A Standard for the Standards?
– International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
Rick Bickerstaff, January 3, 2015
Key words: International Organization for Standardization, ISO, Annex SL, Guide 83, Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, Key Customer Requirements, Voice of the Customer, Intelligent Risk Analysis, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001, Leadership, Context of the Organization
Standards for standards…now that’s a novel idea! The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a standard for the writing of the international standards – the format for the standards is being standardized! Is this a good thing?
To begin, let’s talk about integration and alignment, which are key aspects of management systems. What is integration? An act or instance of combining into an integral whole (dictionary.com). Or the harmonization of plans, processes, information, resource decisions, actions, results, and analysis to support key organization-wide goals (Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence). So, what is alignment? A state of consistency among the plans, processes, information, resource decisions, actions, results, and analysis that support key organization-wide goals (Baldrige Criteria).
If you have adopted any of the ISO standards to improve your business processes and overall performance, you may have experienced integration and alignment issues. Often there exist elements between standards that just don’t match up, which causes confusion when trying to understand, implement, and oversee various management systems. Also, many organizations will use element numbering schemes from the standards to readily identify forms, procedures, work instructions, documents, etc. As you may be well aware, these numbering systems often do not align well or at all.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has taken notice and has put in place a guide for standards writing. This guide is referred to as Annex SL (formerly Guide 83). Of course there are many positives and negatives to this change, and, as I’ve always been taught, you should ‘sandwich’ the negatives between positives, so here are my ham sandwich thoughts.
Better alignment – organizations rarely implement two standards at once; therefore, having a standard set of elements better integrates these systems. For example, if I’m addressing risk analysis, I will know what the requirements are across elements – there is one common element number. Also, if your organization decides to implement the new ISO 45001 health and safety standard, it will be much easier, as it will ‘match up’ with the other standards.
The ISO standards have a varied number of elements, for example ISO 9001 has 21 elements, and ISO 14001 has 17 elements. So why not simplify this approach? Annex SL requires 10 standard categories or elements. Flexibility is accommodated through sub-elements, but the overall approach is much simpler. (Yea!)
As an implementer of ISO standards, I would say the number one concern is the numbering system. Many organizations use the element numbering scheme to reference their documents. For example, a training roster in ISO 14001 could be referenced as: 4.4.2-1. Well, this of course would have to change eventually.
So, I bet you want some answers or recommendations. My personal recommendation would be to build an association worksheet that defines the previous numbering system and align it with the new numbering system. This would certainly buy you some time to systematically update your numbering systems. At this point I can imagine our readers mumbling expletives under their breath. I can most definitely sympathize.
Another challenge will be the migrating of quality principles in with the major standards. For example, a heightened emphasis will be placed on understanding key customer and stakeholder requirements. This is certainly a move in the right direction, as it is difficult to assess risks and design/improve processes without knowing what the customer wants. So this is an added burden with certain standards, but it is a huge positive considering the overall intent of the management system.
Well, let’s end with some more positives! I always like to ‘sandwich’ a negative with two positives.
I’m a huge fan of ‘leadership,’ and this will become a major element under the Annex SL framework. Leadership drives everything, so this will be a welcomed addition to the framework. Great leadership provides focus, alignment, and often urgency to continually improve. Here strategy is also introduced. If you are familiar with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, based on the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, leadership and strategic planning are the first two categories needed to improve an organization’s competitiveness.
An interesting inclusion is the ‘Context of the Organization.’ What the heck is that! Well, this element defines the operating (and competitive) environment the organization resides in. In the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, this would be similar to parts of the ‘Profile’ category. Including the operating environment brings to life the ‘whys’ of the strategy, goals, objectives, improvement programs, systematic processes, etc. Here is where the customer and interested parties are factored in. In quality circles, ‘quality’ begins and ends with the voice of the customer and key customer requirements.
An additional benefit is the amplified emphasis on risk. This better prepares organizations for unforeseen circumstances and continuity planning. To further expand this, ‘intelligent risk analysis’ is an approach that organizations should consistently consider and apply.
And finally, an increased emphasis is now on performance management. This is where the axiomatic ‘rubber meets the road.’ You can have the best designed systematic processes, but if they are not producing competitive results, then it’s time to start over with your process design.
We’ve touched on a few of the changes to the ISO standards, and there will be much more to come. The only constant is change, right (like it or not)? As you may be aware, within the next year we’ll be seeing the ISO 9001 standard changing, as well as the ISO 14001 standard. We’ll be seeing OHSAS 18001 becoming an international standard (ISO 45001), and we’re seeing many other changes to standards, and new standards being developed. Stay tuned!