ISO 9001:2015 – just the same words in a different order?

Author: Susannah Clarke

ISO Banner blog - same words different order-02For the first blog of this new series, Susannah Clarke, Managing Partner and co-author of ‘Implementing ISO 9001:2015’, shows that the new revised Standard is not just a question of ‘the same words but in a different order’!


Andre PrevinI grew up with parents and grandparents for whom the popular British Sketch show, Morecambe and Wise, was akin to a religion and the laughter from those Saturday nights stays with me today.  I was amused therefore to hear one of my colleagues use the analogy that some people will believe that the changes in ISO 9001:2015 will have no effect, and that it reminded him of the Andre Previn sketch, same notes, different order, or in this case, same words, different order.  If you have 12 minutes, you can enjoy the sketch here or skip forward to 10 minutes for the climax!

There’s no argument that the ISO looks familiar: a Quality Management System; a process approach; control of documented information; customer focus; planning; systems and processes appear in both, are they simply in a different order?

Compare and Contrast

Let’s take just one example and do a contrast and compare of the words in Process Approach between the 2008 and 2015 versions.  At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking they are the same.

However, in ISO 9001:2008 the Process Approach is described thus:

This International Standard promotes the adoption of a process approach when developing, implementing and improving the effectiveness of a quality management system, to enhance customer satisfaction by meeting customer requirements.

Now take a look at the 2015 version:

The process approach involves the systematic definition and management of processes, and their interactions, so as to achieve the intended results in accordance with the quality policy and strategic direction of the organization.*

To me, this takes the process approach up an octave, beyond the quality management system up to the organisation’s strategic direction, meaning you will need:

  • A strategy for the organisation, which is communicated to the organisation in a way they understand and can apply to their work, which leads to…
  • A systematic approach to the definition and management of your organisation’s processes, and that you have…
  • A process for demonstrating the results of your processes, and how the results compare to the original intended performance of the processes.

I could go on, word by word, clause by clause, but what I’m hearing is a whole new tune.


So how do you interpret the Standard into meaningful notes that everyone can play?

In our new book we’ve translated the clauses like this:

Clause 4: Context of the Organisation
Who are you and what do you do?

Clause 5: Leadership
How do your leaders really show they care about quality?

Clause 6: Planning
How do you go about designing your systems?

Clause 7: Support
How do your people ensure the customer facing teams can deliver your products and services?

Clause 8: Operation
What are the processes for what you do and how you plan to do it?

Clause 9: Performance evaluation
How are you doing?

Clause 10: Improvement
How do you keep moving forward?

At the end of the day, there will always be some who get by with learning the basic notes and no matter how many times they play them, or in what order, it will never feel different.  But for those who aspire to achieving and improving their organisation’s results, who are passionate about understanding the rhythm of their work and will practice to get the rhythm right, ISO 9001:2015 can be a compelling concerto.

* ISO 9001:2015, 0.3 Process Approach, 0.3.1 General


About Susannah

Susannah_Clarke_PMI_squareSusannah Clarke is Managing Partner at Process Management International (PMI) and a specialist in the field of Executive and Performance Coaching.  Susannah has worked extensively in the learning and development sector, starting her career with NatWest Markets in the City before spending 17-years with GSK as a consultant.  In 2011 Susannah joined Oracle University as Partner Director for EMEA and in 2013 joined PMI as Managing Partner.   As co-author of ‘Implementing ISO9001:2015” she brings together more than 35 years’ experience leading, managing and consulting across different organisations.  Susannah has written several blogs and published many articles in leading process and Quality focused publications.