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Why the 'Context of the Organization'?

04 November 2015
One of the first things that people will notice about the 2015 version of ISO 9001 – is the adoption of the “Annex SL” layout of the requirements. The first requirement (section 4) is about “Context of the Organization”.

One of the first things that people will notice about the 2015 version of ISO 9001 – if they are familiar with the 2008 version – is the adoption of the “Annex SL” layout of the requirements. This layout is going to be a common theme across many management system requirements.

The first requirement (section 4) isn’t about the management system per se, as in ISO 9001:2008, but something else entirely, named the “Context of the Organization”.

The 2015 revisions to ISO 9001 are the result of customer feedback from users all over the World. Clearly from experience, something was needed to frame some requirements for them to come together more cohesively when defining an organization’s Quality Management System.

In the previous revisions, it wasn’t very clear how some requirements were supposed to work in harmony with the result that some aspects of the resulting QMS. A pictogram (shown below) was used to describe major groups of requirements, but the details of how to frame the various “sub-elements” wasn’t clear.

For example, ISO 9001:2008 required the following to be established:

  • quality policy
  • quality objectives
  • a quality manual
  • the scope of the quality system, including
  • any exclusions and their justification.

With the exception of the quality policy being established as a framework for setting quality objectives, it’s not explicit, from reading the standard, how the components are to be framed into the resulting Quality Management System.

Under Promise, Over Deliver

The famous sales person’s maxim should have a familiar ring when it comes to setting up the Quality Management System. However, it’s often the case that in the enthusiasm for getting certified, the creation of documents listed above, key points are overlooked. A commonly missed opportunity is the creation of a meaningful and appropriate quality policy statement. Many are  cut and pasted from another example and look like this:

“It is our Organization’s Quality Policy to Meet and Exceed Our Customers’ Expectations…”

While this would seem fine and dandy on the surface, and won’t necessarily cause a finding during an audit, it might not be appropriate for the “context of the organization”. Let’s consider the difference between a well-known fast food business, which has sold “billions” and compare that to a single site, gourmet restaurant.

Would the above quality policy statement be suitable for both businesses?

If we consider the context of each organization, we’ll see that it’s unlikely to be so:
When customers (an interested party) go to fast food businesses, they frequently choose it because

1. They are hungry
2. They know what they want
3. They can be served quickly

The menu is often shown to the customers as pictures with portion size options, as individual selections or “meal deals”. There aren’t many options for the way the food is cooked, side dishes or beverages. The servers are only required to be familiar with basic food preparation processes. Suppliers (another kind of interested party) are expected to supply the same thing, without deviation and they may be located in a variety of areas across the country.

In review of the Quality Policy, can we say the fast food business exceeds customers’ expectations?

Turning to the gourmet restaurant, it’s unlikely that the customer is there for the same reasons as listed above. The time frame allowed for the meal can be lengthy, the menu may present options that weren’t known to the customer, and the options available may require careful consideration.

As a result, the menu is unlikely to be shown in a similar way – using pictures, “meal deals” etc. The serving staff are often well trained in food preparation methods, pairings of beverages (wines for example), and may even suggest side dishes to compliment the customer’s choice. They are, however, highly unlikely to ask a customer who has ordered a chateaubriand, “Do you want fries with that?”

Similarly, they may have a small number of locally based suppliers who they rely upon to provide a variety of products which may change with the seasons, etc.

In the context of such an organization, it is most likely they will exceed customers’ expectations.

Both are places to eat which serve their food, in accordance with food safety regulations, produce a “quality product” and who satisfy their respective customers. The fast food business meets its customers’ needs, and the gourmet restaurant may, indeed, exceed expectations.

A pyramid has been used in the past to depict the various levels of documentation of the Quality Management System, to meet ISO 9001 requirements.