What has changed with quality objectives in ISO 9001:2015?

ISO 9001:2015 has included the need for quality objectives to help drive continual improvement in the Quality Management System (QMS) since the ISO 9001:2000 version of the stand was released. However, the requirements for this important element of the QMS have not remained the same, and the latest version of the standard has made some changes to how a company must address quality objectives. For the most part, these are clarifications to how many companies have been successfully using quality objectives for improving their QMS.

Clarifications to writing good quality objectives

While the process to write good quality objectives has not really changed, ISO 9001:2015 has included additional wording that clarifies this process. The previous version of the standard simply stated that the documented objectives needed to be measurable, consistent with the quality policy, and established throughout the company. With the latest update of the requirements, there is an additional need to monitor, communicate, and update the objectives. If you have been following the process in the article How to Write Good Quality Objectives, then these additions will not really change the way you define your quality objectives.

One indirect change that was made was the need to consider the strategic direction of the company when defining quality objectives. This occurred because clause 5.2.1 now includes the need for the quality policy to be consistent with the strategic direction of the company. So, if the quality objectives are to be consistent with the quality policy, they will align with the strategic direction. To find out more on how to do this, see the article Aligning quality objectives of the QMS with the strategic direction of the company.

Planning: A change that should not really be new

The biggest change in the requirements for quality objectives is clause 6.2.2, planning to achieve quality objectives. In many ways, these additional requirements are something that you should already have in place at your organization. If you have been using quality objectives to drive important improvement activities, then making plans to have this happen only makes sense, and if you have integrated an Environmental Management System (EMS) you will also know that planning to achieve environmental objectives has been in place since the release of ISO 14001:2004. Why would you set a target for improvement without putting actions in place to make sure that the target you strive to achieve will be met? While this may seem illogical, many companies have had the same quality objectives for many years without achieving their targets, and this is often due to a lack of a realistic plan.

So, what do the requirements say about planning to achieve quality objectives? As with any plan, there are five things that you need to determine to make the plan happen:

  1. What actions will be done? A plan is simply a step-by-step guide on how you will achieve the targeted objective. If your quality objective is to “improve on-time delivery from 90% to 95% this calendar year,” then you will have several actions that need to take place to make this happen. For instance, first you need to investigate opportunities for process time reduction. Second, you will identify tools needed to make the time reductions happen. Next, you will source the tools needed. Then, you should train operators in the new tools, etc.
  2. What resources do you need? For each action, what do you need in terms of money, tools, and other resources to complete the action?
  3. Who will do the actions? In order for an action to be completed, someone needs to be the owner of that action. They will be the person to use the resources to get the job done in the time needed.
  4. What are the action deadlines? If you are trying to meet an end date for the overall target, then each action will need to have a defined time for it to be achieved. Without this piece of information, it becomes difficult to track if tasks are progressing as needed to meet the end date.
  5. How will you evaluate the results? This may not be needed for each action, but overall, how will you know if your plan is successful? In the example above, you are tracking the on-time delivery performance of your company and you will know that your plan worked if you attain and maintain delivery to contract requirements at least 95% of the time.

This action plan can be captured in any way that the company sees fit, from using a simple table that captures all the information to a planning and tracking tool such as Microsoft Project. Whichever method you choose to ensure your plan is implemented is fine, as long as you make a plan and carry it out, rather than just hoping things will improve to meet the objectives.

Has anything really changed?

While there are clearly more requirements written in ISO 9001:2015 for quality objectives, many companies will find that there is not really a need to change how their QMS works. If you have been using your quality objectives to drive continual improvement, including writing the objectives with a clear target and timeline, then the objectives you have will likely meet the requirements of the new standard. In addition, if you have been making a plan to ensure that the improvements you desire from your quality objectives can be attained, then these additional requirements will simply support what you have already been doing. After all, setting a target and just hoping that changes occur to achieve the goal is not an effective way to improve a QMS.

For a better understanding of what has changed with ISO 9001:2015 objectives, and how to adapt your business to the new requirements, check this free white paper Twelve-step transition process from ISO 9001:2008 to the 2015 revision.

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.