ISO 9001 documentation templates

27 May 2018

We receive numerous inquiries about the pros and cons of using templates for ISO 9001 procedures and forms. Can templates be used to develop ISO 9001 documentation that meets a company's individual needs or should they be avoided? We did a careful analysis of template kits and their practical applications, and present our findings in this section.

Templates are pre-written documents that can be modified on a computer to meet individual needs. Templates enjoy widespread use, ranging from legal contracts to websites. In ISO 9001, templates have been playing a central role in the documentation development ever since the first version of the Standard was published in 1987. Until today most ISO 9001 procedures and forms are (at least partially) based on templates as ISO 9001 consultants and do-it-yourself certification kits make extensive use of them. Nevertheless, there seems to be much controversy surrounding ISO 9001 templates. On one side are the publishers of ISO 9001 certification kits who utilize templates as centerpiece of their products. On the other side are the consultants who argue that ISO 9001 template kits don't work as they are too generic and cannot be adapted to the company's individual situation - all while themselves making use of templates.

ISO 9001 documentation templates

The ISO 9001 documentation templates can be customized on a computer and adapted to the organization's individual circumstances.

It is obvious that merely performing a search and replace on a template to change company name and titles will not lead to useful ISO 9001 procedures - no matter if done by a consultant or by a template kit user. On the other hand, it is quite possible to use templates to create unique ISO 9001 procedures that fit the precise needs of the company based. How? We identified several factors for success.

Factors for success

Successful customization of ISO 9001 documentation templates depends on the template kit itself and on the user. The following are the fundamental requirements for ISO 9001 documentation development based on a template kit.

Designed to be templates
Good ISO 9001 templates have been developed from the ground up and are designed to be customized and adapted to the specific circumstances of your organization. Ease of editing and tailoring them to suit your company's needs are a must. This is a crucial difference to using mere samples or another company's ISO 9001 documentation.

Customization instructions
Templates are useless as ISO 9001 documentation unless they are carefully customized to meet the very specifics of your organization. Every bit as important as the template itself are the customization instructions. Good customization instructions guide the user to adapt the template step-by-step and explain in detail where and how to make changes to each section. The best customization instructions apply to the broadest spectrum of organizations and individual situations.

Designed for easy implementation
One of the main reasons for using template kits is to make it easier to document and implement an effective ISO 9001 Quality Management System (QMS). Good ISO 9001 templates are specifically designed so that their processes can be easily implemented.

Business-friendly
Once fully customized, the ISO 9001 templates will become your ISO 9001 documentation and consequently the foundation of your company's QMS. Procedures must be followed in daily business operations. It is therefore crucial that the templates result in procedures that are business-friendly and efficient and avoid any bureaucracy that would create a burden to your company and its productivity.

Support
Even the best template kits with the most detailed customization instructions may not be readily applied to a specific situation. In such a case, it is important to have access to the publisher of the templates in order to get personalized advice.

Company insider
ISO 9001 is best implemented by a company insider so that the resulting QMS fully reflects the individual circumstances of the organization (an ISO 9000 consultant could be paid to learn about the company). While good templates and detailed customization instructions ensure that ISO 9001:2015 requirements are met, only a company insider can ensure that the procedures fit the culture and operations of the company.

The above factors determine if a template kit can be successfully used at your organization. It is obvious that the quality and features of the template kit are of utmost importance. As template kits continue to increase in popularity, and ever increasing number of such kits is on offer. However qualitative differences vary widely so that due diligence and careful selection are essential.

More information
Follow our Ultimate Guide on choosing ISO 9001 implementation kits and templates.
For our recommendations, refer to our Resources and Reviews.

Benefits of templates

Small and midsize companies and ISO 9001 professionals have reported the following benefits of templates for ISO 9001 quality documents and forms. However these benefits can only be realized if - and only if - the above factors for success are met.

Completeness
The ISO 9001 Standard is written in a very generic way for it to be applicable to any organization in any industry worldwide. As a result it is difficult to read, interpret and apply the numerous requirements to one's own, specific circumstances. Good templates will help ensure that all ISO 9001 requirements are addressed.

Jumpstart
Writing the ISO 9001 procedures represents the beginning of the 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.

Cost savings
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.

Quality
Using high-quality templates to develop a new ISO 9001 system will provide a solid foundation 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 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.

Based on years of research and feedback from Council members we can state that good ISO 9001 templates can generate a host of benefits and lead to strong monetary rewards. However, it is important to be aware that all benefits are dependent on the quality of the template kit - and that qualitative differences between kits are significant.

Causes of problems

ISO 9001 templates are not always beneficial. Certain circumstances can lead to significant problems. Causes of problems when using ISO 9001 documentation templates include the following.

Inferior templates
There are significant risks attached to using inferior templates. Not only could you lose many or all of the benefits listed above, you may end up achieving exactly their opposite. Unfortunately the quality of templates on offer varies widely so caution is in order. If you plan to use ISO 9001 documentation templates, we encourage you to review them thoroughly and choose carefully.

Designed for failure
Be aware of template kits that are covertly designed to require paid consultant services. The need to hire the publisher for consultancy services usually only becomes apparent after having invested much time into the kit and can result in significant cost. Consider it as a warning signal if the template kit is provided by an ISO 9001 consultant or given away for free.

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. Neglecting customization is a missed opportunity for improvement and a waste of resources.

Alternatives to templates

Template kits are not the only method of developing ISO 9001 documentation. Alternative approaches are the following:

ISO 9000 consultants
Many companies hire a consultant to write their ISO 9001 documentation. Though this approach may appear to be the easiest (albeit most expensive) it requires the consultant to gain an intimate knowledge of your company prior to writing the procedures. Be aware that most consultants base the documentation on their own templates, which leads to the question of why using a consultant in the first place.

In-house from scratch
Several companies have achieved excellent results by developing their entire ISO 9001 documentation by themselves and without the use of templates. This approach can potentially lead to documentation that fits the company perfectly well. However, the downside includes the high cost in terms of time and in terms of potential errors, and the lost opportunity to benefit from best practices and the mistakes that others have made.

ISO 9001 implementation kits
It is important to note that documentation is only part of the ISO 9001 implementation and that using an ISO 9001 template kit in isolation rarely leads to optimum results. If templates should be used, we recommend the use of an ISO 9001 implementation kit (which includes the templates). Such kits (also known as ISO 9001 certification packages) are designed for in-house ISO 9001 implementation by a company insider. Aside from documentation templates, good kits include detailed project guidelines, training materials and numerous tools that facilitate easy implementation.

Conclusion

ISO 9001 templates can add significant benefits to your ISO 9001 implementation if (a) you choose the right templates and (b) a company insider carefully customizes them. It's best to use templates as part of an ISO 9001 implementation kit when pursuing ISO 9001 certification. Remember, there are countless ways to meet the ISO 9001:2015 requirements – always use the approach (or approaches) that are best for your company.

More information
Our Ultimate Guide helps you evaluate the various ISO 9001 implementation kits and templates and find the best.
See the Resources and Reviews section for recommendations from our Executive Committee.

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