How Do You Become ISO 9001 Certified?

ISO 9001 certification is the international gold standard for a Quality Management System (QMS).

There are many benefits to earning this certification, from increased efficiency to improved credibility with potential customers or partners.

But what does ISO certification mean and how do you earn it?

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What are ISO Standards?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental international organization that develops standards to ensure quality, safety, efficiency, and/or consistency in various areas of technology and manufacturing.

Some ISO standards set common codes or measurements for easier communication, like ISO film speeds in photography or the ISO file type that enabled compact disc storage.

Other standards set expectations for how things are done in a certain industry or to achieve a certain goal. These cover everything from information security to food safety to environmental management.

There are over 23,000 ISO standards in use today. Each standard is developed and managed by a committee of international technical experts drawn from 165 member nations.

What Does It Mean to Be ISO Certified?

Well, officially, "ISO Certified" doesn't mean anything. So many different ISO standards exist that you need to specify an ISO family or standard number for the phrase to have any meaning.

Once it's attached to a standard, though, "ISO Certified" is often used as shorthand for one of two scenarios:

  • An organization that has proven they adhere to an ISO standard
  • An individual who is qualified to perform a particular type of ISO audit

Technically, only organizations can become ISO certified, so the first definition is the proper one.

However, you'll probably hear people use the term both ways.

How Do You Become ISO Certified?

The International Organization for Standards doesn't certify organizations. The ISO just sets and maintains the standards. Auditing, certifying, and accreditation are all handled by other parties.

Once an organization believes they meet the criteria of an ISO standard, they hire an accredited third party to audit them and issue an ISO certificate. These third parties are called registrars or ISO certification companies.

Any registrar you hire needs to be properly accredited. Look for accreditation through the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), an organization that works hand-in-hand with the ISO. Certification through an IAF-accredited registrar will be universally accepted and recognized. Registrars from other accrediting bodies might not be.

What is the International Organization for Standardization 9000 Family?

The QMS certification we referred to earlier belongs within the ISO 9000 family of standards. It's one of the most popular and widespread ISO standards, with over a million certified organizations worldwide.

The ISO 9000 standard (which is the namesake of the ISO 9000 family) lays out vocabulary, as well as the 7 quality management principles that ISO's standards are built on. These include a customer focus and a commitment to continual improvement.

ISO 9001 creates a universal blueprint for developing a successful QMS based on those principles. Regardless of an organization's size, industry, or for-profit status, the ISO 9001 standard applies.

The other standards in the 9000 series are ISO 9004, which describes how to sustain quality improvements, and ISO 19011, which lays out how to ensure a management system conforms to ISO guidelines. In other words, ISO 19011 is more about how to audit a QMS than it about the QMS itself.

ISO 9001 is the only standard that lays out requirements for organizations. That means when an organization's QMS gets ISO certified, the correct term is "ISO 9001 Certified."

What Does It Mean to Be ISO 9001 Certified?

ISO 9001 certification is an internationally recognized signal that an organization is committed to quality assurance. Potential clients can assume that they have QMS processes in place to ensure high levels of satisfaction.

Like other ISO programs, ISO 9001 certification is voluntary. There aren't any legal or regulatory requirements involved – in fact, due to the extra cost, some organizations use the ISO 9000 guidelines without ever applying for certification.

However, in some industries, ISO 9001 certification is nearly universal, so it's hard to be competitive without it. This is true for the automotive industry.

Additionally, government contracts and potential partner organizations may require you to have IAF-approved ISO 9001 certification.

Steps to Get ISO 9001 Certification

Every QMS is different and every company has a different starting place. Therefore, every certification journey is a little different. Regardless, the rough outline will be the same.

Step #1: Decide to Earn ISO 9001 Certification

Implementing an ISO-compliant QMS is a huge undertaking, and the certification process can be long and expensive.

Everyone needs to be on board before you take the journey, from the C-suite to the first-line employees.

This is especially true for the current version of the standard, ISO 9001:2015. In the past, you could earn certification just by having cookie-cutter documentation, but the newest version emphasizes what people are actually doing, not just what they wrote down. ISO 9001:2015 also requires active involvement from an organization's leadership.

To make an informed decision, you'll need the help of someone who understands ISO 9000 standards and the process for building an effective system.

Some organizations choose to contract outside expertise, while others form internal resources. That could mean hiring someone with ISO experience, or it could mean sending an existing employee for ISO training.

Step #2: Build and Implement Your ISO-Compliant QMS

It's a little deceptive to call this a single step, because it's actually a lot of interrelated steps, including:

  • Information Gathering: identifying core processes, defining ideal performance, completing gap analysis, conducting risk analysis, creating methods for measuring progress, and more.
  • ISO Training: training internal auditors to implement and audit the system, teaching managers enough that they can facilitate results, and helping employees understand the reasons for all the coming changes
  • Start Standardizing: developing and/redesigning processes, documenting SOPs, creating a reporting system for QMS processes
  • Implement Changes: retraining employees, ensuring procedure matches documentation, revise procedures and documentation as needed

You'll want at least one full production cycle with the new system. In many cases, you'll require multiple production cycles as you learn and adjust.

Step #3: Conducting an Internal Audit

The point of an internal audit is to assess the effectiveness of your quality management system and check how well you're following ISO standards.

Based on the results of your internal audit, you may need to implement corrective actions, adjust processes, and update documentation.

Step #4: Register for ISO 9001 Certification

Once you're confident that your QMS meets the requirements of ISO 9001:2015, you'll arrange for an external audit through a properly accredited registrar. If all goes well, they'll issue your certification.

Step #5: Keep Improving and Renewing Your Certification

Renewal of ISO 9001 certification is voluntary, but you have to get your status renewed at least once every 3 years to claim certification.

Since the ISO 9001 standard calls for continuous improvement, re-certification shouldn't be difficult as long as you've continued the system.

Become an ISO 9001 Auditor Online

Did you know you can earn ISO auditor credentials online? We can help, whether your goal is to:

You can finish your training from the comfort of your own home for a reasonable price. Check out our full line of ISO courses and contact us today!

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