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Integrating an AS9100 Quality Management System into business processes

The AS9100 Quality Management System (QMS) standard anticipated that organizations would make customer satisfaction and continual improvement cornerstones of their business strategy. Elements of the standard implicitly supported this. However, some organizations achieved certification without integrating the QMS into the business, and it had no measurably positive impact on the quality of their products or services.

Well, industry has taken action. The release of AS9100 Rev D clearly insists that organizations implement a QMS woven into the fabric of their business systems. This article describes a few of the most visible requirements that make this apparent.

AS9100D requirements related to business systems

One of the principles of change management is that for an idea to move from the abstract to everyday practice, top management commitment must be open and active. The late Philip Crosby, a well-known quality guru, developed 14 steps of quality improvement. The first of these is management commitment. Likewise, the AS9100 standard begins with the following requirements of an organization’s top management:

1) Section 4 Context of the Organization – This new term in the lexicon of the QMS consists of the four clauses listed below.  A summary of the wording from AS9100 that integrates the QMS with the business systems is in bold.

Clause Summary
4.1 Understanding the Organization and Its Context Determine the issues relevant to the organization’s purpose and strategic direction and affecting its ability to achieve the intended results of the QMS.
4.2 Understanding the Needs and Expectations of Interested Parties Determine the effect the interests of other parties (e.g., customers, regulatory agencies, employees, stockholders, competitors) may have on the organization’s ability to meet customer, statutory, and regulatory requirements.
4.3 Determining the Scope of the Quality Management System Determine the boundaries of the QMS that apply to external and internal issues in 4.1 above.
4.4 Quality Management System and Its Processes Determine the processes and interactions required to adequately address customer, statutory, and regulatory requirements.

Table 1 – Context of the Organization

2) Section 5 Leadership – Further requirements that tie the QMS to business systems are found in the following clause and sub-clauses:

Clause Summary
5.1 Leadership and Commitment Sub-clause 5.1.1b requires the organization to ensure that the quality policy and objectives are compatible with the context and strategic direction of the organization. Note this a responsibility of organizational leadership.
Sub-clause 5.1.2 Customer Focus once again emphasizes top management’s responsibility to ensure that customer, statutory, and regulatory requirements are determined, understood, and consistently met.

Table 2 – Leadership

3) Section 6 Planning – Clause 6.1 Actions to Address Risks and Opportunities, sub-clause 6.1.1, requires organizations to again look back at the issues referenced in clauses 4.1 and 4.2 (see Table 1 above) when identifying the risks and opportunities that need to be addressed. Through careful analysis and planning by top management, it’s clear that implementation of the QMS must be tied to and partnered with the strategic business goals and plans, and take into account the risks to those goals and opportunities. Although not within the scope of this article, the requirements of that planning and ongoing analysis, as illustrated in the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, are detailed in other sections of AS9100D.

Making integration a reality

One might ask: “How do I make this happen?” The answer begins with a crucial change in focus.

The change is from “Our organization seeks to achieve certification because our customers require it,” to “Our organization chooses to implement a certified QMS to provide a framework on which we can profitably build customer satisfaction and continual improvement.”

One way to integrate quality management into business processes is for top management to evaluate the organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (S.W.O.T.) in light of its strategic goals. From this point, organizational leadership can then craft a quality policy and objectives that are unmistakably tied to the S.W.O.T. analysis.

Metrics such as on-time delivery, warranty repairs/replacements, and market share help management understand whether the S.W.O.T. analysis and risk management are on the right track.

QMS integration: The path to profitable business

It occurred to me a few years ago that an organization that chooses to implement an AS9100-compliant management system, and then chooses not to integrate that management system with its business system, is analogous to deciding to make a cup of tea without putting the teabag in the hot water.

The hard work to implement the QMS is undermined by top management’s hollow-sounding words of commitment amid the flurry to get ready for an impending audit. The QMS “teabag” sits alongside the business system “cup of hot water.” As the water cools, the opportunity to make a cup of hot tea slips away. Likewise, what may have started as an energetic commitment to improve business on the foundation of an effective Quality Management System rapidly becomes a distant memory.

It takes hard work and genuine commitment, but put the teabag in the hot water, allow the two to become one, and the integration will be far more rewarding and forever indivisible.

Use this free Clause-by-clause explanation of AS9100 Rev D to more easily integrate an AS9100-based QMS with existing business activities.