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Miriam Boudreaux


Do You Need a Consultant to Achieve ISO 9001 Certification?

Only if want to make it easy on yourself

Published: Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - 11:12

Well, a simple answer is no, you don’t need a consultant to achieve ISO 9001 certification. In fact, many companies achieve ISO 9001 on their own, by appointing key employees to the task. The implications, however, of trying to implement a system on your own can be a set back to your business if resources are stretched too thin and can quickly outweigh any money saved by not hiring a consultant.

Let’s say you are the production manager of a cable company. You are an expert on cables and so are your people. One day you are asked to look for a better provider for health and insurance benefits for your employees because the current provider is not working well. What would you do? Your employees are your assets and their well being affects you indirectly, but are you the right person for this task? It may take an enormous amount of time to research and investigate what is available out there and what kind of questions to ask to get a better provider for health and insurance benefits. The time and cost factors are best optimized in assigning this task to an expert on employee benefits matters.

The same concept applies to ISO 9001 certification and hiring a consultant. A good consultant is an expert on the ISO standard, has extensive experience implementing quality management systems, and has worked in a variety of industries. A good consultant, therefore, rapidly understands the processes that are part of your company and how best to approach implementation of ISO 9001 requirements. The cost of hiring a consultant and the time spent to implement your quality management system will definitely pay off in the long run. The following story is a good example of ISO 9001 implementation—the hard way.

Northside Parts Manufacturing

Northside Parts is an auto part manufacturer located in central Maine. Charles, the CEO, has appointed Pete, the production manager, to implement the requirements of the ISO 9001 standard and take the company to full ISO 9001:2008 certification. Pete is an expert in the auto parts industry, has been in the business for more than 10 years, and has a full plate already. Pete knows he has the full support of the CEO, but he also knows he has projects-a-plenty. But since he is familiar with ISO 9001 and knows its benefits, rather than asking for outside help, Pete agrees to spearhead the project.

Pete’s experience in ISO 9001 is mostly with the older version of the standard back when he was an entry-level engineer and he is not in tune with the latest version. His first step is to get trained. So he orders a copy of the latest ISO 9000 standard and other reading material online with the goal of getting himself up to speed.

Weeks pass before he completes his self training and arranges for companywide training. Of course he wants everyone in the company to know ISO 9001 as much as he does, so he makes a commendable effort to explain the ISO 9001 standard in its entirety to all employees. Some employees understand what he is trying to teach and some don’t understand anything at all. He makes sure to schedule make-up classes for all those employees who could not attend the first round of training.

By now, a lot of time but little cash have been spent by the company. Pete of course continues to spend more of his time learning about ISO 9001 and hence puts some other production projects on the side. He gets help from some of his direct reports and together they scramble to figure out what to do next and how.

A few months pass and finally they start working on the ISO 9001 requirements by asking all department heads and key employees to do their part. Although everyone had training, many of the department managers understand very little of what is actually needed from them. But rather than saying they don’t know what to do, they procrastinate and ignore Pete’s e-mail messages until Pete begins crafting e-mails demanding that they turn in their assignments, and escalating his e-mails to Charles.

Several months have passed since Charles gave Pete the important task of achieving ISO 9001 certification. Besides training, however, there are no palpable results of ISO 9001 implementation. The only thing palpable at Northside Parts is the tension between Pete and the rest of the managers. In fact, conversations between Charles and Pete revolve around the fact that the managers are “not turning in what is required from them.” Pete himself is a bit frustrated with the ISO 9001 project because he has not been able to take care of other important projects in his department. Although Charles is backing Pete fully in the endeavor, he is also aware that other projects are falling behind and he is starting to show his unhappiness about it.

Finally after months of waiting, Pete realizes that nothing will get done unless he does it himself. Since he feels he knows a lot about the company and the other departments; and he also knows the way things “ought to be done,” he begins writing the policies and procedures himself and gives them to the managers for review. Since most managers don’t want to cause more aggravation for Pete, they refrain to offer much input and agreed to all the new documents created by Pete, which are promptly signed by Charles and posted on the “z” drive of the company's servers.

A year has passed since the whole ISO 9001 project started, and now that the policies and procedures are finally approved, Charles and Pete are feeling a lot better. Binders are printed and more training is given to employees to show them how to behave and what to say during an audit. Pete selects a few employees from his department for some additional auditor training. After weeks of studying auditing techniques and developing comprehensive checklists, they conduct the company internal audit. Although they lack internal audit experience, they are able to find some systemic issues, such as the fact that most procedures do not accurately represent what is actually being done. Once the audit is complete and the internal audit report is issued, they go back at it for a few more months, trying to correct all the nonconformances unveiled during the audit.

Pete plans a day-long management review to address all issues related to the business. He makes sure all the managers are there and that there is enough food to keep everyone happy. More action items are derived from the meeting, so Pete takes a few more months to resolve all of them to ensure that everything is OK for the external audit.

At last, after almost a year and a half of long working hours developing the system, the external audit is here. The company succeeds, albeit with quite a few findings. Pete feels good that the ISO 9001 project was accomplished, however, he now realizes that months of neglect have stockpiled production projects. He hasn’t had much time off, but this is not a good time to ask for such. Projects need to get started and his input is indispensable.

The moral of the ISO 9001 story

While this story has a successful ending, it also depicts in a simple and succinct way, that when you assign your own resources to implement ISO 9001, tasks are accomplished but not necessarily in an optimum way. In addition, daily activities and projects are neglected, perhaps setting you back in other important aspects of your business. Furthermore, tensions are exacerbated during the duration of the project. Unless you have dedicated internal resources and the needed expertise, things will definitely be smoother and get accomplished much faster when you hire a good consultant.

If you decide, however, to use resources from within, be careful who you select to spearhead the ISO 9001 project. While some employees thrive in new environments, others are not equally amused when taken out of their comfort zone. Do not assume engineers are the most appropriate to do this, either. Implementing ISO 9001 requires a concerted effort by all departments and you need a strong leader that can energize everyone and get them to contribute to the common goal. Finally, I can not stress enough that more than support from upper management is absolutely essential to ensure the success of the ISO 9001 endeavor.

Final words on ISO 9001 consultants

If you decide to select a consultant to get your company certified, you will be making a wise decision. Most consultants are great leaders and have the expertise and experience to make things happen fast. Depending on the size of your company and the complexity of your processes, a consultant will take a third to a quarter of the time it would take your company, using its own resources, to get ISO 9001-certified. Also, most consultants like what they do and are not interested in creating a position for themselves in your business. They want to do their jobs, get you certified, get paid, and move to the next project.

Not all consultants are created equal, so do your homework and make sure that the consultant you hire has the expertise and experience in the ISO 9001 standard as well as in helping companies get certified. Always ask for references and make sure to call on them to learn firsthand their impression. Also look for consultants that offer additional services, such as internal audits or training. Chances are you may be looking for such services in the future, so think of consultants as partners for years to come, rather than just a one-time vendor. Finally, while cost is not everything, see what else they offer with their business, perhaps they offer tools such as software that can host your quality management system electronically rather than in binders. With some patience and an open attitude you will find excellent consultants or consulting companies, providing reputable services and great tools to benefit your organization and help it on its journey to world-class quality.

For more information about the ISO 9001 standard, see the Quality Digest knowledge guide, “What Is ISO 9001:2015?”


About The Author

Miriam Boudreaux’s picture

Miriam Boudreaux

Miriam Boudreaux is the CEO and founder of Mireaux Management Solutions, a technology and consulting firm headquartered in Houston, Texas. Mireaux’s products and services encompass international standards ISO and API consulting, training, auditing, document control and implementation of Web QMS software platform. Mireaux’s 6,500 square foot headquarters, located in the northwest area of Houston, houses their main offices as well as their state-of-the art training center. Mireaux itself is certified to ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 27001:2013. To get in touch with Miriam Boudreaux, please contact her at info@mireauxms.com.


Good Consultants

A good consultant will be sure that the ownership of the system stays with the company and that there is not only buy-in to hire the consultant, but buy-in on all the processes and procedures the consultant develops. Any consultant that brings out canned procedures to implement is a consultant to run away from. A consultant that takes the time to understand the culture and processes of the company is one that will bring you lasting value and allow you to say goodbye at the end with little worry that you have no clue what was implemented.

Good consultants

You are right Ryan, good consultants have to get deeply involved in order to learn the company culture and actual processes so they can implement a system that is truly fit and valuable to the company. Thanks for your comments.

ISO consultants

"Also, most consultants like what they do and are not interested in creating a position for themselves in your business. They want to do their jobs, get you certified, get paid, and move to the next project. "-This is very true. So consultants tend to produce procedures that reflect what they think ought to be done instead of what is done and move on to the next project. One example-I asked a Quality Manager to explain what she did for management review as her auditor for ISO certification. What was being done was compliant to the ISO standard but not complaint to her procedure because the consultant wrote the procedure and she didn't understand the procedure. She had been certified by a registrar for several years.
Another place I audited (a sister plant to my facility) had a complex procedure for corrective action approval that was never followed. Again a consultant wrote their "required" procedures with little input from management. I think one should think very carefully before hiring a consultant to write procedures and many small businesses have been hurt by this approach.

ISO Consultants

Rhonda, your comments regarding consultants implementing systems that no one knows about is very true. I would call them bad consultants. As you and the gentleman before pointed out, good consultants should always strive to add value to the company by helping implement a system that is truly representative of the company's processes and culture. Good consultants possess the skills that allows them to help implement procedures that originate from the company's own processes, and use their experience to enhance this process. The article and the paragraph your mentioned, just intended to point out that good consultants are interested in helping rather than creating a long-term position by stretching the time it takes to get a company certified. Thanks for your comments.