Management system language

Many organisations follow terminology used in ISO’s management systems standards (MSS). As quality and systems professionals (as well as being good employees) we should be looking to communicate with our peers and other who have to work with systems and documents we have responsibility for using language they understand and use on a daily basis.

 The more we use MSS terms like Management Review, Management Representative and, my personal favourite, Product Realization in work conversations and management systems documents the further we take these systems away from the people that matter – the users. Once we understand the MSS requirement we are looking to satisfy we should go back to our organisation and understand what process(es) we have in place that already satisfy the requirements. Use those processes and language in the system and, as the responsible professional, translate this for the benefit of those unfamiliar with your organisation, such as a third party auditor, to explain how it satisfies the requirement.

For example: you would expect your organisation’s board to discuss the effectiveness of the organisation’s management system in ensuring it delivers products and services to meet customer requirements. Customer feedback, internal quality measures and the status of improvement plans and programmes would be topics of interest to any managing director. All well and good so far – these topics should also address the requirements of ISO 9001:2015 clause 9.3.2.

Rather than get a regular slot on the board agenda where the responsible manager reports to the board the poor old quality manager generally calls a one off meeting called a ‘Management Review’ with a cut and paste agenda of the standard. The agenda is slavishly followed until the board is bored into submission and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, go back to the ‘real’ job and ‘drop’ quality until next year. Worse still the board avoids the meeting as a waste of time – sometimes to the extent that records of reviews are fabricated for meetings that either didn’t take place or where necessary participants couldn’t spare the time. I’ve lost count of the number of wry smiles seen when I float this seemingly ridiculous notion.

It is easy to criticize top management commitment in these situations but the responsibility for making the review relevant to busy senior managers is ours. In a previous role as the new quality manager I presented the plan for management review to the board of my ISO 9001 certified company and was faced not with hostility but with blank looks. It took a full eight months of one-to-one discussions and translation of ISO terms into activities and measures they were familiar with before we completed our agenda and could put evidence in front of our certification body but I am confident the outcome for my business was much more relevant and as a ‘newbie’ I had a much better idea of how the board ticked, what areas were key for them and hence what buttons I should push.

The real challenge for the quality professional is to keep it real and get quality up the agenda so that quality performance is seen to be a leading indicator for financial performance.

Recent changes to ISO 9001 give us a real opportunity with the requirements for organisation leaders to get involved in establishing meaningful objectives and for process measures to be part of regular quality monitoring – right up to board level.

Until those objectives and measures are meaningful and can be seen to be the main route to a sustainable business then we are condemned to a check box approach to review.