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How to make your QMS successful with ISO 9004

For many companies, getting an ISO 9001 certificate is the main goal; however, implementing a Quality Management System represents only the beginning of the story. Continual improvement is one of the key principles of ISO 9001. The main reason and ultimate goal of improvement is to achieve and sustain the success of the organization. That leads us to the main question: How do we enable continual improvement?

One approach, as prescribed by ISO 9004, is through assessing the maturity of your organization. By doing so, you will have clear picture of the maturity levels of various key elements of your management system, which will help you improve the system and manage the success of your organization.

What is ISO 9004?

ISO 9004:2009 Managing for the sustained success of an organization – A quality management approach is a guidance document that provides a broader perspective of quality management than ISO 9001. ISO 9004 gives guidance for organizations whose top management wishes to move beyond the requirements of ISO 9001 (or other management standards) to address the needs and expectations of all interested parties and their satisfaction, by systematic and continual improvement of the organization’s performance. Although ISO 9004 complements ISO 9001, it can be used independently by any organization regardless of size or industry.

ISO 9004 promotes the use of self-assessment to determine the maturity levels of different relevant elements in order to obtain a clear picture of the organization’s changing business environment and current performance. The self-assessment also helps in identifying weaknesses and strengths, and recognizing improvement and innovation opportunities. The self-assessment covers the following key elements:

  • Management and leadership
  • Strategy and policy
  • Resource management
  • Process management
  • Monitoring and measurement
  • Improvement, innovation and learning

Best practices in assessing maturity

ISO 9004 is just one maturity self-assessment tool, a more generic one. There are other standards and best practices that promote this approach through different tools. For example, there is the ISO 15504 series, which sets the concept of process assessment, gives guidance on how to perform the assessment, and provides exemplars for software and system development. Additionally, there are: ISO 33004 covering the relationship between maturity models and process assessment models, ISO 21827 setting Systems Security Engineering Capability Maturity Model, ISO 16680 setting the Open Group Service Integration Maturity Model, etc.

All these standards and best practices cover different aspects of maturity assessment and/or target different industries (such as software development). They all provide valuable tools for assessing the maturity of organizations; however, organizations can develop their own maturity self-assessments, focusing on aspects particularly relevant for them.

How to assess your maturity

The maturity assessment efforts should be centered on the key elements of your organization and should be aligned with your objectives. For example, a manufacturing company might want to focus on improving management of reserves, i.e., stockpiles, so the focus for this company would be the maturity of the supply chain processes and the management of resources. On the other hand, a service-oriented company may be more interested in improving innovation, so it will focus on the maturity of innovative capacities, knowledge management processes, etc. To learn more about using maturity models in order to develop your own self-assessment tool and to drive your process improvement, read this article: Achieving continual improvement through the use of maturity models.

The maturity self-assessment can have different forms (a questionnaire, a matrix with scores/grades, etc.) and level of details, but ultimately it should result in a consolidated report that will be the basis for the creation of an action plan for improvement and innovation, as well as valuable input for decision making. The self-assessment should be conducted at regular intervals to monitor the progress of your organization. Also, the tool can be used for benchmarking with other organizations.

A real-life success story

I have witnessed remarkable progress and improvement in companies that use maturity self-assessment. The most impressive case was a small, service-oriented company whose major objective was to enhance customer satisfaction and strengthen its brand. The company decided to extend its QMS by using a maturity self-assessment based on ISO 9004, but modified for its purposes. The main focus for maturity assessment was: the leadership approach, managing human resources, and the marketing process.

The self-assessment was conducted twice a year, and the results were used as input for the internal audit and management review. Additionally, the maturity assessment report was used for major decision making.

By working on increasing the maturity of the leadership approach and the process for managing people, the image of the company was significantly improved. At the same time, the internal marketing process was strengthened while some of the promotional activities were outsourced to a marketing company (a decision made as an outcome of the self-assessment report). All these activities led to significant strengthening of the company’s brand and its visibility in the marketplace.

Why assess your maturity?

The benefits of maturity self-assessment are manifold. Above all, it is a tool that allows for setting clear objectives for the organization, and enables following the progress of achieving those objectives. Also, the self-assessment as a method is based on “self-reflection,” which allows you to learn more about your organization, increases awareness of problematic performance, and develops the capability for innovative solutions.

Altogether, the maturity self-assessment is a simple tool that can help you improve your quality management system and manage the success of your organization.

You can also use this White paper: Mandatory Documentation Required by ISO 9001:2008 when implementing ISO 9001 in order to keep control of the implementation.