When the Pandemic is Over: Using ISO to Plan & Prepare



iso-9001.jpgThis too shall pass. We will get through the current COVID-19 pandemic and organizations will return to a semblance of operational normalcy. Manufacturers, surviving customers and the supply chain are all looking inwardly at returning to this new normal. And while we are currently unsure of what the next chapter will look like or when it will come, we can still do something to establish some certainty in the future: plan!

For organizations that are compliant to ISO 9001:2015 (including AS9100D and IATF 16949), there are several requirements that can be used to assist in getting back to business as usual – and putting together a plan is one of them. There are specific requirements, or clauses, which directly relate to addressing the need for planning, including:

  • Clause 4.1: The Context of the Organization Have the “internal and external issues” which affect the strategic direction of the organization changed? If so, it’s best to gather more information about what exactly has changed and how it will affect the organization’s strategy.
  • Clause 4.2: Understanding the Needs and Expectations of Interested Parties – Key interested parties are likely to have been affected: Customers, employees and suppliers.

Gathering information based on clauses 4.1 and 4.2, along with related issues, is vital to fuel the plan for the future. It’s widely believed that there is no “going back to the way things were,” so it is critical for companies to understand these aspects in order to move forward and adjust to the new environment. Having gathered this information, what next?

The closest requirement to strategic or business planning in ISO 9001 is Section 6. Relevant clauses include 6.1: Actions to Address Risks and Opportunities and 6.3: Planning of Changes. While these are useful, they do not exactly address who is responsible for planning or how. I would suggest it should be the role of “Top Management” and it should be accomplished in the “Management Review.”

After gathering the information related to the context of the organization and the interested parties, as explained above, top management should hold a review as soon as possible. The review will table what information is known so a plan to deploy the various processes of the Quality Management System can be drawn up and assignments made – who, what, when, etc. – on those issues that represent a risk the organization:

  • What happened to the customer base? Has anything changed with suppliers to affect the organization? Is the competition affected in any way?
  • There may be new health and safety regulations in place that were not present before. Maybe, some key workers will not be returning to work. Do you have a handle on their knowledge? Will replacements need recruiting? New or re-training?
  • Similarly, the supply base you have come to rely upon in the past may not be the same. Raw materials may not be as readily available, lead times extended, tooling suppliers at max capacity – or simply out of business.

Another, often overlooked, requirement of an effective Quality Management System (QMS) is that of Clause 7.4: Communication.

It’s a time worn adage that, “Management doesn’t communicate well.” Under the current circumstances, inadequate communication cannot be allowed to happen. A communications plan should be outlined along with the rest of the overall strategy. As the ISO 9001:2015 requirement states, this should include:

  • What will be communicated
  • When to communicate
  • With whom to communicate
  • How to communicate
  • Who does the communicating

It follows that customer communication comes first. Not always a “tell,” it might be a, “What’s your plan?” Find out if your customer even HAS a plan and let them know you DO have a plan. Make sure your website is up to date with the latest and greatest – nothing says more about you than an ineffective website. It’s how (new) customers find you! And, please, if you are ISO 9001 certified, post your certificate. It is the entry ticket to new business. Don’t post an “ISO Certified” logo – it’s your (accredited) certification which carries the most credibility.

Communicate with employees and the community. Do not assume they all have current internet/email connectivity. You may need to post a sign outside. There are many topics to communicate to help employees feel safe about returning. Lay them out clearly, including your revised expectations for things that have changed.

Finally, remember your suppliers. They need to know you are thinking about them and you need to know what they are doing. Once again, they might not have a plan. Good supplier relationships depend on customers helping those suppliers. After all, YOU are only as good as your worst (prepared) supplier.

Regardless of the need for better business continuity planning (for future events, ISO 22301 is a good reference), every organization with an ISO 9001:2015 compliant QMS has some basic processes in place to make a better job of recovering from this COVID-19 pandemic and helping avert a total loss. Start now! Plan now! The Center can help.

For assistance with how to prepare for a virtual certification audit, register for our upcoming free webinar on Wednesday, May 6, for tools to help with this unique situation.


Nichols_A.jpgAndy Nichols, Quality Program Manager
To The Center’s clients, Andy Nichols, CQP MCQI, brings 40 years of expertise in a wide variety of roles and industries, with a particular focus on quality management systems in manufacturing organizations. Prior to joining the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, he was the East Coast Regional Sales Manager for NQA, a “Top 5” Global Certification Body, responsible for significant sales growth in a highly competitive marketplace. He has authored two books, “Exploding the Myths Surrounding ISO 9000 – A Practical Implementation Guide” (published by ITG in April 2013) and “A Guide to Effective Internal Management Systems Audits" (published May 2014).


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Categories: Quality Management