ISO Standards: Quality Objectives and Quality Dreams

Author's Note: This article reviews common practices for, and the positive results of, establishing measurable quality objectives for ISO 9001 and other quality management systems. The author suggests a practical model for identifying and documenting objectives to drive the continual improvement of management systems. This article also illustrates ineffectiveness that results from vague and poorly defined quality objectives, and demonstrates how well-structured and documented quality objectives can lead an organization to a more efficient quality management system that increases customer satisfaction. An example of a Quality Objectives Matrix (shown in the paper) presents a useful method for documenting and managing various aspects of quality management systems. The paper will be helpful to those organizations that have not yet formally documented their quality objectives and for those that are interested in improving the effectiveness of their quality management systems and the performance of their businesses.

I may be overly sensitive to vague and uncertain goals because I've had several bad experiences with such "objectives" in the past. 


Through my consulting and auditing career I have been collecting "the best and the worst" samples of management systems and QMS documentation. Among those collectibles, here are a few examples of the worst-documented quality objectives that I have seen thus far:

  • " deliver exceptional values through trust of the people around the world"
  • "...conduct business better, simpler, faster"
  • "...quality is paramount and all our employees are committed to quality."

Regretfully, these "quality objectives" are straight from the documentation of some of the organizations and professionals with whom I have worked. How companies could measure performance against such "objectives" is anybody's guess. I may be overly sensitive to vague and uncertain goals because I've had several bad experiences with such "objectives" in the past.

When I grew up in the former Soviet Union, day and night Soviet propaganda tried to fool us. They would say that everything was getting better and better, while we all knew that it was not true. Since then, I have been unable to figure out how one could say that something is getting better or worse--or even exists--when there is nothing to compare this "something" with.

The interesting "objectives" quoted above resemble dreams, not objectives. There is nothing wrong with having dreams. Often measurable accomplishments start from dreams. These dreams might include making a computer user interface more intuitive, engineering a car that requires less fuel, automating documentation systems, etc. The problem is that many organizations stop at dreams and don't make quantifiable progress that is significant for employees, stakeholders and other parties.

If we agree that starting from a dream is a good beginning, let's see how we can translate a dream into a measurable objective. Element 5.2 of the ISO 9001 standards, among others, requires "...enhancing customer satisfaction..". Committing to such a program in the QMS documentation is a good idea because the standard requires it and because—obviously—satisfied customers are the customers that continue paying the bills. However, it's not good enough to simply state this dream within the quality objectives documentation because "customer satisfaction" cannot be accurately measured. I worked with companies, for example, that established their customer satisfaction targets to 87, 97 or whatever percent. What those percentages meant—my apologies—I have no idea. Simply speaking, even collecting satisfaction surveys can be far too subjective. If a customer marks 87 today, she can mark 76 tomorrow.

Fortunately, there is an alternative way to translate customer satisfaction objectives into "measurable specifics." Since we all are "professional" customers we can confidently say that to make a customer happy, one needs very little. Simply give your customers:

  • What they asked for,
  • When they want, and
  • Give it to them for the price they believe is honest.

These qualifications are more specific and may in summary represent a meaningful base for measuring customer satisfaction.

Quantifying Quality Objectives

If we agree that the three objectives above leading to customer satisfaction are a good start, let's see how we can quantify them.

"Give them what they asked for" may be quantified by identifying the number of product returns with the reason for return labeled as "wrong part" or anything similar.

"When they want it" may be measured through variance between actual delivery date and the target, or requested delivery date.

"The price they believe is honest" may be expressed as variance between our price and the average of compatible products. This data can be obtained through periodic competitive price surveys.

Responsibility: Anybody Could Have Done It...

Now that we have developed a list of quality objectives and know how to measure them, we should consider perhaps the most important attribute of any task: accountability. Remember the story about those three guys, Everybody, Anybody and Nobody? When hell broke loose and Everybody knew what needed to be done, Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did.

The moral of the story is simple: if you need to get something done, make a particular person, not a committee or a function responsible for it. When something needs to be accomplished it shouldn't be handed over to "collective responsibility." Since every company wants to achieve its objectives and goals, every company can start by assigning specific responsibilities to specific employees, depending on their expertise and authority within the organization. For example, the most appropriate person to oversee and report delivery accuracy is most likely the Shipping Manager. The most appropriate person to report on customer retention is the Customer Service Manager; the most appropriate person to report on pricing would be the VP of Marketing, etc.

Review Frequencies

Now that we have identified our objectives and associated responsibilities, we need to define practical frequencies for the review of each objective. These reviews, or performance appraisals, are usually conducted by management or delegated to lower tactical forums. Top level management reviews are conducted monthly, quarterly or annually, while tactical reviews on departmental levels may be conducted daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly.

Setting Practical Quality Goals

There is a saying: "Be careful what you wish for — you just may get it!" If this is true and we wished we could deliver our products to our customers all the time and every time it could come true! Unfortunately, this wisdom is not for everybody. Some time ago I worked with a company that took an opposite approach. When I interviewed the Order Processing Manager and examined their records, I learned that their delivery accuracy was somewhere around 60 percent with delays of up to 30 days. "What are your goals in improving delivery?" I asked. "Reach 80 percent," the manager replied. "How often do your customers want shipments on time?" I asked. "All the time," she replied.

"Why is your goal not 100 percent then?" I asked. "It will de-motivate employees to miss the goal most of the time," she answered.

It was very thoughtful of the manager and the entire organization to be concerned with their employees' morale and motivation but contradictory to the company's policy to "meet or exceed customer expectations." Do we stop aiming at the center of the target when we're shooting darts even if we do not hit the center every time? Sometimes I wonder why some organizations apply different standards to their employers, service providers and suppliers than to themselves. Wouldn't it be fair to try to be 100 percent on time when we deliver products when we ourselves expect our employer to be on time with our monthly or bimonthly paychecks?


By using the simple approaches addressed in this paper, you may develop a powerful quality management tool that will allow your business to assess its performance characteristics based on data and not feelings. As a matter of fact, my most successful clients developed and started using full-blown Balanced Scorecards to manage their quality, business and other objectives. Such scorecards may include financial, quality, environmental, process realization and other business systems.

As an old Chinese saying goes, a three-year journey starts from the first step. I hope this information helps other professionals realize how measurable objectives, their target values and their periodic reviews will lead their companies to achieve their business goals.

Aim high, do not be afraid of missing targets (sometimes) and good luck in reaching your measurable quality objectives and goals using the Quality Objectives Matrix below. To learn more about other management system tools and documentation, visit our Website at


Mark Kaganov holds a Master's degree in the design and technology of electromechanical equipment and has more than 25 years' experience in development, implementation and the improvement of management systems. Kaganov is an author of numerous technical publications and is a public speaker. Since the mid 90s, he has been a Director of Operations and a Lead Consultant with Quality Works. Quality Works specializes in ISO 9001, ISO 13485, ISO 14001, FDA QSR 820 and other management systems.

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