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Rationale Approach to Writing an ISO 9000 Quality Manual

by Ron Kurtus (14 March 2001)

The purpose of a Quality Policy Manual is to show the commitment of upper management to follow the ISO 9000 standards and to state the company philosophy and policies toward satisfying each of the standard's requirements. A problem seen in many such manuals is that some policies do not see to have rhyme or reason to them. There is a need to add a rationale to the stated policies.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will try to answer those questions.



Typical policies lacking

Most documents stating a company's policies simply tell what course of action the company takes, but they do not give any indication why they have such policies. This is also true in the statement of guidelines, rules or laws. 

Typical policy statements are: "It is our policy to always ship in three working days," or "We always double-check our invoices," or "It is our policy to empower our workers." These are good policies to follow, if they provide value to the company.

When situations change

Problems occur when situations change, such that the policy is obsolete but yet followed, simply because it is a policy.  For example, suppose the company has a written policy that they always double-check their invoices by hand. But then they install an automated system that eliminates that requirement. But still, since it is policy and there must be some reason to do so, the company continues to double-check the invoices.

Of course, this is a simplistic example, but how many times have you heard the expression "We've always done it that way" and continued to operate in the old mode?

Reasons and benefits implied

The reasons a company follows policies or the rationale behind those policies is seldom—if ever—explained. When policies are written, the benefits to the company are implied. But they are in the mind of the writer and those directly involved. It is possible that the policies may be misunderstood, and as years pass, the reasons for writing them may be forgotten.

Need rationale

My contention is that it is valuable to state the rationale for a policy. That is, to state the reasoning, the logic and the solutions to problems. Part of this rationale is to point out the benefits and advantages that motivate a policy's implementation.

Aid future managers

One reason to include the rationale is to aide future managers in understanding the thinking behind the policy. If conditions change and the rationale is no longer valid, it is then possible to change the policy, using a new rationale. This will prevent getting into the situation of saying, "We've always done it that way," without really knowing why or if that way is really valid anymore.

Make sense of it

Another reason to include the rationale in a policy statement is to ensure the policy makes sense and fits within the scheme of things. Without really thinking out the reasons and benefits of a policy, it is possible that incorrect or illogical policies are included.

Rationale format

Since most Quality Policy Manuals follow the numbering format from the ISO 9000 standard they are using, the meat of the policies consist of the 20 subsections of section 4.0. Each of those subsections includes one or more policy statements.

A possible format for including the rationale with the policy statement consists of stating the:

  1. Specific activity
  2. Rationale, consisting of
    • Belief concerning solution to potential problems
    • Benefits to company
  3. Policy

State specific activity

The policy manual provides an opportunity to state what activities and major process in which the company is involved. Too often in ISO 9000 Quality Manuals, those activities are simply implied. In the rationale format you should state the business activity related to the specific ISO 9000 requirement. For example, "In our business, we design products according to customer specifications."

Specifically stating these activities also helps in defining the organization of your company.

State rationale

For every given activity, there are potential problem areas. The obvious ones should be stated, along with a possible way to solve those problems. Sometimes these are simply beliefs of the upper management as ways to solve problems.

For example, if you have a company that designs products to customer specifications, there might be the potential for unauthorized design changes. In such a case, it is important to monitor all design changes.

In order to put a positive spin on the problem-solution statement, I have tried to start with a statement of a good practice, followed by the reason—which is an effort to avoid a potential problem. An example of this is: "We believe it is important to monitor all design changes. This is done to avoid any unauthorized changes."

This statement can then be followed by who you feel such an action will benefit the company and its business.

State policy

Finally, you can state the company policy or course of action on this activity. In a Quality Policy Manual, it often includes fulfilling a specific ISO 9000 standard section or paragraph.

Policy statements often state that you "always" do something, such as, "It is our policy to always document our tests." That sort of fits the definition of a policy, although it is possible for one to apply only in special cases. This should be spelled out to avoid confusion.

Summary

Including the rationale for your policies increases understanding and allows for future changes and improvements. It is not normally done, but I feel it improves the understanding and effectiveness of a policy manual.


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Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

ISO Online - International Organization for Standardization website

ISO Standards Translated in Plain English - Extensive listing

ISO 9000 Certification Information - Good listing of ISO 9000 resources

ISO 9000 References and Resources

Books

Top-rated books on ISO 9000


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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