Hot Off the Press – ISO 9004-2009! A Review

It’s here. A year after the publication of ISO 9001:2008 the companion document ISO 9004 has been updated. And whilst the most recent changes to ISO 9001 have been minimal and to all intents and purposes largely cosmetic, the changes to ISO 9004 have not. The changes are big. In fact the revised standard is barely recognisable from its predecessor. It’s different…

So what are the changes?

… Where do we start?

OK, gone is the old title “Guidelines for Performance Improvement”. The new title for ISO 9004:2009 is “Managing for the sustained success of an organisation – a quality management approach”. Gone is the old familiar format that mirrored ISO 9001. The ISO 9001 requirements as “boxed text” accompanied by some general hints and tips outside the boxed text, there to help us understand and apply the various requirements of ISO 9001. That is gone

In fact, ISO 9004 no longer follows the structure and requirements of ISO 9001 in any real way. It no longer goes through the ISO 9001 requirements and offers specific clause by clause advice. It actually does more or less what the title implies, it offers guidance on a more general “quality management approach”.

This calls into question what the intended application of ISO 9004 actually is. It can no longer really function as an implementation guide to ISO 9001, firstly because it no longer tries to, but secondly because the scope of its content is now fundamentally different. It contains, for example, guidance on such matters as:

  • Strategy and policy formulation
  • Strategy and policy deployment
  • Financial resources
  • Knowledge, information and technology
  • Natural resources
  • Innovation & learning

Wow. That’s different. Good topics though these might be for any management system, they are, arguably, out-with the current scope of ISO 9001:2008. What is more, it appears that ISO 9004 is starting to use some established terms in a different way to ISO 9001. “Policy” for instance. If we look at the way ISO 9001 uses the term “Policy” (with reference to clause 5.3) it deals very much with the one page “statement of intent” that we all know and (maybe) love. ISO 9004 appears to be using the term “Policy” in a broader sense, something more detailed, meaningful and less neutral. And strategy? Well, ISO 9001 currently does not even go there

The most obvious “hit you in the face” feature of ISO 9004:2009, however, is that it borrows very heavily from the EFQM Excellence Model

All of those new topics I listed above feature heavily in the excellence model, and have done for a couple of decades. We saw a small movement to an “excellence model approach” in 2000 when the “8 Principles” were introduced. These principles were lifted, more or less, from the principles that underpinned the EFQM excellence model at the time. Some of them (Continual Improvement, Customer Focus) even generated some significant new requirements within ISO 9001:2000. Many people expected ISO 9001:2008 to move a little further in that general “excellence” direction. It did not, of course. Some of us were pleased, some of us were disappointed. Maybe ISO 9004:2009 is a kind of half-way house? Maybe it has been developed this way as a means of placating those of us that maintain ISO 9001 standards are old fashioned or not challenging enough? Maybe ISO is saying, “OK you want something more challenging? There you are. Next time be careful what you wish for!”

Either way, as a general observation, I have to say that I am detecting some initial confusion. Not that the contents are in any way badly written or irrelevant, just that practitioners are simply confused as to what the intent of ISO 9004:2009 actually is. How are we to use it? Will certification bodies develop a certification scheme for it? (there’s a thought), how are ISO 9001 auditors meant to use it? All these questions remain for the moment, so far as I can see, unanswered

So, yes, it appears to be a “quality” document, but will it be used in a “quality” way? Only time will tell