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Communication requirements according to ISO 9001:2015

The new communication requirements in ISO 9001:2015 fall under the overall section on support, Section 7. This section includes all of the requirements for the processes you need to have in place to support your Quality Management System (QMS), and ensure its ability to provide products and services to meet requirements and enhance customer satisfaction, which is the scope of the ISO 9001:2015 standard and the intention of any QMS. So, how does this communication support process work?

Communication: A support process to make your QMS work

Along with communication, the section “Support” of ISO 9001:2015 includes many other important supporting processes for the QMS: resources (including people, infrastructure, operations environment, and monitoring and measurement), competence, awareness, and the processes for creating and controlling documented information. Among the simplest of all of these requirements for support processes are the requirements on communication.

To start, the requirements state that “the organization shall determine the internal and external communications relevant to the quality management system.” While this may seem simple, it does entail that you, as the implementer of the QMS, make a decision: What do I consider relevant communications for my QMS? This should be directly linked back to your QMS scope, which is the definition of what your QMS covers within your organization. Remember what your defined QMS products and services are, because this will help to determine what communication you consider relevant to your QMS.

Included in this determination of relevant QMS communication, according to the requirements, are the following five items that need to be included in your communication plan:

ISO 9001:2015: How do communication requirements work?

  1. What will be communicated – What communications will you have for your QMS? You will most likely need to communicate on product and service nonconformances, but do you have to communicate all of them (such as spare parts that you determine to be scrap)? Do you have legal requirements to report on certain elements of your QMS, such as problems that occur in a nuclear power plant? Will you report to the media, shareholders, or other stakeholders on some topics but not others?
  2. When you will communicate – If you are reporting on nonconforming product, how long will you wait until you report? When will you communicate on a change in your company’s location? Do you have contractual or legal requirements that dictate these items? When do you need to let shareholders and stakeholders know of important developments in your Quality Management System?
  3. With whom you will communicate – You will likely have customers in your list of people to communicate with, but what other stakeholders will be included in some, if not all, of your communications? Will your list of people to communicate with include employees, shareholders, suppliers, customers, business partners, or members of the public? Will you report to the media or shareholders depending on the communication topic? Do you have legal requirements to let a government agency know of certain QMS-related information?
  4. How you will communicate – There are many ways to communicate, and some will work better than others for different information and for different stakeholders. You could use email, phone, text, press release, or even in-person discussions depending on what you need to communicate and to whom. All of these factors need to inform your decisions on communication.
  5. Who will do the communication – This may change depending on the information to be relayed or the severity of the information. Critical failures may need to be communicated by the CEO, while smaller nonconformances may be communicated by a project team. You may even have dedicated individuals who can speak to the media about your company, and this should be part of your communication plan.

While there is no requirement in ISO 9001:2015 that your communication plan needs to be documented information it might be a good idea to do so if it is complicated. If you are a small organization that will have the CEO do all communication, and you will only communicate what is defined in your contracts and legal requirements, you may not need to document your plan, but if it becomes more complex with different people communicating to different parties, in different ways, on different topics, a documented plan might be a good idea.

It is also important to remember that these requirements apply to both internal and external communications, so don’t forget to include how you will communicate important QMS information to your employees within your communication plan.

Plan your communications

The message to take from these ISO 9001:2015 requirements is that it is important to plan your communication ahead of time, so as not to scramble to decide when something happens and you need to make a communication. When you do not have a plan, that is when people make mistakes due to high emotions rather than thought; and, if you need to communicate bad news, this can hurt your company’s reputation and credibility.

If you have put in the effort to define a good Quality Management System, you owe it to yourself and all of your stakeholders to have a good communication plan that works for you.

If you need to know more on the ISO 9001:2015 requirements related to communication, check out this free online training course: ISO 9001:2015 Foundations Course.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.