Quality Management for Emerging Businesses

In part one of this series on Quality Management for Emerging Businesses like yours, we’re going to look at such topics as:

  • The definition of “quality”,
  • ISO 9001, the Quality standard, and
  • The six processes you can’t do without, even if you’re not ISO 9001 certified.

In subsequent installments, we’ll discuss topics like setting objectives, the Plan-Do-Study-Act (or Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle, the voice of the customer, and the cost of poor quality.

First, the question I have for everyone is: “Why don’t we embrace ISO 9001 or the concept of Quality Management from the beginning?” It sure seems like it’d be easier to plan for Quality while we’re developing our business plan rather than try to retrofit a quality management system after we’re well away from the starting block. Is it because Quality isn’t mentioned in any of the business plan templates most of us have come to know and rely on? Ponder that for just a moment; now, let’s move on.

What Is Quality?

What does the term “quality” mean to you? Look it up in ISO 9000 or in the OED to get your train of thought started, but give me your own definition. What companies, products, or services come to mind?

BMWs at the North American International Auto Show, Jan., 2013 (NAIAS photo)

BMWs at the North American International Auto Show, Jan., 2013 (NAIAS photo)

To some business owners, Quality is the degree of excellence of a product relative to others of its kind or class. To others, quality is the degree of a product’s fitness for its intended use. Still others take product quality to mean you’ve met stated requirements. To many, quality is a matter of value.

Now, what does “quality” mean to your customers and prospects? Do they feel like your product is a quality product? What is it about doing business with your organization that makes for a great customer experience? Which definition of quality is most important to your success?

What Is ISO 9001?

ISO 9001 is an international standard. It states the general requirements for a Quality Management System. Being “ISO 9001 certified” simply means you have a quality management system in place that has been found – by a Certification Auditor – to conform to the requirements of ISO 9001.

Does ISO 9001 certification guarantee your customers quality products and services? Not necessarily. Does a lack of certification mean your products or services aren’t the best they can be? Of course not. Your organization could easily be fulfilling most, if not all, of the requirements of ISO 9001 just because the requirements are based on sound, proven business principles. I’ll give you some examples.

6 Processes No Company Can Do Without

ISO 9001 requires that an organization have the following processes documented, at a minimum:

  1. Control of documents. Your company should have a process – and it probably does – to ensure that original copies of forms, work instructions, reference manuals, etc., are not lost, misplaced, stolen, defaced, or changed without proper authorization.
  2. Control of records. No company wants to lose critical or essential data or have it corrupted. Timely and accurate information is often referred to as the “lifeblood of an organization”. Your company absolutely must have an efficient, effective process for keeping records safe, secure, accurate, and up-to-date.
  3. Internal audits. Internal auditing is one of the best methods for identifying systemic weaknesses in your organization. Furthermore, it helps you identify opportunities for improvement. Well-run companies have their key processes (functions) audited on a regular basis.
  4. Control of nonconforming materials. Nonconforming material does not meet the minimum fitness-of-use, safety, regulatory, or customer requirements. You need to keep nonconforming items segregated from acceptable ones so (a) you can study them, individually and as a group, in order to identify the root cause of the nonconformity and take corrective action to prevent a recurrence and (b) you cannot use them in otherwise good products.
  5. Corrective action. As we just mentioned, you should have corrective action processes in place. If conducted properly, you identify the root cause of a problem and take steps to reduce or eliminate the likelihood that the problem will recur, or happen again.
  6. Preventive action. A preventive action is one where we identify potential problems, determine the level of risk they pose to our business (so we can prioritize them), identify their probable root cause(s), and take actions to reduce or eliminate the chance that these problems will ever occur.

If you’ve implemented these six processes, you probably have a well-run company and lots of happy customers. ISO 9001 certification would be relatively easy for you to achieve.

We’re just getting started. Next week, we’ll cover “Setting Objectives” and the “Deming Cycle”, among others.

Comments? Please leave a note in the “Comments” section below or send me an email.

Do you need help understanding quality improvement and quality management? Are you ready to implement your own quality management system? Contact me and we’ll discuss your situation. Together, we’ll figure out what works best for you.


We help small businesses improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Whether you're selling a product or a service, we'll show you how you can improve product and service quality, effectively and affordably. If you need quality, environmental, or health & safety management but can't afford a full-time manager or staff, call on Q9C and we'll pick up the slack. For information or a quote, call or write. Subscribe to the Q9C blog while you're at it.

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