How to Start the Certification Process
To request certification, you need to implement a QMS that meets the ISO 9001:2015 standards. Once up and running, a certified external auditor must come in and approve your QMS. If your organization passes the audit, you receive a certification that lasts three years. After that, you need to re-apply through another external audit.
For most organizations, completing the ISO 9001:2015 certification process is a years’-long endeavor. Once you get on your way, there are multiple paths available to you.
You can complete the process in-house if you choose, but a cottage industry has also appeared to help businesses through the process. As a result, you have the option of going it alone or hiring a third-party consulting or training organization to walk you through the process.
Both options are popular, but each caters to different needs.
Third-party consulting and training
Would you prefer the help of an external team that makes the ISO 9001:2015 standards the bread-and-butter of their business?
Third-party consultants come in all shapes and sizes, including offering both hands-on and hands-off services. The consultant can play a direct role in the development of the standards and the QMS (hands-on) either initially in the project, during certain phases, or throughout the entire project.
These consultants work best with organizations who need an extra pair of hands but who are also able to complete the following tasks on their own:
- Define the desired objectives of the QMS
- Identify both performance indicators and deadlines for each stage
- Make internal team members available to the consultants
- Provide a quality representative to communicate between the auditors, certification body, and the enterprise
- Create a handover process for a smooth transition period at the end of the project
However, it is important to remember that hiring help won’t solve all your problems.
While these consulting groups are experts in the standards, it is unlikely that they know your individual organization well enough to create a QMS custom-designed for your business. While they can spend time learning the ins-and-outs of your organization, keep in mind that these are billable hours.
The handover process can also be a sticking point. Even if you pay for a full custom QMS system, you need to take back the reins eventually. Your Quality Representative then needs to successfully run, maintain, and then improve a program that they were not fully involved in creating. What is more, you need to incentivize your other full-time staff to participate because it will undoubtedly add to their responsibilities.
If you don’t address these issues at the beginning of the process, you risk the QMS collapsing after your consultant leaves—and before you get audited. Plus, if your team doesn’t have the required knowledge and commitment to the standards, then the auditor may assume that your business isn’t ready for the certification even after you paid for and implemented the full QMS.
If you choose the consultant approach, it is very important that you see them as more than someone willing to do the work on your team’s behalf. You need to work with them to ensure that your organization doesn’t develop a dependency on the consultant. Becoming dependent on someone who will leave on a fixed date cripples you when it comes time for certification.
One way to avoid this is to choose a “hands-off” external consultant who provides the expertise and mechanisms but also requires you to take ownership of the QMS from the beginning.
There’s no requirement to hire third-party consulting and training to begin the process. Many businesses do it in-house. In fact, the approach works particularly well when the primary project facilitators:
- Are well-versed in the ISO 9001:2015 standard
- Understand how your core business works
- Have strengths in the design of systems, processes, and documentation
- Have the support of key internal influences and top management
- Enjoy the resources to develop and distribute training (basics, QMS procedures, etc.) across the enterprise
However, without these tools, even well-intentioned and otherwise capable teams tend to stall, particularly when the employees assigned to the project must also manage certification responsibilities and their primary existing duties.
At the same time, the in-house experience alleviates the issue that faces organizations that choose the consultant route: ownership. When you develop it yourself, your QMS is far more likely to not only complement your organization but create new efficiencies as well as the other benefits that a QMS can offer your organization. Plus, you enjoy all the knowledge and skills developed during the process, which adds even more value to your business.
There are also drawbacks to trying it on your own. While a consultant will help you take off running, starting the process using only internal facilitators requires a warm-up and long jog before the race begins. It can take a huge amount of effort to set up all the components from scratch, and you may need to wait for external training to become available and then pay for it.
Whether you choose to complete the process in-house or hire a consultant, you benefit from ISO 9001:2015 training. Why? Because either way, strong knowledge of the certifications are essential for the initial and continued success of the project.
There are many third-party vendors that provide training courses on quality management systems. These courses range from foundational courses that introduce you to the standards and can even go as far as the training course to become an internal auditor or certified lead auditor.
Depending on your location and budget, you can choose to send a nominated employee to the training course or bring the training to you through an in-company training course.
Tools & Help
The ISO provides some helpful publications to get you started. These are free and available to download from the ISO site.
Did you get certified under the 9001:2008 standards? Check out the Moving From ISO 9001:2008 to ISO 9001:2015 publication.
There are also around 2,000 documents published on the ISO website that you can find through the search tool.
In addition to ISO resources, there is a small cottage industry that popped up to help companies get certified. We talk more about tools like checklists and forms later in the guide.
One Company’s Experience with the Certification Process
Chemonics, an international development first based in Washington D.C., embarked on a journey to achieve the ISO 9001:2008 certification beginning in 2008. The team expected that the certification would identify Chemonics as an organization committed to quality management, customer service, and continual improvement.
It took two years for Chemonics to receive its certification in the standards. The biggest lesson learned was how much the standards changed the business. Chemonics experienced both benefits and growing pains both during the standards implementation process and in the five years post-certification.
Prior to certification, Chemonics already invested consistently in its leaders and teams as well as in knowledge and systems, which is one of the principles of the standards. The ISO 9001:2008 certification allowed them to continue “down a path of honing those values and realizing their full potential.”
Lauren Behr, the head of Global Operations and Improvement Department at Chemonics, described the learning process in a blog post: “The implementation of a quality management system afforded us the opportunity to look at our business practices in totality, and to set a standard of excellence for our core services. It has connected us around the concept of continuous improvement and pushed us to think about what exceptional looks like for those services, and then to set even higher goals for what we can achieve. It has laid the groundwork for creating global operations systems that support our technical and operational work in the field, and that build the capacity of our staff and partners worldwide.”
How Do I Let Others Know We’re Certified?
Achieving your ISO 9001:2015 Certification is a big deal, and you should be proud to let others know that you made it across the finish line. Some of the ways you can display your achievement include:
- Electronic artwork for press releases and marketing products
- Flags outside your buildings (or at events)
- Indoor and outdoor banners
- Vehicle and shipping container decals
There’s no real limit. However, you can only share your certification if you follow the ISO’s acceptable identity standards.
First, you cannot refer to a specific product as being “ISO Certified.” You can only refer to your certification by the process itself. For example, you can say you have an “ISO 9001:2015-certified quality management system,” but you cannot say you have “ISO 9001:2015 certified product.”
You also need to refer to the certification by its full and correct designation: ISO 9001:2015. You can’t refer to it as the 9000 system because the ISO 9000 provides guidance, not certification standards. You also can’t say you are “ISO certified” in general because ISO doesn’t provide certification. Remember that the 9001:2015 standards are just one set of thousands of ISO documents for industries around the world.
Finally, you need to be clear about where you received certification. If your QMS impacts your entire company and you received ISO 9001:2015 certification for the entire company, then you can say so. However, if only one of your operating systems completed the audit, then you must be specific about which one that is and never refer to your whole company as an ISO 9001:2015 certified company.
There is a long list of nuances regarding word choice and language provided by the ISO. It’s a good idea to look these up before announcing your successful certification or printing any marketing materials.
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