ISO 9001 Clause 6.2 – Quality Objectives and Planning to Achieve Them

colourful gradient typography with the word objectives

The latest clause to come under the spotlight in this series of How to Guides for ISO 9001 is: ISO 9001 Clause 6.2 – Quality Objectives and Planning to Achieve Them.

We take a look at what it is, and where it fits in the greater scheme of the ISO family. But first, let’s briefly set the scene with regards to the ISO 9001 standard.

In December 2021, the International Organisation for Standardisation (the main ISO body) reported “over one million companies and organizations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001:2015. This number continues to increase year on year, for many and varied good reasons.

Yet there’s one not-so-small catch…

ISO 9001 might just be the most confusing document in business history!

The good news is this series of articles and accompanying free factsheets are purpose designed to:

  • Cut through the jargon
  • Debunk the myths
  • Make smoother sailing of your journey to certification

Without further delay, let’s examine ISO 9001 Clause 6.2 – Quality Objectives and Planning to Achieve Them, in closer detail.

What is the Intent of this Clause?

Quality objectives have been part of ISO 9001 for a number of years, but you weren’t required to explain how you’d achieve them. The 2015 standard now asks you to present that strategy. This means there needs to be a plan, describing how the objectives will be achieved, including:

  • what actions need to be taken
  • the resources required
  • who is responsible or involved
  • when they need to be completed by.

The specific requirements in ISO 9001, Clause 6.2

ISO 9001:2015 uses the plural form of ‘objectives’, this means there must be more than one. The standard does not say how many objectives need to be agreed, and the business needs to decide this. However I would not suggest having more than eight, or fewer than four.  Objectives keep people focused and if there are too many, that focus will be diluted.  Similarly, too few objectives and the business does not address a sufficient variety of areas for improvement. 

The standard does have some specific requirements:

1. Be consistent with the quality policy
The Quality Policy is arguably the most important document in the management system.  It directs top management’s overall direction and attitude related to the quality of their product or service.  The quality objectives must be aligned to the themes in the policy. For example, if the quality policy states that the business will ‘exceed customer expectations’, then there should be an objective that relates to this, such as ‘on-time delivery’ or ‘reducing customer complaints’.

    2. Be measurable
    The quality objectives must be measurable. Aspirations such as ‘create a rewarding environment for our employees’, whilst commendable, is not a measurable objective. Measurable objectives allow the question, ‘how will we know that we have achieved this’ to be answered. Quality objectives can be measurable not only by using quantitative methods but also qualitative ones, such as measuring the performance levels for a service provided.

    3. Address applicable requirements
    Whilst this is a very broad statement, it simply means the business needs to determine what concerns are applicable for them. If any requirements are critical to your business, you should set objectives related to them.

    4. Be applicable for products and services, and customer satisfaction
    This means that your objectives must have an impact on products and/or services and customer satisfaction.  An example of this could be to decrease production line downtime by 10% within the next six months, or improve customer feedback scores by 10% in the next three months.

    5. Be monitored
    This may sound quite simple – set the business objectives and monitor them.  You will need to establish how often the objective will be monitored, who is gathering the data, who they deliver it to, how this information is interpreted and conclusions drawn.  The management review is the perfect forum for monitoring of objectives, as one of the inputs for the management review is: ‘the extent to which quality objectives have been met’.

    6. Communicate
    Once the quality objectives have been agreed, they must be communicated across the business and understood. This helps ensure everyone is aligned, working towards these common goals, and can see when they are successful. Be sure to let employees know how they contribute to the process and be specific about the actions they can take.

    7. Update as often as needed
    Nothing stays the same in business; the landscape changes and your objectives should reflect this. They should evolve to reflect changes in the business strategy, the business environment, changes in your customers’ needs, and as they are completed, new objectives set.

    8. Document
    It is a requirement that your objectives must be documented, this can be as a standalone controlled record, or included in another document. The imperative is they must be recorded.

    smart objectives – specific measurable achievable relevant time bound in various colours

    Creating SMART Quality Objectives

    Using the SMART framework when setting your quality objectives provides a structured approach, making them more effective and more likely to be achieved.

    SMART stands for:

    Specific – this means you need to clearly identify what it is you want to achieve.  Let’s use the example of: ‘increase our profits by 20% by the end of the next financial year’.

    Measurable – baseline data is necessary to measure your objective against.  Using the example from above, there is a figure you want to achieve, and you can compare it to the previous years profit. 

    Attainable – ask yourself, “are we able to achieve this objective?” or “is this objective out of reach?”. The objective needs to be attainable, but also a stretch to achieve and not something you would be doing anyway, otherwise it is not a true objective.

    Relevant – objectives should be connected to the overall strategy and vision of the business. 

    Time-bound – you need to give your objectives a timeframe.  The objective ‘increase our profits by 20%’ needs to have a time period that is clearly defined.

    Planning Your Quality Objectives

    The second half of this clause addresses the plans for achieving your quality objectives. Each objective will be different, so will require a different plan. Let’s have a look at these requirements in more detail:

    1. Determine the actions to be taken
    List out the actions you are planning to take to achieve your objective.  The immediate steps and milestones, as well as the longer term plans.

      2. What resources will be required?
      Achieving objectives takes resources. These could be financial, people, knowledge, equipment or facilities etc.  Make sure you have sufficient resources available before trying to implement the plan, otherwise it will fall over.

      3. Who will be responsible?
      Clearly assign responsibility to persons, teams or departments and hold them accountable.

      4. When will it be completed?
      Implementing actions takes time, so you need to determine what time period is appropriate.  Your time frames should be documented, especially if there are a number of steps as part of the plan that rely on the previous steps being achieved.

      5. How will the results be evaluated?
      Decide how you will measure the results. I suggest using the management review as the mechanism for evaluating whether the objectives have been achieved, or require further work.

      The value of well-defined quality objectives cannot be overstated. They are essential for continual improvement and steering your business towards operational excellence.

      It is worth adding that setting and achieving quality objectives is not a one-time event. It is a continuous cycle and by regularly reviewing and updating the objectives, they remain relevant and effective.

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