Using templates for the ISO 9001 documentation

Because we have received so many inquiries about the pros and cons of using templates for ISO 9001 procedures and forms, we decided to give this topic its own section. We even reviewed several ISO 9001 templates and share our opinion in the Reviews section.

Using good templates for ISO 9001 procedures, forms, as well as the quality policy and flowchart etc can have significant benefits for any organization implementing the ISO 9001:2015 quality management system. Be aware, however, that bad ISO 9001 templates may achieve the opposite.

ISO 9001 documentation templates are not just sample ISO 9001 documents that can be customized. Good ISO 9001 documentation templates must have the following important features:

Designed to be Templates
Good ISO 9001 templates have been developed from ground up to be customized by you. They can easily be edited to make them fit your company's individual circumstances. They have been designed to be used by your organization. That's a crucial difference to just using another company's ISO 9001 documentation.

Customization Instructions
Included with good templates are step-by-step customization instructions that explain in detail where and how to make changes to each section of the templates depending on how the ISO 9001:2015 requirements apply to your company. The customization instructions are the guidelines used to create your company's individual ISO 9001 documentation based on templates.

Easy Implementation
One of the main reasons for using templates for your ISO 9001 documentation is to make it easier to implement a good ISO 9001 QMS. Good ISO 9001 templates are designed throughout with “ease of use” in mind.

If you use ISO 9001 templates, these templates will become your ISO 9001 documentation and, thus, the very foundation of your company's ISO 9001 quality management system. A good ISO 9001 quality management system will make your company more efficient; a bad ISO 9001 quality management system may become a burden to your company's productivity. It is, therefore, crucial that you use the most business-oriented templates to ensure that you will get a business-friendly ISO 9001 system.

A word of caution...

There are numerous companies that sell ISO 9001 documentation templates. We urge you to carefully evaluate them before making a purchase decision as we found so many of those templates convoluted, bureaucratic and cumbersome. See our Reviews section for the opinion of our experts.

Benefits of templates

Using good templates for your ISO 9001 quality documents and forms can provide the following benefits:

The ISO 9001 standard is written in a very generic way so that it can be applied to any company of any industry. The disadvantage is that it is much less of a specific guide for your particular circumstances, and it is often very difficult to find out what is actually required. Good ISO 9001 templates will help ensure that all requirements are addressed.

Writing the ISO 9001 procedures and creating forms is at the beginning of any ISO 9001 implementation. It is usually a big hurdle to take, especially due to the “I don't even know where to start” factor. Using ISO 9001 templates gets you over this hurdle, and hence you can get a real jumpstart on your ISO 9001 implementation. Similarly, templates for forms and checklists will move you ahead with your ISO 9001 implementation.

Using good ISO 9001 documentation templates allows you to implement an ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS) in short time and without the use of expensive ISO 9000 consultants. With good templates, you will spend much less time on researching the ISO 9001:2015 standard and its requirements, much less time on writing, and much less time on correcting your mistakes. ISO 9001 templates can save you much time, money and headaches.

Quick ISO 9001 Certification
Faster ISO 9001 implementation means faster ISO 9001:2015 certification. Once certified, you will be able to reap the marketing rewards that come with ISO 9001 accreditation. Together with the operational improvements to your company, this could lead to significant savings and increased revenue.

Good ISO templates lead to good ISO 9001 quality management systems. Using good templates to develop your new ISO 9001 system allows you to start with a good ISO 9001 system from the beginning. Companies that are not satisfied with their current ISO 9001 QMS can use documentation templates to modify and improve their existing ISO 9001 QMS.

Simplicity and User-Friendliness
The more user-friendly your ISO 9001 quality system, the better! If you can use templates to set up a simple, user-friendly ISO 9001 quality management system, you are already half the way to a quality management system that makes business sense.

Benefit from Others' Mistakes
If you use proven, successful documentation templates, you benefit from others' mistakes. For most companies, there are many mistakes made until a real good ISO 9001 system evolves. However, with the best ISO 9001 templates and guides you don't have to make the same mistakes that others have already made.

Guidance through Forms
Good forms have two purposes: (1) to collect and record information, and (2) to guide the user through the process of collecting the information. The best forms not only collect all the necessary information, they also do it in a very efficient manner. Often, forms can replace work instructions by guiding the user through an entire process that could extend beyond the mere collection of data.

Better Compliance through Forms
Good business forms can make it easy for employees to meet the ISO 9001:2015 requirements. Instead of having to look at work instructions, forms can - in a subtle way - guide the behavior of employees and ensure that they follow ISO 9001 requirements.

It is interesting to note that all these benefits of ISO 9001 templates will translate into real, monetary benefits.

Disadvantages of templates

The disadvantages of using templates can be summarized in two categories:

Bad Templates
There is a significant danger in using bad ISO 9001 documentation templates. Not only could you lose many of the above listed benefits, the result of bad ISO 9001 templates could even be the opposite of those benefits. We urge you to carefully review and choose your ISO 9001 documentation templates.

Wrong Use
No matter how good the ISO 9001 templates, they will always require customization. Templates that are blindly adopted as one's own procedures or forms could be a liability as they may not fit the company's circumstances. In addition, the customization process of templates itself provides valuable benefits as this process makes the user focus on improving operational processes. Skipping the focus on customization is a missed opportunity for improvement.

The bottom line

ISO 9001 templates can add significant value if you...

Select Carefully
In order for a company to reap benefits from the use of ISO 9001 templates, the company must carefully select its ISO 9001 templates (or ISO 9001 implementation package); please see below for our tips on how to select good ISO 9001 templates. You may also refer to our expert reviews; in addition, you may want to visit a good ISO 9001 discussion forum.

Customize to Fit your Company
Secondly, we urge you to not blindly adopt templates but to invest time and efforts in the customization phase. Good templates are full of best practices and good ideas that may, if implemented at your company, lead to process improvements. On the other hand, some of those practices and ideas may just not make any sense for your company. In this case, the customization instructions will guide you in developing an alternate process that is more appropriate for your company. Remember, there are countless ways to meet the ISO 9001:2015 requirements – use the ones that are best for your company.

How to select good ISO 9001 templates

Since it is crucial to select good ISO 9001 templates for your ISO 9001 implementation, we urge you to take your time and choose well.

Expert Reviews
We reviewed some of the more popular ISO 9001 templates and we are happy to share our reviews with you. Our Reviews section contains detailed reviews and editor ratings of templates for ISO 9001 documentation, of templates for ISO 9001 forms and checklists, as well as comprehensive ISO 9001 implementation packages.

Review by Yourself
We realize that there are several ISO 9001 templates that we haven't reviewed yet. If you consider a product not included in our reviews, please be aware that there are far too many mediocre and outright bad ISO 9001 templates on the market. Please watch out! We suggest you consider the following warning signals:

“ISO 9001:2008” in the Product Description
Check product descriptions carefully for a reference to ISO 9001:2008. Providers that are still selling ISO 9001:2008 based materials are not only selling an outdated product but they are also showing a tendency not to keep their materials current. The current version of the ISO 9001 standard is 2015 (referred to as ISO 9001:2015).

Obsolete – but Hidden
There are numerous products on the market that are based on a previous, obsolete version of ISO 9001, and that have only been rudimentarily revised to give the impression of being up-to-date. We recommend that you consider the following as warning signals:

there are exactly 20 quality procedures templates (the completely obsolete 1994 version of ISO 9001 required 20 quality procedures);

the first edition of the templates was published in the year 2000 or earlier (the major 2000 revision of ISO 9001 was published in December 2000).

the chapters follow the numbering system of ISO 9001:2008 (whose main chapters were 4. Quality management system; 5. Management responsibility; 6. Resource management; 7. Product realization; 8. Measurement, analysis and improvement).

The Costly Trap
Please beware of “black sheep” ISO 9000 consultants that lure buyers with ISO 9001 templates only in order to sell them expensive consulting services later. Their marketing strategy is this: tempt with a free or cheap template; wait for the user to get stuck (they will get stuck, after all that's the intent of that template); offer assistance that gets increasingly expensive as the user gets increasingly invested in that template. Please be careful not to fall into this trap! We suggest you consider the following as warning signals:

the publisher also sells ISO 9000 consulting services (major warning signal);

the template package is given away for free (or virtually for free);

the publisher puts a negative spin on their own templates while touting their consulting services.

We recommend that you review a sample page to see if the ISO 9001 template is easy-to-understand and user-friendly. An ISO 9001 documentation manual that nobody understands will have no value – and it won't lead to ISO 9001 certification either! Very clear warning signals are:

check sample pages: are there many references to other ISO 9001 documents? (who wants to jump from one document to the next to find needed information?);

check sample pages: is the text full of words that you don't understand? (anybody should be able to understand good ISO 9001 documents).

“Unnecessary bureaucracy” is probably the most frequent complaint about ISO 9001 systems. There are many reasons for bureaucratic ISO 9001 systems, ranging from incompetence of the author to deliberate complexity in order to appear more valuable. The result is always the same: it will make your business less efficient and less profitable! Watch out for these warning signals:

check samples for unnecessary formalities, including definitions, abbreviations, and complicated numbering systems (these are often be found in the beginning of procedures)

check sample pages for lack of content: how much meaningful content is there compared to unnecessary formalities.

check if the templates include or reference a “Master-List of Documents” (keeping such a huge list current takes much resources, adds little value, and is not required by ISO 9001:2015).

Store versus Publisher
There are many ISO 9000 stores that are merely reselling ISO 9001 templates. Even though those ISO 9000 stores may offer customer service, the customer service reps may not be sufficiently knowledgeable in ISO 9001:2015 and in all the intricacies of the ISO 9001 templates to provide real help during your ISO 9001 implementation. If you are not completely sure, we suggest you choose the original publisher rather than the ISO 9000 store.