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What is ISO 9001?

We explain the principles of ISO 9001 and who should consider getting certified

Hand holding a wooden ink stamp stating 'certification'.

ISO 9001 is an international standard that specifies the minimum requirements for quality management systems (QMS). It's the only standard that organisations can certify themselves for in the ISO 9000 group, which all relate to quality management and assurance a vital part of project management.

The group of standards was established in the late 1980s to ensure businesses could serve customers better and meet regulatory requirements for their particular industry by following a set of quality assurance guidelines. It has since been updated several times, most recently in 2015, with amendments made to make it more relevant.

It comprises individual standards such as ISO 9000 itself, which lists the QMS fundamentals and vocabulary, ISO 9004, which refers to continuous improvement of QMS, ISO 9001, which we'll examine in more detail in this feature and ISO 19011, which deals with auditing management systems.

The principles of ISO 9001

ISO 9001 is based upon the methodology of plan-do-check-act, with a process-oriented structure governing everything it does.

It outlines the basic requirements for a QMS, including supporting documentation that can guide those who may not be familiar with QMS as a principle and help determine how the process is communicated across the business.

Other key considerations included in the standard cover the responsibilities of management, how a QMS filters through HR needs such as resources and the working environment, plus notes on the product development lifecycle and measurement, analysis and ways the QMS can be improved using techniques such as auditing to ascertain its effectiveness.

The most recent iteration of ISO 9001, ISO 9001:2015 introduces a range of updates to terminology referred to in the standards and also a bigger emphasis on risk-based structure to aid a company's innovation. It also introduced more responsibilities for the project and business leaders to address the changing structure of the workplace.

Why is ISO 9001 so important?

Certifying for ISO 9001 isn't a legal requirement, but it can significantly improve the way businesses keep track of and evolve their QMS to make sure they're compliant with regulations for their specific industry and are producing the best innovations possible, whether software, hardware or services.

It will also improve the customer experience because quality management processes have been specifically developed to target the end user and this will result in a more profitable, targeted business overall.

Which businesses should certify for ISO 9001?

One important point about ISO 9001 is that it's open to all businesses, whatever their sector. It isn't a legal requirement for any industry, but it is a recommendation.

As long as an organisation is developing products and services for customers, it should consider becoming certified, however big or small it is and however many customers it has.

Therefore, any business that wants to improve the way it monitors quality and ensure its products are meeting customer expectations should be ISO 9001 certified. 

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