If the Quality Policy is the document in the organisation that sets out the overall intention and direction of the organisation with regards to quality, then the quality objectives can be seen as the milestones that steer the organisation in the right direction.
But why are quality objectives so important?
As an auditor, it’s always easiest to say: “Because the standard says so.” More helpfully, it’s because they are at the very core of your quality management system. I have seen how hundreds of organisations use the process of setting objectives to focus minds and get the organisation working towards the common goal as expressed in the Quality Policy.
Let’s look at the standard. The Quality Management Standard ISO 9001 contains a clause 6.2.1 that requires an organisation to establish quality objectives at relevant functions, levels and processes. The objectives must take applicable requirements into account and be relevant to conformity of products and services and to enhance customer satisfaction.
Unlike the Quality Policy, which is set at the top level of the organisation, quality objectives can be set for the organisation as a whole, as well as specific to a department, a team, a process or a project.
There are possibly hundreds of quality objectives in an organisation across, for example, finance, HR, Environment, and Health and Safety. So it’s important to focus on the most important quality objectives in order not to dilute attention and lose focus.
It is for the organisation itself to decide which functions, levels and processes are relevant. Looking at processes and outcomes, the organisation can use the process of setting objectives to focus on specific requirements, high risk processes, or areas with a need for improvement.
The emphasis should be on processes in the organisation that directly or indirectly lead to customer satisfaction. This is, after all, a quality management system.
When the organisation has decided on its Quality Objectives it will need to make them operational – to decide what to monitor and measure, and how to bring about improvements. The easiest way to do that is to ensure that the objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound – SMART (even though this isn’t a requirement of the standard).
In order for the objectives to actually matter, they will need to be communicated. Employees need to understand how their job supports meeting the objectives.
It’s not only about making the employee aware of the actual objective, but also about making sure they understand what plans there are in place to ensure improvement. Continuous improvement does not happen by having secret plans but by empowering employees and making them responsible for meeting their part of the objectives.