or assign an employee to assume the duties of quality management, but it can be difficult to evaluate your company objectively from within. Many companies do not have the budget or need a full-time dedicated employee. That’s why it pays to outsource your QMS after ISO 9001 certification to hands-on consultants who works with you throughout the year and can act on your behalf with the auditing body. 

What Does QMS Stand For?

Your Quality Management System – QMS is a formalized system that documents your policies, procedures, and practices with the idea of achieving specific business objectives. 

How Does Quality Management Work with ISO Standards?

Quality management aligns what your company is doing with the standards it is trying to meet. Instead of making business decisions with your gut, quality management uses data and evidence to guide business processes

For example, a new computer software program may seem perfect for your business. Under a QMS program, your organization will have procedures before incorporating the new feature. Your technical team reviews it until the team has developed a complete understanding of the possible effects and outcomes of the change. If those are acceptable, the technical team signs off.

Then the manager must approve it only after these procedures will your company schedule and deploy the new product.

In short, effective QMS controls organizational change in a process in which your business fully understands, documents, and controls change. Your QMS program looks at the change in the context of how it affects the entire system.

What Are the ISO Standards for Your Company’s QMS?

The ISO’s international standard that specifies requirements for a QMS, ISO 9001:2015, is not industry specific. Your company can apply ISO 9001:2015 regardless of its size or its products and services.

ISO provides additional standards related to QMS, but these are more specific to the type of industry. For example, the ISO 14000 series deals with environmental management systems. And ISO 19001:2018 deals with auditing management systems. 

How Do QMS Standards Benefit an Organization?

There are many benefits companies gain from the choice to use an outsourced quality manager. 

A quality manager helps determine if you are tracking the right types of data. ISO 9001 clause 9.1, “Monitoring, measurement, analysis, and evaluation,” explains the requirement to measure and review data in your QMS. The point of data collection and evaluation is to track how well your company is meeting its objectives.

Also, the quality manager will hold monthly meetings with your organization’s leadership. These meetings will discuss ongoing procedures to meet standard controls. What data is your company tracking? Is this the right kind of data for your business and industry? How do you monitor it? Is the data within a predetermined range?

The quality manager helps your company answer these questions regularly to keep your business in line with your set quality standards.

How Do You Reach ISO 9001 QMS Standards?

In 1987, ISO released the first edition of ISO 9001. Much of the early language had a military emphasis, with standards based on a US Department of Defense standard intended to govern compliance by contractors. 

Released in 2015, the latest version of ISO 9001 has dropped the military emphasis and focuses on organizational risk and opportunities. Quality management across various industries forms the basis for sustained success and continuous improvement. 

What Is a Quality Management System?

An ISO 9001 QMS incorporates seven principles of quality management:

  • Customer focus: meeting customer satisfaction, customer expectations, and requirements
  • Leadership: establishing operational purpose and direction within your organization
  • Engagement of people: providing the knowledge, training, and motivation to improve quality within your organization
  • Process approach: planning, carrying out, and monitoring your organization’s activities
  • Improvement: continuing to identify opportunities, analyze causes of issues, and work to change your organization’s methodology so that you can better innovate and increase efficiency
  • Evidence-based decision-making: analyzing data, risk, and performance to inform your organization’s future choices
  • Relationship management: maintaining open and continual communication with stakeholders 

An unofficial 8th principle is the PDCA cycle, where the letters represent Plan, Do, Check, and Act. This cycle is easy to repeat and understand.

What Are QMS Procedures?

ISO 9001:2015 defines a procedure as a “specified way to carry out an activity or a process.” Your procedures are critical to your total QMS. That’s because procedures establish the processes that ensure your business conforms to ISO 9001 standards.

What Types of Data Are Important to Your Organization?

QMS is about understanding the information critical to your business’s survival.

The types of data that your company monitors depend on your business objectives. For example, security companies may focus on incident tracking. A manufacturer may compare the measurements of its products to ensure standardization in the output. Service organizations may track customer satisfaction by collecting data surrounding customer feedback. 

Profitability is another critical metric. A company that lacks sound financial footing takes on risk. A business with questionable credit or economic instability will struggle to meet quality standards.

Why Do You Need an Outsourced QMS after ISO 9001 Certification?

An outsourced QMS tracks changes to your ISO standards that are relevant to your industry. For example, in February 2022, the ISO published an update to ISO 27002. ISO 27002 deals with information security controls. This includes cybersecurity and privacy protection.

Unlike ISO 27001, ISO 27002 does not provide formal specifications. Rather, ISO 27002 is an advisory document that applies to any organization that seeks to comply with ISO 27001. 

Keeping Current with ISO Updates

The third-party who helped you through your original ISO certification process knows your business processes. This familiarity can help enhance your business practices on an ongoing basis and facilitate communication within your company.

Many ISO standards require your company to demonstrate continual improvement over time. An outsourced quality service manager is an accountability partner who provides consistent help. Consistent adherence to quality standards alleviates an otherwise cumbersome and disruptive process every three years when you have to renew your certifications. Under the guidance of your outsourced quality manager, your company has done the heavy lifting already.

A QMS program keeps your operations consistent and expected, minimizing surprises, interruptions, or upsets. QMS becomes part of business as usual, as your business steadily shows continuous improvement.

Escaping the Tyranny of the Urgent 

When you outsource total quality management, your ongoing adherence to standards is the only focus of the quality manager. The quality manager is not caught up in your day-to-day business operations. As a result, situations that demand immediate internal attention do not affect ongoing quality management.

Your outsourced quality manager is more than an accountability partner, though. The quality manager also serves as your advocate. Your success is the only goal of the QMS. As a catalyst from outside your organization, the quality manager has the voice of authority to help push the organization in the right direction.

Applying Experience to Your Business

An outsourced quality manager has experience in many different verticals across various businesses. These experiences help the quality manager suggest the types of data your company should track. Plus, the quality manager has the expertise to help your company troubleshoot operational risk.

Demonstrating Integrity

An outsourced QMS also is a way for management to show that it is committed to your organization’s quality. ISO certification is more than just a label. The achievement and ongoing process of complying with standards attract and retain employees who see the company’s focus on quality.

Some companies will not do business with a company that lacks ISO certification relevant to the industry. Achieving and maintaining ISO certification standards strengthen your organization’s relationships and status within the industry.

For example, ISO 27001 details standards for handling the personally identifiable information of your employees and customers, as well as other professional secrets. As technology changes, ongoing adherence to standards demonstrates your attention to change management processes. 

A great deal of effort and resources are required to initially secure ISO certifications, so steps must be taken to retain them over time. Companies benefit from the continual improvement resulting from the implementation of the QMS. A good return on the investment in ISO can be realized when an outsourced quality manager partners with the company and assists in implementing the QMS.