ISO 9001, the international standard for quality management

In order to be successful, you need to attract and retain customers by focussing on high-quality service and optimising your ability to deal with current and future needs. However, in most cases that’s easier said than done. That’s why the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) facilitated the development of a standard that supports organisations in their quests for quality: ISO 9001:2015.

  1. What is ISO 9001?
  2. Why implement ISO 9001?
  3. ISO 9001 is meant for whom?
  4. Certification ISO 9001
  5. Audit ISO 9001
  6. ISO 9001:2015 courses
  7. Part of the ISO 9000 family

Curious about what is required to establish an effective quality management system?

Purchase ISO 9001:2015 from NBN and get the complete overview in a PDF file.

1. What is IS0 9001?

ISO 9001 is an internationally recognised standard that compiles all the expertise and know-how on quality management in one document. The ISO standard has developed into a true benchmark for transparency, reliability and quality for all sorts of organisations. The result: in nearly all sectors, ISO 9001 is now a widely known standard.

The first version dates back to 1987. Every 5 years, a committee of experts evaluates the content of the document, as is the case for other management standards. The committee then decides to keep the document as is, to revise it or to retract the standard. Because ISO 9001 was last updated in 2015, the full name of the standard is ISO 9001:2015. But as NBN publishes this standard in Belgium, its description changes to NBN EN ISO 9001:2015. (‘EN’ refers to the European publication by CEN-CENELEC).

ISO 9001: Plan, Do, Check, Act

The management standard ISO 9001 requires organisations to describe, analyse, measure and continuously improve their processes. In doing so, stakeholders better understand their roles and how they contribute to the overall success of their organisation, which in turn raises internal quality awareness. But that can only be achieved through a process-based approach.

That fixed cycle is called Plan, Do, Check, Act – or PDCA.

  • PLAN: evaluate your current processes and elaborate a plan with objectives on how to improve those processes.
  • DO: execute the planned improvements.
  • CHECK: measure the result and verify if you have met the objectives.
  • ACT: if necessary, adjust according to the findings you gathered in the CHECK stage and start over.

ISO 9001: 10 chapters

The structure of ISO 9001 is completely conform the High Level Structure (HLS). HLS is a way of giving tens of ISO management standards a uniform structure and aligned requirements, making it easier to establish an integrated, modular management system. If you start with one management standard (or module), you can then easily add another, such as ISO 14001 (environmental management) or ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety management).

What is High Level Structure?

Expert Hendrik Decroos explains the ins and outs in this exclusive testimonial.

More concretely, HLS means that ISO 9001 consists of these 10 chapters:

  1. Scope
  2. Normative references
  3. Terms and definitions
  4. Context of the organisation
  5. Leadership
  6. Planning
  7. Support
  8. Operation
  9. Performance evaluation
  10. Continuous improvement

2. Why implement ISO 9001?

De 9 benefits of ISO 9001:

  1. Higher revenue: you put your customers first by continuously focussing on their needs and improving customer satisfaction. In doing so, you keep your customers close, attract new ones and eventually up your revenue.
  2. Demonstrable quality: with a quality management system conforming to ISO 9001, you let your customers and other stakeholders know that you offer reliable products or services.
  3. Fewer costs: by intelligently streamlining your processes, you reduce the chance of mistakes. Moreover, your organisation will work more efficiently, so you won’t need to invest as much time and effort in running it.
  4. Greater flexibility: with the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and an approach that strongly focusses on risks and opportunities, you’re able to deal effectively with changes in the market and in your organisation. Superb adaptability is a clear competitive advantage.
  5. New markets: for internationally active organisations, ISO 9001 is an important tool to attract and persuade new customers to purchase your products or services. Some foreign clients and suppliers even demand that you have a quality management system conforming to ISO 9001 in order to do business with you.
  6. Improved customer satisfaction: you meet the needs of your customers. Moreover, you keep track of their future needs. You don’t just say that you have their best interests at heart, you’re also able to show it.
  7. Better overview: you assess the complete context of your organisation to decide who your stakeholders are and what they expect from you. With this approach, you have clear insights for determining your corporate objectives and detecting new opportunities.
  8. Custom-made: whether you work for a small or large organisation, a private company, the public sector, an NGO or academic institution, ISO 9001 is your go-to standard for quality management.
  9. Stronger engagement: you actively involve your employees in the quality process, you empower them and give them clear responsibilities, leading to higher productivity and happy faces in the workspace.

ISO 9001 helps Sioen to excel

At Sioen Coating – our biggest division – we initially launched our quality management system conforming to ISO 9001 at the request of clients. Meanwhile, it has become a very useful management tool because a future-proof company has to think about numerous internal and external risks, harness its strengths and efficiently deal with its weaknesses. ISO 9001 creates the framework to do so. The standard has changed a lot over the years and is now a worldwide benchmark for companies that aim to excel, just like Sioen.


Guy Rigolle, Quality Manager Coating Division at textile giant Sioen

3. ISO 9001 is meant for whom?

Many professionals who are responsible for the quality management system within their organisation can benefit from ISO 9001, such as:

  • quality managers;
  • internal quality auditors responsible for preparing, executing, reporting and following up on internal audits;
  • sustainability managers and professionals responsible for quality, health, safety and environment (QHSE) who are involved in the integration of quality management systems;
  • risk assessors and risk managers;
  • members of the leadership and management team;
  • process owners.


4. Certification ISO 9001

ISO 9001, the top international standard for quality management, is by far the most popular management standard when it comes to certification. In 2018, no fewer than 1,180,000 sites held ISO 9001:2015 certificates.

Good preparation is half the battle!

Prepare for certification with one of our courses or directly buy the standard.

What is an ISO 9001:2015-certificate?

Using ISO management standards is not mandatory. You apply them voluntarily to improve the operation of your organisation. However, through certification, an independent institution confirms the correct and complete implementation of the standard. A certificate is written proof that you meet all the requirements in ISO 9001 and it’s valid for 3 years. Afterwards, you can start a new certification process to renew your certificate (if you want).

Why obtain an ISO 9001:2015-certificate?

These are the 4 biggest advantages of an ISO 9001:2015 certificate:

  1. More likely to win tenders and get permits: governments and larger companies often include a valid ISO 9001 certificate in their requirements for tenders and/or permits. Needless to say: if you have one, you outperform competitors who don’t.
  2. Strong external reputation and image: with a certificate, you belong to a select group of organisations. You don’t just say that you take quality management seriously, you walk the talk.
  3. Continuous improvement of your organisation: the prospect of periodic evaluations guarantees that you don’t take things lightly. You need to regularly update your objectives, which in turn means you’ll be able to spot new opportunities and tackle new challenges.
  4. Input from experienced experts: independent auditors assess your quality management system, your policy, objectives, processes, flexibility, risks and organisation as a whole. They’re more than happy to share their expertise and give you advice on how to deal with certain dilemmas.

How to get an ISO 9001:2015-certificate?

Although ISO and NBN facilitate the development of standards, these organisations are not involved in the certification process. In other words, you can never be certified by ISO or NBN. That is the job of independent certification institutions after a positive evaluation.


Which institutions issue ISO 9001 certificates?

In Belgium, there are a number of institutions that issue ISO 9001 certificates after you successfully pass an audit. However, not all of them are accredited by BELAC, the Belgian accreditation institution. This is not mandatory, but an accredited certification institution does offer you more certainty of a thorough audit process. Why? Accreditation is a proof of technical competence, independency and impartiality.

You’ll find a list of all accredited institutions in Belgium on the website of BELAC, the Belgian accreditation institution.

Certification ISO 9001: roadmap   

This simplified overview gives you an indication of the steps you need to take in order to establish a certifiable quality management system that conforms to ISO 9001:

  1. Raise support
    Convince management that ISO 9001 offers added value, so everyone’s on the same page when you start.
  2. Buy ISO 9001
    One address: the NBN e-shop.
  3. Get some training
    Unless you have experience working with ISO 9001, it’s best to sign up for a training course to acquire knowledge and insights. In the NBN Learning Solutions calendar, you’ll find basic, advanced, auditing and master classes.
  4. Conduct a baseline measurement
    Do this with colleagues or external consultants. The result of the GAP analysis, where you compare the current to the desired state of operation, reveals your main issues to work on.
  5. Prepare
    Put together a roadmap with concrete objectives for your organisation and the management team. Additionally, work out a time frame and appoint people or teams to supervise the different projects.
  6. Communicate
    Share your plan with all stakeholders to make sure everyone understands their role. That will result in a smoother implementation of the management standard.
  7. Implement
    Execute all planned actions and gradually work towards the full implementation of the management standard.
  8. Audit
    Contact a certification institution to arrange an audit. Discuss certain shortcomings if necessary.
  9. Celebrate your certification 
    If your organisation meets all the requirements, you’ll get a (temporary) certificate. View this as a starting point for the continuous improvement of your quality management system.

Depending on the size and complexity of your organisation, the throughput time for this roadmap varies from 3 to 6 months. Much depends on your preparation and your understanding of the standard.


ISO 9001 certification: costs

Again, the size and complexity of your organisation both impact this figure. Besides that, the total cost depends on who leads the process. Will you implement the standard yourself or call on an external consultant for assistance? The latter option will be more costly. In any case, you’ll need a certification institution for the audits. Normally, you sign a 3-year contract – the validity period of your certificate – with the institution of your choice.

5. Audit ISO 9001

Audits determine if you have implemented the standard correctly and to its full extent. Before and after official audits, you can also conduct internal audits to better prepare and thus avoid unpleasant surprises.


What does an audit imply?

Three months after the full implementation of the management standard, you can initiate the certification process and plan an audit. That audit will take 1 to 5 days, depending on the size of your organisation. Do you have more than one facility? Be prepared to show the auditor all locations.

The audit consists of 2 phases:

  • phase 1: a thorough check of all necessary documents.
  • phase 2: an (on site) analysis of the operation of your quality management system. 


What to do after the audit?

An external audit is not meant to be a stressful experience, but is instead a great opportunity to get advice on how to further optimise your organisation. After the audit, the certification institution decides whether you have implemented the standard correctly. If so, you’ll get a certificate. If not, you’ll receive a report with non-conformities and points to work on. In the latter case, an additional audit will be conducted.


How to prepare for an audit

These 4 tips give you a greater chance of success:

  1. Conduct an internal audit (with external support) to look for possible shortcomings.
  2. Make sure management is present during the audit and that all employees are aware of what’s happening.
  3. Save all documents in a central location and check if they’re drafted according to the terms and definitions in the standard.
  4. Compile a list of successful, measurable actions and projects that enhance continuous improvement.

6. ISO 9001 courses


Do you want to get to know the ISO 9001 management standard better? The follow our basic training or expert training.

  • E-Learning: an interactive, online learning platform about the basics of ISO 9001. With theory, examples, videos and exercises. Put together by experts. You learn everything about quality, quality management, the 7 quality principles and the ISO 9001 standard.

The ideal training, because you: don't need any prior knowledge, learn where and when you want, receive a one-year access to the learning platform and obtain a diploma.

“Extensive basic course with plenty of fun videos. They give you a better perspective.”

Read more about the e-learning (available in NL and FR)

  • Master Track: a unique learning programme about quality management to expand  your expertise. The course comprises 4 parts: an introduction to ISO 9001, two in-depth classroom sessions and a final test with a classroom presentation.

The ideal training, because you: all start with the same prior knowledge, learn to interpret and use the ISO 9001 standards, get to know management techniques, make your first steps in the world of quality audits and obtain a diploma.

“It was noticeable how competent and experienced the trainer was in applying ISO 9001.”

Read more about the Master Track (available in NL and FR)

Quality expert Joerdi Roels, one of the trainers at NBN Learning Solutions, explains why an ISO 9001 course can mean all the difference for your organisation:


7. Part of the ISO 9000 family

Voor bepaalde sectoren werd een aparte kwaliteitsnorm ontwikkeld, om nog beter te voldoen aan de specifieke noden met betrekking tot kwaliteitsmanagement binnen die domeinen. Deze sectorspecifieke normen zijn:

  • NBN EN ISO 13485 - Medical Devices Management Systems
  • NBN EN ISO 22000 – Food Safety Management
  • NBN EN ISO 18295 - Service Requirements for Customer Contact Centers
  • NBN EN ISO/IEC 17025 - General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories
  • NBN ISO/TS 22163 - Railway applications - Quality management system - Business management system requirements for rail organizations
  • NBN ISO 18091 - Quality management systems - Guidelines for the application of ISO 9001 in local government

Implement ISO 9001:2015 yourself

Buy the standard in the NBN e-shop. You immediately get an overview of all requirements for an effective quality management system.

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