Have you ever walked into McDonalds and asked for your burger to be made medium-rare?

My guess is probably not.

But why? Why is that not an option

It’s not because the good folks at “Mickey D’s” don’t care about their customers. Any business that produces that level of success must be in touch with their customers.

That type of customization is just not a factor in how McDonalds defines quality.

The Unwritten Agreement Regarding Quality

The truth is we all have an unwritten agreement with McDonalds…and most other fast food chains.  The agreement basically states:  “if you give me my food relatively cheap and really fast, I won’t be too picky about how it’s made”.

That’s it.

But what about another type of restaurant, perhaps a high-end steakhouse? Do we have unwritten agreements with them as well?

Of course!

That unwritten rule states “if you give me a great dining experience, I will pay a premium price”

Would you go to a high-end establishment and settle for a burger that’s been relaxing under a heat lamp for 30 minutes?

Probably not.  Why?

Because that is not our agreement – and it’s now how those businesses define quality.

The Quality Policy in Manufacturing

Envision this scenario in a manufacturing environment…

A customer orders 1000 widgets. The order goes through order entry, planning, purchasing, manufacturing….all the way to inspection. Upon inspecting these widgets, the inspector, acting as a last line of defense between internal missteps and customer satisfaction declares:

“We can’t send these out, they don’t meet our quality standards!”

In dismay, the production personnel who produced the widgets and the inspector discuss the issue and ultimately appeal to the wisdom of a supervisor for a second opinion.

After looking at the widgets briefly, the supervisor says:

“These are ok…go ahead and ship them!”

Now we have happy production personnel, a confused inspector, and a supervisor who has set an unclear precedent for future widgets making their way through the plant.

Not an uncommon occurrence – LIfe without an effective Quality Policy

Unfortunately, this scenario is not all that uncommon. And when this unclear model of quality steeps itself into the organization, it’s becomes difficult to know what good products looks like, what bad products looks like, what’s acceptable, and what isn’t acceptable. It can leave team members questioning management competency, the value of policies and procedures, and even their own judgement concerning quality.

Enter ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems

So What is An ISO 9001 Quality Policy?

Well, ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems includes one leadership requirement that can help establish clarity around an organization’s model of quality. It requires the organization to establish a Quality Policy that clarifies how they perceive quality. The quality policy, when effectively defined and communicated can be a valuable communication tool. It can be used to establish and reinforce the standard for quality while also acting as a central statement against which actual behavior can be monitored.

Unfortunately, the quality policy has been overlooked as a valuable tool over the years. Many companies, instead of using the quality policy as a central point of discussion, simply post it on a wall in the break room, and hope for the best. Other companies have the statement printed on the back of ID cards simply to appease an auditor should they be asked about the policy.

So how do you create an effective Quality Policy that actually works?

Developing a quality policy that serves as more than a prop for third-party auditors can be accomplished by focusing on the following elements.

  1. Instead of simply fulfilling the requirements of the ISO 9001 Standard, try to encapsulate how your organization views quality. Are you more “fast food” or more “sit and eat”? Or maybe communicate how you pride yourself on catering to different types of clients.
  2. If you are a “job shop” and treat different customers differently based on their expectations, communicate to your team that this flexibility is part of your quality model – and is intentional. This will let them know that your supervisors are not just deploying a Jeckyl and Hyde mindset, but that there’s a method to their “madness”.
  3. Communicate and discuss the policy ad nauseam. Use it to open up meetings, customer service discussions, quality debates, and any other collaborations that are relevant to quality.

The focus on effective quality policies had faded in the eyes of most auditors over recent years, but deploying this underutilized quality tool can be really beneficial in creating clarity and understanding for your team around what quality really means.


The ISO 9001 Requirements for creating a Quality Policy

5.2.1 Establishing the quality policy

Top management shall establish, implement and maintain a quality policy that:

a)  is appropriate to the purpose and context of the organization and supports its strategic direction;

b)  provides a framework for setting quality objectives;

c)  includes a commitment to satisfy applicable requirements;

d)  includes a commitment to continual improvement of the quality management system.

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