Published: 18 Mar 2021

ISO 9004:2018 Quality management — Quality of an organization: Guidance to achieve sustained success

Purpose of the standard

When first published in 1987 ISO 9004 sought to provide guidance as to how organisations who had achieved ISO 9001 conformance could further improve their quality performance. In the 2009 edition the focus was switched to achieving ‘sustained success’. This was to be achieved by adopting a quality management approach, where organisations would identify and address their strengths and weaknesses and opportunities for improvement, in respect of their strategies, leadership, resources and processes. 

The current 2018 edition builds on the 2009 edition. It introduces two new concepts, ‘the quality of an organization’ and ‘the identity of an organization’. The quality of an organisation is defined as ‘the degree to which the inherent characteristics of the organization fulfil the needs and expectations of its interested parties’. To achieve sustained success the organisation must focus on more than just improving the quality of its products and services. The ‘identify of an organisation’ is the result of the interaction of four factors; the organisation’s mission, vision, values and culture. It follows that in order to achieve sustained success these must be aligned, and it is incumbent on top management to ensure that this is the case.

At the heart of ISO 9004 is a self-assessment tool which can be applied by the organisation to determine its sustained success performance. At the lowest level of maturity (level 1) the organisation is simply aware that it should be carrying out certain activities. This is referred to as ‘the base level’. At the highest level (level 5) the organisation is not only carrying out these activities routinely but is actively learning, improving and innovating in that area. This is referred to as ‘the best practice level’.

At present it is not possible for an organisation to achieve external certification to ISO 9004, but is this about to change?

ISO TC 176/SC2/AHG4

ISO has approved the creation of an ad hoc working group to consider the future status of ISO 9004. This group met for the first time on 11 March, with delegates drawn from 14 National Standards Bodies (including Japan) plus 5 liaison organizations. The purpose of this group is to consider 4 options:

  1. Should ISO 9004 be changed from a guidance standard to a requirements standard?

  2. Should ISO 9004 remain as a guidance standard, with a new ISO 9004/1 requirements standard being created as its separate ‘partner’? 

  3. Should a hybrid ISO 9004 be created, the first section of which would contain requirements and the second section of which would contain guidance?

  4. Should ISO 9004 remain ‘as is’, namely a guidance standard only.

There are many factors to consider in reaching a decision. Some of these include:

  • The potential impact on the ISO 9001 brand from creating a second assessable QMS requirements standard.

  • The application of the Annex SL high level structure to an ISO 9004 based MSS.

  • The need for revised assessment/certification processes associated with an ISO 9004 based requirements standard.

  • Whether ISO 9004 could be converted to a requirements standard or whether an entirely new 9004 would have to be produced.

  • The availability of resources to progress such a project given an ISO 9001 revision may commence this year.

Members of the AHG4 were each assigned to carry out an initial evaluation of one or more of the above with their feedback due to be considered at the Group’s next meeting in April.

The current project timeline involves submitting a recommendation to ISO as to how ISO 9004 should be developed in Q4 of 2021.