The new ISO 9001:2015 standard, scheduled for publication this September, introduces the term “knowledge.” As knowledge was not addressed by the previous ISO 9001 standard, the depth of this topic and the approach to it are new. ISO 9001:2015 defines requirements for the handling of organizational knowledge in the following four phases, which are analogous to the PDCA cycle:
- Determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of processes and for achieving conformity of products and services
- Maintain knowledge and make it available to the extent necessary
- Consider the current organizational knowledge and compare it to changing needs and trends
- Acquire the necessary additional knowledge.
By introducing the term “knowledge,” ISO 9001:2015 aims to raise organizations’ awareness of the management and linking of know-how in order to position them for the future.
“As knowledge is a very broad subjective area with individual definitions, each organization must define the term for itself,” said Ulrich Wegner, technical head of the certification body of TÜV SÜD Management Service GmbH. “Depending on the size and type of organizations, their approaches to the topic of knowledge can be completely different. A large-scale car manufacturer, for example, will define other focus areas than a legal firm or tax consultancy.”
The new requirements don’t aim at establishing bureaucratic information or documentation management, but at ensuring a systematic process for handling organizational knowledge in conformity with the quality management framework conditions.
Organizational knowledge: Four phases
The four phases that define the requirements for handling organizational knowledge include various focal and starting points that provide guidance for organizations. Establishing knowledge and competence goals at the start of the process, for example, makes good sense. To do so, organizations should, for instance, determine knowledge of customer expectations and requirements and of particular production and service-provision processes. Subsequently, they can plan how they can achieve the identified goals and objectives by means of training, learning on the job, or e-learning.
In phase 2, the organizations should determine specific methods to exchange knowledge in-house and to maintain this knowledge. Possibilities include employees passing on their experience from completed projects or failures to their colleagues in the style of “lessons learned.” Employees leaving the company or refusing to share their experience and know-how represent a major risk of loss of knowledge. Organizations wishing to avoid these risks can collect and maintain the available know-how (e.g., in wikis or ensure dedicated exchange of knowledge).
In phase 3 the organization must evaluate new knowledge, such as that communicated in training, interview employees on their status of knowledge where appropriate, and identify opportunities for improvement. Another major challenge involves monitoring changes in the market or in technology and analysing the extent to which they influence the knowledge that the organization requires.
Once the organization identifies opportunities for improvement in certain areas, targeted measures should be taken in phase four. Depending on the individual situation, companies may further enhance their relations with clients, suppliers, and service providers or improve their mechanisms for keeping their organizational knowledge secure. It may prove a good idea, for example, to renew the validity of functions critical for knowledge or to improve the protection of existing know-how by filing patents. In addition to continued in-house training, organizations can also use external sources including newsletters, specialist magazines, memberships in associations, or important partnerships to expand their knowledge. By introducing the subject of organizational knowledge, the new ISO 9001:2015 standard raises organizations’ awareness of sustainable and future-oriented success factors.
See related webinar: Managing Employee Competence and Organizational Knowledge.
About the author
After obtaining a degree in process engineering at the Technical University of Munich (Germany) in 1985, Ulrich Wegner joined TÜV SÜD to work in the preparation of expert opinions addressing air pollution control, noise protection, waste disposal, and assessing the risk potential of industrial plants in different sectors of industry.
Since 2010, he has served as head of the certification body of TÜV SÜD’s management service GmbH for 13 product managers, ensuring the quality of the certification processes and the fulfillment of the requirements of different accreditation bodies including quality and environmental management, automotive, aerospace, IT security, and food safety certification programs.
Ulrich Wegner has been a member of the German Umweltgutachterausschuss (Association of German Environmental Verifiers) since 2013.
Tags: organizational knowledge.