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How to choose a project manager for your ISO 9001:2015 implementation

Implementation of ISO 9001:2015 is a complex undertaking that will affect all parts of your business. The implementation will require a lot of resources (mostly working hours and money), so the organization must ensure its success. The best way to ensure success of the implementation is to execute it as a project, and consequently, you will need a project manager to take care that everything runs smoothly. But, who should this person be?

There is no single answer to this question that will work for every organization; the type and size of the business significantly influences this decision, but there are some criteria that can help you in the selection.

Who to pick?

First of all, the project manager for an ISO 9001 implementation project must be a part of the middle management (since the assumption is that a quality department doesn’t yet exist) in order to be able to assign tasks and have enough authority within the organization so the tasks will be carried out as demanded. By assigning this project to someone from the middle management, you send a statement to all employees about the importance of the project and basically tell them that this is not something that falls into “when I find the time” assignments. In order to ensure that the project manager has sufficient authority among the employees, he must have a strong project sponsor from the members of top management. The rank of the project manager can have a great influence on employees’ buy-in for the project (for more information, see Gaining employee buy-in for your ISO 9001:2015 implementation).

Where to pick from?

The second important criterion is the department or processes to which the project manager belongs during his regular activities in the company. Very often, the project manager comes from the accounting or legal department. This can seem like a good idea; but, in most cases, they are not familiar with all processes in the company or lack understanding of them. So, in the end, they need more effort to make it right – or don’t make it right at all.

The best pick is from the core processes and departments of the company, the ones that directly add value or influence the quality. Now, this may seem like the end of the journey, but you are still far from making a final decision. Those people often undermine the importance of organizational issues (developing policies and procedures, defining responsibilities, etc.) and tend to avoid resolving them. So, you need someone who has a good understanding of the processes, but then again has a feeling for organizational issues and understands their importance.

Such person (if one exists) is already part of the backbone of the company, and the next challenge is availability of that person, because he or she is already overwhelmed with tasks. Even if you find an appropriate candidate, it is very likely that person already has too many things on their plate and won’t be able to accept this project. This is especially common in small companies where human resources are scarce by default, so availability of the project manager must be taken into account when planning the implementation project. Regarding the time needed, for a smaller company the project manager will need to spend about one or two hours per day for this kind of a project; for a company with a couple of thousand employees, this kind of a project will consume this person 100% of the time throughout the project duration.


First of all, the project manager must have experience with running projects; this will help them in organizing people, defining and assigning tasks and resources, and other issues relevant to the project.

Another thing that can be very helpful and really speed up the implementation project is previous experience of the project manager with ISO 9001 or some other management system standards. Of course, this is very unlikely, and the project manager will probably obtain knowledge about ISO 9001 by attending appropriate courses, such as internal auditor or foundations courses. Better understanding of the standard and its requirements will definitely facilitate the implementation project planning and execution.

To outsource or not to outsource

So far, we determined that we need a competent person from the core processes of the company with enough authority and free time to run the project. Even thinking about finding such person can be too optimistic, so you are probably thinking about outsourcing (the magical answer to everything these days), but think again.  There is no doubt about it – the project manager must be someone from inside your company – this is necessary because an outsider cannot know all the details and the cultural issues in your company.  When things get tough (which they certainly will during this kind of a project), you need someone who will know who to turn to, which kind of approach to other employees will be accepted, and what to avoid.

When the going gets tough

I know that choosing a project manager can seem like a walk through a minefield of challenges, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The fact is that a lot of people see participation in this kind of project as an opportunity for their own careers (see The 2015 ISO 9001 Survey & Infographic), and this can be a chance to spot some undiscovered talent within your staff. Being part of something new that brings improvement to the company can be a great motivation to your employees and make them go the extra mile to finish this project.

This free white paper can give you more details on the options you can use: Implementing ISO 9001:2015 with a consultant vs. DIY approach.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.