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The ISO Certification Process


So you’ve decided to get your company certified to the ISO quality standard.  What are you in for?

Every organization will have a slightly different experience.  If you have a major customer breathing down your neck to get certified as soon as possible, you will certainly have a different experience than if you are simply going thru the ISO certification process for its organizational and customer satisfaction benefits.

Many companies hire expensive consultants to help them through the ISO certification process.  For many companies this is the best way to go, as they may not have people knowledgeable about the ISO standard, and they don’t have the time to learn.

An ISO quality system generally gets more complex as the size of the company grows.  More people are involved, more training is required, perhaps more forms and records must be kept.  For large companies it is probably best to hire an employee or a consultant who is experienced with ISO, as a lot of time will be needed to get the quality system up and running. 

For smaller companies, though, the certification process is simpler, and may possibly be done by the company owner, or by an existing employee.

How long will it take?  Well, that all depends on a lot of things.  The size of your company, the amount of time you have to devote to the process, the availability of your people to spend time training, the motivation of your top management to get it done.  We’ve been part of companies that are under the gun to get certified as quickly as possible.  Not a fun time!  We’ve also been involved with  companies that are only interested in the quality and organizational benefits of ISO certification, and took a more leisurely pace of implementation.

Basically, the steps involved in becoming ISO certified are as follows:

  1. Decide what it is that you are looking to get out of your new ISO quality system. 

Is there a particular area of your company that needs help with organization and planning?  Is quality suffering in some areas more than others?  Do you need to focus your efforts more in certain places, or just a general company tune-up?  Are you more interested in bettering your customer satisfaction and profits?  Or do you simply want a pretty certificate to hang on the wall and show to customers?  (This is probably not the best reason  to implement ISO!!!!) 

  1. Prepare your documentation in accordance with the ISO quality standard, and also in accordance with your company's  quality goals.   

The basic documentation you’ll need is a Quality Manual and a set of Quality System Procedures.  Most companies will also have some forms as part of their quality system.  On this website you can purchase templates for an ISO quality manual, a set of procedures, and a set of forms.  These templates were prepared by an ISO Consultant and Quality Manager, with over 20 years experience in the Aerospace industry, who successfully guided several companies through the ISO certification process.  While it would be impossible to write a generic ISO template that applies well to all companies, the templates available on this website are a good example of what documentation is needed for an ISO quality system.  With these templates as a guide, and a little bit of time and research, a small business owner can put together an ISO quality system of his/her own, without having to hire an expensive consultant.

  1. Training your people. 

Everyone at your company will have to be on board in order to make your ISO quality system successful, and everyone will require some training.  A few key people will have to be trained in all areas of your quality system.  There are a few sections in ISO that all your employees will have to know.  However, most people will only need to learn about a few sections in ISO, those that generally apply to everyone, and those sections that apply directly to the person’s job responsibilities.

For example, everyone in your company should have a general knowledge of ISO, what it is, how it works.  Everyone should know that customer satisfaction is the number one goal.  Everyone should know about how to deal with corrective and preventive actions, and that certain job functions (such as purchasing) require authorization from management.  But salespeople do not need to be trained in shipping inspection or control of documents, for example, unless of course, the salespeople also function as quality managers. 

  1. Find a registrar. 

There are many, many ISO registrars out there.  Call a few of them and interview them.  Try to get a feel for how they operate, and see which one best fits your style and budget.  Some ISO registrars use independent auditors who might have to fly in from halfway across the country at your expense.  Some ISO registrars use their own local employees, which can save you a lot of money by not having to pay travel and lodging expenses for an out-of-town auditor.

It’s not a bad idea to have your registrar review your documentation.  Most registrars offer this service.  Yes, there is a fee for this, but it will probably be cheaper to have a preliminary document review than to have an auditor come out to your facility only to discover your documentation is not suitable for your company.  A good registrar will work with you, helping you to improve your quality system, and answering any questions you have along the way.

  1. Set a date for your certification audit. 

We recommend at least 2 to 3 months of experience with your new ISO quality system before you get audited.  You will want to have evidence that you are “doing what you say”.  You will need to have training records, possibly inspection records, customer feedback records, etc.  For most small to mid-size companies, two to three months should be sufficient time to give you the practice and experience needed to pass your certification audit.

You’ll probably want to perform an internal audit and have a management review of your quality system about two weeks before your certification audit.  This will give you a last chance to fine tune your quality system, and it will also provide more evidence to the auditor that you have truly implemented your ISO quality system.

  1. Get your certification audit!!!

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