What Is a Quality Management System?

People who refer to the three periods of ice hockey as “trimesters” and yell “touch down!” when a soccer goal is scored probably shouldn’t use sports analogies. But I’m going to anyway.

ISO 9000:2015 - and a fair amount of “copy & paste” - provide this definition of a quality management system:

quality management system - part of a set of interrelated or interacting elements of an organization (person or group of people that has its own functions with responsibilities, authorities and relationships to achieve its objectives) to establish policies [intentions and direction of an organization as formally expressed by top management (person or group who directs and controls an organization at the highest level)] and objectives (result(s) to be achieved) and processes (sets of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result) to achieve those objectives (results to be achieved) with regard to quality [degree to which a set of inherent characteristics (distinguishing features) of an object (entity, item, anything perceivable or conceivable (note – can be material, non-material or imagined)] fulfills needs or expectations that are stated, generally implied or obligatory)

It is no wonder people don’t have a clear picture of what a quality management system is.

You may be disappointed to learn that the ingredients of that “word-salad” are found at the end of this blog. I was disappointed that “elements” is not defined in ISO 9000.

After reading that definition, you probably do not have any better idea what a quality management system is. So I will break this down into what I consider to be the two most important aspects of a management system:

  1. objectives, and

  2. processes and resources (those “elements” that went undefined by ISO 9000) needed to achieve those objectives

Organizations have objectives. To achieve those objectives, organizations perform processes using resources. Those objectives, combined with the processes performed to achieve them (along with required resources), are a quality management system.

And now, my first attempt at a sports analogy…

Endurance motorcycling (yes, it is a sport) by definition begins with an objective. Years ago I set an objective of completing the Iron Butt Association’s Bun Burner 1500. This award is earned by riding a motorcycle at least 1500 miles in 36 hours or less and is granted after submitting a ride log complete with objective evidence - start and end witnesses as well as receipts that show date, time, and location.

The primary processes used in achieving this objective were planning, design, planning, purchasing, planning, maintenance, planning, and riding (production and service provision). I hope I didn’t under-emphasize planning. In addition to the activities (processes), there are other required resources.

ASQ Virginia riding map ISO 9001 Kristin Case

The obvious equipment includes the motorcycle and associated gear (boots, helmet, gloves, chaps, rain gear…). But to successfully ride 1500 miles without stopping for sleep, there are other mission-critical materials and consumables (earplugs, tire gauge, water, diaper cream, smart phone with battery back-up to stay current on weather changes, hard copy maps, cash and easily accessible coins for toll roads that don’t take PikePass…).

Knowledge and experience is key to the preparation of achieving the objective. Not every rider knows:

  • dehydration and/or exhaustion can be literally deadly;

  • even when you notify your credit card companies of your plans, they might cut off your access;

  • 36 degrees F is cold; 36 degrees F at 80 mph is downright painful;

  • caffeine can be dangerous; sour gum and good music helps keep you awake;

  • hard copy checklist (document control is important) on the tank will help at every stop;

  • there is a “most efficient” way to take care of business when at a fuel stop;

  • losing a receipt will end your attempt to complete the objective (records control is important);

  • there is no Waffle House equivalent when traveling in the northern states; and

  • when endurance riding, rain gear should be in the right saddle bag as it is more readily accessible than the left.

The objective, processes and resources make up the management system. In this case, the objective of riding from Tulsa to Hartford in less than 36 hours, combined with the planning, preparing, and riding and the resources needed for riding are essentially the “quality management system” of me completing an Iron Butt Bun Burner 1500.

Definitions and references from ISO 9000

quality management system (3.5.4) - part of a management system (3.5.3) with regard to quality (3.6.2)

management system (3.5.3) - set of interrelated or interacting elements of an organization (3.2.1) to establish policies (3.5.8) and objectives (3.7.1), and processes (3.4.1) to achieve those objectives

quality (3.6.2) - degree to which a set of inherent characteristics (3.10.1) of an object (3.6.1) fulfils requirements (3.6.4)

organization (3.2.1) - person or group of people that has its own functions with responsibilities, authorities and relationships to achieve its objectives (3.7.1)

policy (3.5.8) - intentions and direction of an organization (3.2.1) as formally expressed by top management (3.1.1)

objective (3.7.1) - result to be achieved

process (3.4.1) - set of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result

characteristic (3.10.1) - distinguishing feature

object (3.6.1) - entity; item; anything perceivable or conceivable

requirement (3.6.4) - need or expectation that is stated, generally implied or obligatory

top management (3.1.1) - person or group of people who directs and controls an organization at the highest level

Fun Fact #1. In North America, we spell fulfils with an extra “l” (fulfills). The rest of the world does not.

Fun Fact #2. I left the “notes” out of the definitions. There were 33 of them. You are welcome.