by Denise Robitaille
This article is excerpted from Denise Robitaille’s eBook ISO 9004: The Key to Sustainable Success.
If you were to ask your suppliers if they hope to be in around in six months and they responded, “No, we expect to close our doors within 90 days,” how would you feel about continuing to do business with them? You’d probably start shopping for new suppliers. Most organizations don’t deliberately conduct their business in such a way as to ensure their premature demise. But many times they fail to pay adequate attention to trends in the market, to fluctuations in raw material availability, to amendments to laws and statutes, to the emergence of new technologies, or even to changes within their own organization. They don’t notice that lead times from suppliers are getting longer or that customers may be giving them repeat orders but aren’t inviting them to bid on new projects. They don’t take the time to periodically assess their organization’s status and performance.
That’s what the ISO 9004:2009 standard is all about. It moves an organization beyond simple conformance to a management system to a level of maturity that facilitates its ability to anticipate and respond to change. Anyone who’s been around for a while remembers the older version of ISO 9004 that was released in 2000. It had the entire embedded text of ISO 9001:2000 and followed the same structure for each clause.
Unfortunately, the structure with embedded text led to ISO 9004’s use as a guide to implementing ISO 9001, rather than as a tool for improvement—as it was originally intended. The technical experts charged with revising ISO 9004 made a commitment to ensure that the revised document would provide the guidance organizations needed to sustain and improve their quality management system (QMS). To that end, a deliberate decision was made to create a structure that was markedly different from ISO 9001 and that would illuminate an organization’s path to sustained success.
In short, while ISO 9001 outlines the requirements to establish a QMS, it doesn’t provide enough information on how to maintain it over time or how to deal with the challenges of ever-evolving factors such as customer needs, supplier capabilities, economic downturns, regulatory mandates, and a whole cadre of variables that challenge organizations every day. ISO 9004 fills that gap by providing the guidance organizations need to keep their systems efficient, effective, and robust over time.
The title of ISO 9004:2009 reflects its focus: Managing for the sustained success of an organization—A quality management approach.
Five great ideas emerged from the 2009 version of ISO 9004:
- The sustained success of the organization
- The importance of interested parties
- Understanding an organization’s environment
- Managing resources
- Effective utilization of self-assessments
Although these are the most powerful concepts that emerged from ISO 9004:2009, there are others. This article takes a look at self-assessments. The other four ideas are discussed in my new eBook, ISO 9004: The Key to Sustainable Success (Paton Professional, 2013).
ISO 9004 endorses the need for organizations to periodically assess their status in relation to a variety of indicators. A self-assessment tool gives an overall view of the organization’s performance and provides insight into its maturity based on achievement of general benchmarks in practices. It facilitates analyzing the capability of a business in terms of processes and the quality management system (QMS). It’s a planned and comprehensive review that looks at multiple factors within an organization to assess current status, identify areas for improvement, and to facilitate the prioritization and decision-making processes.
There are many self-assessment tools in addition to the one found in the annex of ISO 9004:2009. ASQ Z1 TR1–2012: Guidelines for performing a self-assessment of a quality management system is a self-assessment guidance document based on ISO 9004:2009 that was developed by the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO/TC 176. There are additional examples based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and other excellence models.
Both ISO 9004:2009 and ASQ Z1 TR1–2012 have indicators that are aligned with the ISO 9004 document structure and are reflective of eight quality management principles. During the assessment exercise each element within a section is rated on a scale of 1–5, depending on its degree of implementation and effectiveness. For example, sub-section 6.7 makes multiple reference to the needs for effective communication. An organization’s practices vis-à-vis communication might range through several levels from reactive and sporadic to proactive, planned, and consistent.
The results of the self-assessment will help answer questions about the degree to which your organization reflects:
- Capacity to fulfill/exceed customer requirements
- Ability to address concerns of interested parties
- Responsiveness to changes in market
- Efficient use of resources
- Organizational ability to learn/innovate
The major headings when developing an organization’s self assessment would be:
4 Managing for the sustained success of an organization
5 Strategy and policy
6 Resource management
7 Process management
8 Monitoring, measurement, analysis, and review
9 Improvement, innovation, and learning
It’s important to remember that the self-assessment isn’t an exercise in gathering people’s opinions about how well you’re doing. The output of the self-assessment must be based on objective information. For example, questions about the maturity of the company’s supplier monitoring program need to look at the performance metrics that are used and the results of supplier audits and supplier corrective actions. Similarly, the effectiveness of the design process would be reflected in data about the number of design-related customer returns or number of post-design engineering changes.
When planning a self-assessment there are several factors that should be considered:
Will the assessment be brief or elaborate?
It’s possible to have a brief assessment that takes a bird’s eye view of the organization. The review can be done in about half a day. Generally, such a review doesn’t go into great detail and focuses only on the main categories. For example, “How well controlled are warehousing processes?” as opposed to “How well do we manage inventory dispatched to the floor?” and “Do we have a process for monitoring the shelf life of materials?” A brief assessment will yield limited information that can be nonetheless a good starting point.
The benefits of a brief self-assessment are that it doesn’t require many resources or much time and can be an effective initiation into a more elaborate assessment process. It can sometimes identify glaring issues that need to be addressed.
The more elaborate self-assessment will provide proportionately more information and a more accurate picture of the status of the organization. Not only does it take longer to conduct, but it requires more planning and usually involves more people. Because one of the intents of the self-assessment is to prioritize action items, the longer assessment provides more granular details that facilitate the decision making process.
Who will conduct the assessment?
The output of the self-assessment is a valuable input into the strategic planning process. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have top management involved. This emphasizes its importance. Even if they only participate in the briefer assessment, they’ll garner enough value to support the more elaborate review.
For the longer self-assessment, it’s appropriate to have it performed by a cross-functional team. You may want to consider the involvement of supervisory staff; a member of finance and one or two auditors, due to their training in assessing objective evidence; and a member of your information management department, especially if much of the organization’s data are electronically generated.
What kind or preparation or training will the individuals conducting the assessment require?
There should be a preliminary training that provides understanding of the expected output and reinforces the objectivity of the self-assessment process. Additionally, there should be tips on data gathering, consensus on scoring, and interviewing techniques.
When will the self-assessment be conducted and how long is it expected to take?
It’s important, especially for the more elaborate assessment, that the individuals involved plan the self-assessment event. The actual assessment may take from one to three days. Time must also be allocated for preparing the self-assessment forms and for analyzing the results afterward and generating a report.
What form will the output take? Will the results of the assessment be analyzed and formatted into a report before being presented to management?
For a quick self-assessment, it may be acceptable to simply review the forms upon which the information was recorded. A quick snapshot can yield the necessary information.
For the longer self-assessment, it would be appropriate to analyze the information, produce charts and/or metrics that illustrate the maturity levels for various organizational functions, and include recommendations.
A longer review may have multiple charts, showing the maturity of various functions and elements of the organization such as:
- Document and record control
- Supplier interactions
- Manufacturing engineering
- Internal auditing
- Preventive actions
- Multiple individual manufacturing or service delivery activities
The report may also include a brief narrative or synopsis. The gist of the text would be something such as: “This is the information that we reviewed. These are the results based upon the self-assessment. Here are some points of interest and some recommendations.”
How frequently will the self-assessment be done?
If the self-assessment process is repeated on a regular basis—annually, for example—it will also serve to show the organization’s progress over time toward the realization of goals. In addition, it can identify areas that require attention due to changes—either to the organization’s environment or to the needs and expectations of interested parties. For example, “Our cycle time for new designs used to be the industry benchmark. Now, our competition is beating us to the marketplace 50 percent of the time.” The results of an organization’s self-assessment can be a valuable input into the management review process.
An organization should use self-assessment to identify improvement and innovation opportunities, set priorities, and establish action plans with the objective of sustained success.
About the author
Denise E. Robitaille is an active member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She is also principal of Robitaille Associates, committed to making your quality system meaningful. Through training, Robitaille helps you turn audits, corrective actions, management reviews, and processes of implementing ISO 9001 into value-added features of your company. She’s an Exemplar Global-certified lead assessor, ASQ-certified quality auditor, and ASQ Fellow. She’s the author of numerous articles and a dozen books, including ISO 9004: The Key to Sustainable Success, The Corrective Action Handbook, The Preventive Action Handbook, and her newest book, 9 Keys to Successful Audits, all published by Paton Professional.