ISO 9001 Knowledge base

Mark Hammar

How to Write Good Quality Objectives

Author: Mark Hammar

Quality objectives are requirements of the ISO 9001 standard, but why? What are they, and what are they for? While the answers to these questions may be interesting, a more important question is how do you write good quality objectives so that they are beneficial to your company? In short, the quality objectives can be the best way to spotlight the key elements of the Quality Policy and find a focal point for the efforts of the people in the organization to work toward improvement. Improvement, after all, is a key reason for a company to implement a Quality Management System.

Quality Objectives: The What and Why

The quality objectives are the main method used by companies to focus the goal(s) from the Quality Policy into plans for improvement. The Quality Policy is created with the Customer Requirements in mind, then quality objectives are linked back to the Customer Requirements through the Quality Policy. The quality objectives take the goal(s) stated in the Quality Policy and turned these into statements for improvement against which plans can be made.

For example, if the Quality Policy of a widget manufacturer had identified a customer need for just-in-time delivery with no defects as the most important requirements, the goal from the Quality Policy might read: “To deliver widgets to our customers when they need them, with no defects, every time.” This company might then have two Quality Objectives: the first being to address improvement of on-time delivery, and the second to address defective parts shipped to the customer. The first objective might be: “to improve on-time delivery from 90% to 95% within the next year” and the second could be: “to reduce field escapes to the customer from 4% to 3% within the next year”. In doing so, the improvement derived from the Quality Objectives is directly linked to the needs of the customer.

These quality objectives would then be communicated to each level of the organization with corresponding objectives and plans at each level to help meet the overall planned goal.  If your company uses a Balanced Scorecard, this is a good format to use for this communication of quality objectives.

The objectives need to be set for the different levels of the organization right down to objectives for the product (e.g. one objective for the whole QMS, then individual objectives for the product or process that supports the overall objective). These product or process objectives are often referred to as Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs). By utilizing the KPIs that the company has identified as the important indicators that the processes are functioning well the overall QMS objectives for improvement become much easier to measure.

How to Make the Quality Objectives Work for You

After deciding which things to monitor, measure and improve, the important thing is to make the Quality Objectives effective in addressing what needs to be improved. The objectives should be designed to be S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) and should have relevance at all levels of the company, meaning that each employee should understand how their job supports meeting the Quality Objectives. To do this, the following should be addressed:

Specific. For the best results, an objective needs to be clear and specific. Instead of saying “to improve non-conforming product,” a specific Quality Objective would be “to reduce non-conformances on the third widget line,” if the third widget production line is showing data as the most troublesome area for non-conforming product.

Measurable. If an objective can’t be measured, how will you know if it has been obtained? In order to make a Quality Objective effective, it needs to be measurable, so this means that having an objective “to reduce non-conformances on the third widget line from 15% to 5%” is much more effective than saying “to improve quality of the products on the third widget line.” You can measure the defects being made, and therefore make plans to reduce the number of defects, but a vague measure of “quality” is more ephemeral and very hard to plan improvements for.

Agreed. For an objective to be agreed it first needs to be created and approved by top level management. Once management agrees on the objective it needs to be communicated to each level of the organization that will be required to implement the plans to achieve the objective, and the people at these levels of the organization need to agree that the plan is achievable. Without this buy-in they may not fully work towards the goal and the plan may be doomed to failure.

Realistic. Being realistic with an objective will make selling it within your organization easier. If you tell your employees that you want to reduce defects from 50% to 2%, they will not be able to see how this is possible, especially if the plans around the object do not support the improvement. It is better to set realistic goals and overachieve than it is to set unrealistic goals and always fall short of the expectation.

Time-Based. To be truly effective, an objective needs to have a time associated with it. To say “reduce non-conformances on the third widget line from 15% to 5% in the next year” allows for better planning, since a plan needs to have dates in order to be properly tracked. Again, having the time associated will allow you to monitor how close you expect to be in achieving your goals.

Establishing the Quality Objectives

The last step required when implementing the Quality Objectives is to make sure they are not only communicated to the relevant individuals, but that each individual understands his own involvement. If the objective is to “reduce non-conformances on the third widget line from 15% to 5% in the next year,” then the employees working on the third widget line need to understand not only what the objective says, but how it will be measured, what plans are in place to make it happen, and how they will impact the plans to move them forward. Improvement is not accomplished by having secret plans in the background, but by having the people responsible for the process involved in improving how they work. This will not only improve the process, but employee morale and empowerment as well.

Click here to see a free sample of  Quality Objectives document.

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29 responses to “How to Write Good Quality Objectives”

  1. VINOD KUMAR VIPINACHANDRAN says:

    setting quality objective for an education institution.
    for egs. to achieve 100% pass during the current academic year 2016-2017.
    when analysed it was evidenced that they could not achieve even 50% pass for the last five years. is it convincing by setting at 100% every year, there are many known constrains for meeting the target which requires change in government policy in admission process to select quality inputs. kindly comment

    • Mark Hammar says:

      Vinod,

      From my experience quality objectives are only useful if
      they are S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time
      based). The objective you have written about seems to be neither achievable nor
      realistic, so how can it be planned for? That being said it is important to
      remember that the reason for setting an objective is to make a plan to achieve
      it. It seems that there is really no way to make a plan to achieve the objective
      you mention.

      I realize that people want to say that they do not plan for
      students to fail, but these same people also want to say that a production
      company will create no defects. The ISO 9001 standard realizes that this is not
      a realistic goal since they insist that a company have a process for dealing
      with non-conformances. I view these as being very similar arguments, if not the
      same. Are student failures not really the non-conformances of some of the
      educational institutions processes?

      Regards,

      • chahi says:

        Please: Our organism are implementing for the first time the iso 9001 standard and now the project team are making the quality objectives. and we have some troubles like this :

        – the objectives choosen, is directly coming from our company objectives and they put for each processus it’s objective but there is no improvement!, for example for maintenance processus they said : we will repect the maintenance schedule at 100%, for sales we will repect 100% of the schedule!

        and in our politique quality : we put : we will improve our processus!

        1- Are they correct objectives?

        2- I told to them, that when we put processus objectives, we have to choose an objective with an improve like : Reduction in internal defect rates, scrap rates, rework, reduction in cycle time, changeover time, process audit results, plant availability / breakdowns monitors.

        are you agree?

        thank you in advance

        • Mark Hammar says:

          Hello Chahi,

          While many certification bodies will accept quality objectives such as “We will meet the customer schedule 100% of the time” I find
          that these objectives are not very useful for a company. As you have pointed out, the use of quality objectives should be for driving improvement, not just re-stating what the customer wants. One of the quality principles behind the management system
          is the need for continual improvement, and the quality objectives are there as your main planning tool for continual improvement.

          So, if a company just wants the ISO 9001 certification, then having less than useful quality objectives might allow them to do this.
          However, to make the QMS actually useful it is better to have good objectives that plan for and measure improvement in the system. Remember, at some time you will need to show that you are continually improving your QMS to retain your
          certification, and having good quality objectives that show improvement is the best way to demonstrate this.

          I hope your implementation goes well.

          Regards,

          Mark

          • chahi says:

            First, i want to thank you Hammar!
            but i want to clarify to you something, our project team take the same shedule objectives choose by our company (not customer as you said!) , i mean by that,the chosen objectives by the year ( N-1) befor we have decided to implement ISO 9001.

          • Mark Hammar says:

            Chahi,
            I understand what you are saying. I only meant that the objectives that were chosen were based on hwo the company understood what the customer wanted, not that the customer said what the objectives would be.
            I do hope all goes well with your implementation, and that you can get real value from your ISO 9001 QMS
            Regards,

  2. Nina Borges says:

    great article! thanks for the help

  3. Ed says:

    Hi Mark,

    Great article, well explained.

    I’m looking for some advice as I have just starting working for a Design / Engineering company and I am trying to set up some quality objectives and targets. The issue I am having is that each manufactured system is bespoke to the customers requirements and designed from scratch.
    As such each product is different and can take a year or more from order to shipment, and as they are bespoke the designs are modified as the build takes place to adjust for unforeseen issues.

    So far I am considering 1) design errors, 2) Purchasing errors…… other than that I am a bit stuck.

    Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Ed

    • Mark Hammar says:

      Hello Ed,

      You seem to be on the right track. When you are looking at your processes, and deciding what to set for quality objectives, it is good to think about what can cause the biggest problems for yourself or your customers as these are what you want to try to set objectives to improve (quality objectives are after all the main improvement goals for the company). Going from you list above some ideas could be:
      1) Design erros
      2) Purchasing errors
      3) Errors in implementing design (product non-conformances)
      4) Errors in contract review (capturing customer requirements)
      5) Design changes due to mistakes (not customer changes)

      Remember, the new requirements also ask that your consider both your products and services, so there may be some benefits to be found in the services you deliver to the customer, such as your design or delivery service.

      I hope this is helpful
      Regards,

  4. Agus says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for great article.
    our company has just done ISO certification for the first time and will reset the quality objectives.

    Because i read from your article that quality objectives direct need from customer perspective so I’m looking for some advice for “on time delivery rate 90%”

    can you mention examples of the quality objectives of each section ( ex : Marketing, Engineering, Production, Purchasing, QC ) to support quality objective of the company

    Best Regards,
    Agus

    • Mark Hammar says:

      Agus,

      For an “on-time delivery of 90%” quality objective each department would want to have an on-time objective of their own to support this overall objective. For example, marketing might have a an objective to meet a 2 day turn around time for creating and sending the internal package once a contract is approved (to give everyone enough time), engineering may have a 10 day design timeframe, basically everyone would have an objective to meet a schedule to support the on-time delivery objective.

      Also important to note, the new ISO 9001:2015 standard now includes a section on “planning to achieve quality objectives”. This new requirement means that companies need to not only create quality objectives and then hope that they are met, they actually need to have plans in place for who will do what to achieve the objectives, including timelines. These plans can include the information that departments need to know for achieving the overall objectives as well (Such as a plan step that the engineering department will reduce the time it takes to design)

      Regards,
      Mark

  5. Sreychea Mean says:

    Hi Mark,

    I am looking for Objective Planning Template (Form) with clear explanation !

  6. Ed says:

    Hello Mark,

    In the company I have just joined the historical O&T’s were very non-specific, as such there was no data and no KPI’s being measured (it has been like this for many years).

    I am in the process of setting new SMART O&T’s, the problem I have is that I have no historical data to allow a baseline from which to set them. I cannot say for example “a x% improvement over 12 months” where I don’t know what the current situation is.

    My thought is to define the objectives that will be used, monitor them via KPI’s for 6 months to allow data to be generated to give a baseline (e.g. No of Design errors / 1000 design hours), and then set the targets to give an improvement from the baseline data.

    Is this a reasonable way to go forward, I am unsure how an certification body will respond to a six moth period of monitoring before the SMART objectives are set.

    Thanks

    • Mark Hammar says:

      Ed,

      This is an interesting question, and in short I think you have the right idea. The standard doesn’t actually sue the term SMART, but it does say that the objectives need to be measurable, so not knowing the starting point you can say that your objective is to improve X process over the next year. The new standard has also included the requirement to create a plan to address objectives, and in this plan you can then detail that your first step is to gather the current process data, perform analysis on this data and then develop further actions to improve the process. With this plan backing your objective (which is now needed) you should have no problem with the registrar accepting what you want to do.

      Regards,

  7. Ahmed says:

    Achieving the annual production plan (which is higher than last year but within the factory capability) considered an objective for the company

  8. Zack says:

    Under “How to Make the Quality Objectives Work for You”, the “A” in SMART is defined in two different ways – first as “achievable” and then as “agreed”. After further research on other websites, I’ve discovered that it really seems to be a toss up as to which one it is based on who you ask. Could you please provide some clarification?

    • Strahinja Stojanovic says:

      Hi Zack,

      SMART is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of objectives. The letters S and M usually mean specific and measurable. Possibly the most common version has the remaining letters referring to achievable, relevant and time-bound. However, the term’s inventor had a slightly different version and the letters have meant different things to different authors.

      In addition to achievable, the A in SMART objectives can mean agreed,attainable,action-oriented, ambitious, aligned with corporate goals. The fact is that it doesn’t change much in the way how the objectives are defined and what characteristics they should have.

      Best regards,

      Strahinja

  9. Mohideen says:

    hi,
    I have set one of my QHSE Objective as below:
    TO INCREASE THE AWARENESS OF:
    1) RISK, OPPORTUNITIES ASSESSMENT AND CONTROL. (QOHS)
    2) ASPECT / IMPACT ANALYSIS AND CONTROL. (EMS)
    And for the above objective I can’t set a measurable target since our company has more than hundred projects (Construction and Maintenance Projects) and during the surveillance audit the certification body asked why there is no measuring/monitoring indicator available to evaluate the results in the end of targeted period.
    I explained them that for increasing the awareness our action plan is to insist our project team to add the above topics during the tool box talks and awareness trainings. But, I can’t measure it with a number or percent.
    Can you enlighten me whether it is required to set measurable target for all the objectives?

    • Iciar Gallo says:

      Dear Mohideen

      According to the standard, objectives must be not only measurable but also monitored. In order to know if those objectives are successfully achieved, they need to be measurable, that way you will be able to effectively conduct a comparison between what you originally have and what you intend to achieve. The measure of success is what you will use to track progress, that is, to monitor the effectiveness of your objectives.

      Some examples of measurable objectives would be:
      – Reduce customer complaints to less than 3%
      – Increase on time delivery by 5%

      Best regards

  10. shiv says:

    Clarification in above article “How to Write Good Quality Objectives”

    Section Name – “Quality Objectives: The What and Why’ – Extract of the section read as follow

    “For example, if the Quality Policy of a widget manufacturer had identified a customer need for just-in-time delivery with no defects as the most important requirements, the goal from the Quality Policy might read: “To deliver widgets to our suppliers when they need them, with no defects, every time.”

    I think quality policy should be ” To deliver widgets to our customer when they need them , with no defects , every time ” .

    Could you correct me is my understanding wrong or is it a Typo – should be customer instead of supplier?

    Thanks for understanding

    • Iciar Gallo says:

      Dear Shiv

      thank you for your feedback, you are correct because it should be read customer instead of supplier. We will correct the typo as soon as possible.

      Best regards

  11. Rajashekhara Gowda M says:

    What should quality objectives focus on?

  12. olubunmi says:

    ‘A’ in SMART should have been ‘Achievable’ and not Agreed. An objective could be ambitious but not achievable because it is un-realistic. A target that is easily achievable because it is quite low or one that is un-achievable because it is too high are both un-realistic. You may need to correct that unless the acronym as changed.

    • Mark Hammar says:

      I have seen both achievable and agreed used as the ‘A’ in the acronym, but have chosen to use agreed in this article because I find that when talking about objectives achievable and realistic (the ‘R’) are very closely related.
      I also find that agreed is a better usage as objectives need to be agreed among the various levels of the organization to be useful.

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