ISO 9001 documentation templates

11 May 2018

We receive numerous inquiries about the pros and cons of using templates for ISO 9001 procedures and forms, and in this section present our findings. We have also reviewed several ISO 9001 templates and share our opinions in the reviews section.

Using good templates for ISO 9001 procedures, forms, as well as the quality policy and flowchart, etc, can offer significant benefits to any organization implementing the ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System (QMS). 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 templates must have the following important features:

Designed to be templates
Good ISO 9001 templates have been developed from the ground up and are designed to be used by your organization. Ease of editing and tailoring them to suit your company's needs are a must. This is a crucial difference to 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, depending on how the ISO 9001:2015 requirements apply to your company. These instructions are the guidelines used to create your company's template-based ISO 9001 documentation.

Easy implementation
One of the main reasons for using templates is to make it easier to implement an effective ISO 9001 Quality Management System. Good ISO 9001 templates are designed with "ease of use" firmly in mind.

If you use templates, they will become your ISO 9001 documentation and consequently the foundation of your company's QMS. 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 evaluate them carefully prior to purchase as we find many are convoluted and excessively bureaucratic. See the reviews section for opinions and feedback from our Executive Committee.

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 in 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 represents the beginning of an ISO 9001 implementation. This is usually a big hurdle to cross, mainly due to uncertainty as to how and where you should start. ISO 9001 templates get you over this hurdle and offer a real jumpstart to your implementation. Similarly, templates for forms and checklists will propel you ahead with your ISO 9001 implementation.

Using good ISO 9001 documentation templates allows you to implement an ISO 9001 QMS quickly and without the use of expensive consultants. With good templates, you will spend much less time on researching the ISO standard and its requirements, and much less time on writing the necessary documentation and correcting mistakes. ISO 9001 templates can save you a lot of time, money and headaches.

Quick ISO 9001 certification
Faster ISO 9001 implementation means faster 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.

Using high-quality templates to develop a new ISO 9001 system will provide solid foundations from the outset and lead to an equally good Quality Management System. Additionally, companies not satisfied with their current QMS can use documentation templates to establish and implement the necessary improvements.

Simplicity and user-friendliness
The more user-friendly your ISO 9001 quality system, the better. Good templates can be an enormous help in setting up a simple, user-friendly Quality Management System.

Learn from the mistakes of others
Inevitably, many companies make mistakes when implementing an ISO 9001 QMS. The very best documentation templates have learned from these mistakes and evolved accordingly – using them will ensure a smoother, trouble-free ISO 9001 implementation for your company.

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, but do so very efficiently. Forms can often replace work instructions by guiding users 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 they follow ISO 9001 requirements.

Our research over the years, along with feedback from Council members, makes it very clear that using templates to facilitate your company's ISO 9001 implementation will almost always generate a host of benefits and lead to strong monetary rewards.

Disadvantages of templates

The disadvantages of using ISO 9001 documentation templates can be summarized as:

Bad templates
There are significant risks attached to using inferior templates. Not only could you lose many of the benefits listed above, you may end up achieving exactly the opposite. If you plan to use ISO 9001 documentation templates, we encourage you to review thoroughly and choose carefully.

Wrong use
Templates always require customization, regardless of how good they are. Templates that are blindly adopted as one's own procedures or forms could be a liability as they may not fit the company's individual circumstances. 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
Templates, along with ISO 9001 implementation packages, must be selected carefully in order to reap the numerous benefits they offer – see our tips below for advice on how to choose wisely. Refer too to our reviews section for further help.

Tailor to your company's needs
We urge you not to blindly adopt templates, but to invest time and effort in customization. The customization instructions will guide you in developing processes appropriate for your company. Remember, there are countless ways to meet the ISO 9001:2015 requirements – always use the approach (or approaches) that are best for your company.

How to select good ISO 9001 templates

It is crucial to select good templates for your ISO 9001 implementation. In the reviews section our Executive Committee offers feedback and advice on some of the more popular templates, as well as comprehensive evaluations of ISO 9001 implementation packages.

Review by yourself
We have not yet reviewed all ISO 9001 templates, but are aware of many inferior products on the market. When reviewing by yourself, be alert to the following warning signals:

"ISO 9001:2008" in the product description
Check product descriptions carefully for a reference to ISO 9001:2008. Providers still selling ISO 9001:2008 based materials are not only selling an outdated product, 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 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
Be aware 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 (which will inevitably happen as this is the intent of the template); and then offer increasingly expensive assistance as the user gets more and more invested in the template. Do not 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 downplays their own templates while simultaneously promoting 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 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 easy to 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 such systems, ranging from incompetence on the part 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 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 consumes a lot of 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 such stores may offer customer service, the service reps may not be sufficiently knowledgeable in ISO 9001:2015 and the intricacies of the templates to provide meaningful help. Unless you are completely sure, we suggest purchasing from the original publisher rather than the ISO 9000 store.