Communication Procedure Explained (ISO 9001)

What Is The Communication Procedure?

A communication procedure describes the specific requirements and methods for the internal and external communication of quality-related issues, and the establishment of lines of communication with various parties that affect quality.

Contents

There are two common causal factors that contribute to poor-quality, in any industry. The first factor is bad communication; where something like an instruction or specification has not been understood. The second factor is where there has been a lack of communication, and something has not been done or omitted.

The communication procedure should go into detail on what quality-related issues you should communicate, when you should communicate, who communicates, the methods of communication, and finally; who is responsible for communication.

inspecting-checklist

Communication is a very important part of any organization's quality management system (QMS), and a communication procedure provides a common, structured process that everyone within the organization can follow.

The communication procedure should provide an effective feedback channel between the organization and its customers, stakeholders, and employees by ensuring that the quality-related information that needs to be communicated is:

  • Relevant, complete and understandable for the intended users
  • Valid
  • Accurate
  • Consistent
  • Controlled (see 7.5 Control of Documented Information)
  • Communicated before it takes effect
  • Able to be received and understood

Procedure

What’s Included in the Procedure?

Customer communications that include orders, contracts, quotations and requirements are often defined by a separate Contract and Quotation Review Procedure (Clause 8.2), while the handling of customer complaints or feedback, and returns is often defined by separate Customer Feedback and Return Procedures (Clause 9.1.2).

Communications with suppliers (Clause 8.4) should seek to ensure the effective management of the interfaces between design, procurement and production by effective communication to all members of the supply chain.

As such, it is essential that the scope of any communication procedure describes the organizational approach towards internal and external communication that ensures the following requirements from ISO 9001:2015, Clause 7.4 are considered:

  • What is to be communicated
    • Quality-related issues including the quality policy, quality objectives, quality management system requirements, processes, customer requirements, organizational performance, customer satisfaction, purchase orders, specifications, drawings, requests for quotation, changes etc.
  • When to communicate
    • Based upon the frequency, urgency/importance, significance, scheduled meetings, ad-hoc briefings, staff shift patterns.
  • Who to communicate with regarding relevant interested parties
    • External interested parties such as customers, suppliers, regulators, stakeholders, government agencies, local community, investors, external providers, media.
    • Internal interested parties such as employees, employee representatives, contractors, unions.
  • How communication occurs, what communication channels are used
    • Via scheduled, formal meetings, in formal briefings, notices, e-mails, telephone, text, intranet, internet, directives, management review, visual management, media campaigns, social media, quality alerts, bulletins, webinars, press releases, newsletters.
  • Who undertakes the communication
    • Line Managers, Supervisors, team leaders, team members, employee representatives, public relations, marketing, external agencies.

We suggest that you develop a communication matrix, see Step 5 below, that captures the bold points above as headings in a schedule against a list of quality-related information that your organization has identified as something it need to communicate and share.

This video summarizes ISO 9001 Communication in 6 minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DalFwXrneUU

Who?

Who Is Responsible?

All industries need to treat quality-related issues in the same way they manage health and safety in terms of clear ownership of the results, good lines of communication, good training, effective supervision, and robust reporting mechanisms.

The Quality Manager has the overall responsibility for ensuring that information and data about performance and the effectiveness of the quality management system is reported to Top management.

This includes the distribution of all applicable documents, reports and records to appropriate functions and stakeholders.

The Quality Manager is often responsible for:

  • Authorizing and maintaining records of official correspondence relating to the quality management system and its policies and related issues
  • Providing advice on content of communications to official correspondence relating to quality
  • Ensuring that information and data about performance and the effectiveness of the quality management system is reported
  • Dealing external communications regarding quality
  • Reviewing and approving work instructions and procedures for selected activities
  • Ensuring the performance of the quality management system is reported via audit reports
  • Communicating progress towards QMS objectives and targets
  • Presenting audit reports at management review meetings

The Quality Manager should work closely with the Production Manager and Operations Manager on day-to-day issues, keeping in close communication with other stakeholders including the Design Team, Health and Safety Manager, Risk Manager, and Procurement Manager.

Ensure that responsibilities and authorities are defined by a detailed job description for each position, while the organization’s hierarchy should be documented and communicated via an organization chart.

5 Steps

How to Implement a Communication Procedure in 6 Steps

1 Analyze the Existing Communication Methods

A description of the communication channels and the channels that your organization uses can be helpful. Your organization should define adequate communication channels to ensure that quality-related information is exchanged among the different levels of the organization, and with external interested parties, including contractors, partners and suppliers.

Analyze the company’s current communication mechanism to see if the customer is receiving what they paid for. Does a particular department have all the information they need to deliver their service or product?

If not, then which department needs to be updated and why? What are your customers saying about you after receiving your product or service? If there are any complaints, then what is being done to resolve them?

2 Engage with your Employees

Identify all the internal interested parties to whom information will communicated to and the types of information to be shared internally. This is a crucial step since it might not work without their active support.

After all, the entire QMS depends on communication. These stakeholders could be distributors, suppliers, representatives, or customers. Identify their requirements and the information to be shared internally, such as:

  • Quality performance
  • Technology updates
  • New client requirements
  • Results of risk assessment and the associated control measures
  • Risks to staff and involved external parties
  • The communication and acceptance of tasks
  • Timely communication of relevant information to those who need to receive it
  • Description of how these objectives can be achieved and are communicated to relevant staff

Engage with your Employees and communicate information relevant to the quality management system amongst all levels and functions, including information on any changes, as appropriate, and establish a mechanism to enable all personnel performing work under the organization’s control to contribute to continual improvement.

As well as briefing employees during introductory presentations, try using a combination of other methods to promote and communicate awareness, such as posters placed on notice boards and leaflets with pay-slips, etc.

Use team meetings and briefing sessions to inform Employees of the plan, how they will be expected to contribute. Issues pertaining to the quality management system that should be communicated include:

  • Day-to-day operations and general awareness
  • Regulatory, statutory or financial reporting
  • Progress towards achieving quality objectives and targets
  • Details of incidents and problem-solving studies
  • New policies or new or amended objectives
  • New or amended strategies
  • New clients
  • New or amended technology
  • New products
  • Issues with suppliers
  • Anything that will have an impact on the Employees

Designate a person responsible for providing regular updates, either department heads, team leaders, etc. in the business. Effective communication media for these types of sessions might include:

  • Verbal (i.e., team meetings, pre-shift briefings, etc.)
  • Formal memorandums
  • Newsletters, posters, notices, etc.
  • Internal Intranet, email, messaging apps

Invariably, Auditors will wish to determine if the quality policy is communicated and understood, by interviewing personnel at all levels. Although the exact content of the quality policy does not need to be recited by each Employee, their awareness of the quality policy and how their job affects the company’s objectives should be communicated and reinforced using multiple media and communication channels.

This does not require your Employees to memorize the quality policy but it does mean that all Employees need be aware of it, know where it may be found (e.g., a hard copy might be placed on the notice board, or electronically, via the intranet) and be able to paraphrase, or give an interpretation as it applies to their work.

If the Employees do not know what their measurable quality objectives are, or do not know what the organizational objectives are which they have a direct effect upon in terms of product quality, the Auditor would be further directed to evaluate Top management’s communication of the quality policy and objectives.

Check that Top management communicate with Employees, concerning the relevance and importance of the quality policy and objectives, whether in the sense of encouraging all Employees to contribute to the attainment the quality policy and objectives, or to thank Employees for improved performance.

Lessons learnt from incident investigations and problem-solving exercises should be communicated to all Employees in the organization, and these lessons should be fed back and incorporated into training, design and other areas to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.

3 Engage with your Stakeholders

Externally, your organization needs to communicate as required by its statutory and regulatory obligations. Additionally, organizations may choose to communicate on other issues, as appropriate. The process has to ensure that all received communications are responded to appropriately.

All external communications regarding your organization’s quality policies, objectives, targets, and other quality-related issues should be forwarded to the Quality Manager. All formal quality management system communications should be authorized prior to release.

Responses to external communications should be recorded if they are transmitted by email or letter. In each case the response will be stored as a record. All external communication records should be stored in accordance with your organization’s Documented Information Procedure (7.5).

Record details of relevant communications with external parties regarding health and safety issues. Relevant communication includes site visits and the receipt of health and safety related documentation. External parties can include Clients, HSE, EA, local authorities, or the general public.

The appropriate external communications may establish quality, environmental and safety credibility and satisfy stakeholder requests by presenting objective information on the organization’s performance via:

  1. Annual reports or newsletters of performance sent to external stakeholders
  2. Open house meetings for interested parties and focus groups
  3. Availability of regulatory submissions, or results of audits
  4. Policies published in the media and industry association publications and press releases.

Ensure the interfaces between external stakeholders are identified and monitored to avoid any communication breakdown by identifying all the external interested parties to whom quality-related information needs communicated to; e.g., customers, stakeholders, suppliers, and business partners, etc.

The allocation of key account managers will help to maintain relationships with external stakeholders and regular review meetings will help maintain focus.

4 Implement the Procedure

Through the provision of appropriate methods, time, training and resources necessary for effective communication, your organization will enable ‘two-way’ communication as appropriate in order to verify understanding and capture feedback.

Create a communication procedure that will help all departments within the organization communicate effectively internally and externally. The Quality Manager needs to ensure that all team leads use this procedure to share information across departments.

Start implementing the procedure by making sure all departments work effectively with each other. Review it at regular intervals to find points that could potentially lead to failure. The Quality Manager should monitor communication within the organization to ensure effectiveness.

5 Develop Your Communication Matrix

A communication matrix will help you to document and comply with the requirements ISO 9001:2015, Clause 7.4. The communication matrix should be developed to describe the flow of information to various interested parties, and the measures your organization plans to take to ensure its communication mechanisms and communication channels support its quality management activities.

What
(Quality-related information)
When
(Frequency)
With
(Audience)
How
(Media)
Who
(Owner)
Quality policy statement After management review and approval Employees Internal intranet, Internet or email, face-to-face meetings Top management
External interested parties Email/website
Quality management objectives After management review and approval Employees Controlled hard copies are shared, face-to-face meetings Top management/Line Managers
Problem solving status After receipt of Customer complaint Customer Email/Telephone Quality Manager
Order status On frequency as decided with customer Customer Email/Telephone Marketing or Customer Services
Responsibilities and authorities After management review and approval Employees Job descriptions, contracts and organization chart Human Resources

6 Audit the Process and Share the Results

The organization must conduct internal audits in an impartial and transparent way to collect and analyse information for the purposes of its monitoring activities to ensure the communication process is effective. The responsibility for communicating the results of the audits to Top management exists with the Quality Manager.

Auditing and management reviews demonstrate that you are committed to providing quality products and services to your customers. This also shows that as an ISO 9001:2015 certified company, it is serious about quality in its aims to meet and exceed customers’ expectations. It also serves as a feedback mechanism since stakeholders can recommend improvements to the process.

Conclusion

The ISO 9001 communication procedure is a structured guideline for achieving quality objectives. It goes into detail about who should communicate what and when, where, how, thus providing a more organized approach for better product or service production.

Following this communication process effectively with different departments involved in the production or providing services can lead to customer-focused, successful outcomes.

Nonetheless, ensure you engage all stakeholders when designing and implementing this procedure for consistent quality delivery.

Author: Richard Keen
Updated: 16th September 2021

Richard Keen

Richard Keen

Richard is our Compliance Director, responsible for content & product development.
But most importantly he is ISO's biggest fanboy and a true evangelist of the standards.
Learn more about Richard

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Communication Procedure

The purpose of this procedure is to outline your organization’s guidelines and instructions for managing internal and external communication relating to the QMS.

This procedure aims to provide specific requirements for the internal and external communication of quality related issues and the establishment of lines of communication with various parties.

Forms & Reports also included:

  • Control of Communication Process Turtle Diagram
  • Objectives Management Programme
  • Register of Objectives & KPIs
  • Requirements Review Checklist

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