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ISO CERTIFICATION: Common Mistakes with ISO Certification Programs

Updated on March 23, 2014
Auditing documents
Auditing documents | Source

Why ISO?

ISO certification has become the holy grail for businesses all over the world and it is sought after by all means possible. In the process, businesses have gone out of their way to get certified at the expense of the actual business processes.

Is it not better to have a real process that delivers a quality product to the customer than a certificate that only promises quality without a guarantee of delivery?

What is ISO ?

ISO is an acronym for the International Standards Organisation which is concerned with the establishment of standards for a variety of industries.

It began in 1926 as the International Federation of National Standardizing Organisations and dealt with the mechanical engineering fields.

The organisation is comprised of 2700 technical committees and working groups.

Five Common ISO Mistakes

The following are the five biggest mistakes companies that companies make while trying to get ISO Certified:

1. Documentation

In an effort to impress the auditors, quality assurance staff tend to increase the number of documents in the system to an unmanageable level.

They introduce documents which have nothing with the actual operations after going through the standards in the ISO documents. Instead of first looking at the whole system in which they operate in, the staff members assume that ISO is all about documents and not systems and processes.

ISO requires the company to document the actual processes that are required to deliver a safe and satisfactory product to the customer and that there are controls to check the deviations from the standard.

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2. Square peg in a round hole

Many companies try to fit the ISO system on top of their current system.

This leads to a mismatch that cannot be easily corrected because the real system that is operating on the ground is totally different from the ISO standard been sought.

In fact, it can be said that the companies are just "doing ISO" because their activities are centred on only getting the certificate at the total disregard of actual operations that are making the company money.

It can get comical to the extent that one company holds its suppliers for hours at the receiving bay once every month because they are doing an internal ISO audit!

3. Choosing the wrong implementation Team

Due to the internal politics within an organisation, the team that is chosen to implement the ISO project is not necessarily the most competent one, but rather the one with influence with the powers that be.

The ISO team gets all the attention from management at the expense of other staff members and this leads to low acceptance across departments.

The team is also tasked with doing internal audits and the quality of their work is affected if there is too much internal politics.

4. Lack of management commitment

The ISO certification project in many companies is the initiative of the quality function and senior management give their approval because it would look good in the company's profile.

But the process needs more than just approval of the management team: it needs commitment to support the efforts together with personal involvement by staff at all levels.

When management show engagement, the other cadres will understand the seriousness of the efforts and are more likely to cooperate fully.

5. Using the wrong certification body

Since ISO does not certify organisations individually but accredits various certification bodies, the likelihood of using the wrong certification body is quite high.

It should be understood that these certification companies are in business to make money and some may bend the rules a little to please their customers.

This can lead to the giving of ISO certificates to companies who do not deserve it.

Is ISO necessary?

The quest for certification in most cases is driven by managers who are more interested in personal rewards than organisational improvement of systems.

It is not unusual for some managers to stake their whole career on one certification after another in the hope of career progression. They would go to any lengths to get the certificates even if it meant breaking a few rules here and there.

Real problems are not highlighted because of fear of losing a certificate. Many company staff spend sleepless nights on the eve of an audit "cooking" the results that will keep them in the good books of the certification bodies.

While this is happening, the systems continue to deteriorate without any remedial measures to reverse the trend.

This hubs aims at highlighting the mistakes many companies make as they seek to get certified. It does not claim to give advice on how to get certified but instead points out the mistakes to avoid while trying to get certified.

The ISO certification journey is a technical process that requires input from qualified consultants who are able to guide companies on the right steps to take.

ISO Standards

There are many ISO standards which cater for different types of industries. The following are the best known and highly sort after ISO standards:

  • ISO 9000 Quality Management Systems
  • ISO 22000 Food Safety Management Systems
  • ISO 14000 Environmental
  • ISO 3166 Country Codes
  • ISO 26000 Social Responsibility
  • ISO 50000 Energy Management
  • ISO 31000 Risk Management
  • ISO 4217 Currency Codes
  • ISO 639 Language Codes
  • ISO 20121 Sustainable Events
  • ISO 27801 Information Security


In summary, companies seeking certification should do the following to avoid the pitfalls associated with the mistakes mentioned above:

  • Choose the right project leader
  • Have a management sponsor who will give the effort the necessary clout and importance.
  • Understand all the requirements of the standard before embarking on the process
  • Have the commitment to improve the system in an honest way.


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