ISO 9001 Documentation

  • What documentation hierarchy should I adopt?

    It is common practice to follow this hierarchy:

    • Level 1: Policies - key system objectives
    • Level 2: Quality Manual - approach and responsibility
    • Level 3: Procedures - methods (Who, What, Where and When)
    • Level 4: Work Instructions - description of processes (How)
    • Level 5: Forms, Data and Records - evidence of conformance
  • Should I use the Same Format and Numbering as the standard?

    We recommend you organise and number your quality manual the same as ISO 9001.

    The standard itself does not specify a numbering format, but for the sake of continuity and ease of familiarity; it is common to see the manual’s numbering system reflect that of ISO 9001.

    The basic structure of all quality manuals are similar because they answer to the same requirements that are prescribed by ISO 9001. The difference becomes apparent in the detail of the procedures and work instructions which will vary from industry to industry and company to company.

    You should decide what format is the most useful to your organisation and whether it meets your business’s unique needs.

  • How much detail should be in the Quality Manual?

    The amount of detail required is proportional the level of control needed to achieve product conformance.

  • Does it matter how big the Quality Manual is?


    The size and complexity of your organisation and its individual processes will determine the volume of information required to successfully convey how the system works and what controls are in place to manage each process.

    We've prepared 10-page quality manuals and others with more than 150 pages. Each manual was certified because it met the requirements not because they were a certain page length.

  • My boss wants a 4 page Quality Manual - what should I do?

    Organisations often address the requirements of the standard by preparing a quality manual that ‘covers the requirements of the international standard and includes or makes reference to the quality system procedures and outlines the structure of the documentation used in the quality system’. It would be difficult address all the requirements in 3 or 4 pages.

    Most quality manuals are typically 30 or 40 pages in length. Our quality manual template addresses these requirements in 20 pages of text, while the procedures carry the burden of defining how compliance to a requirement is acheived at an operational level.

    Ask your Suppliers and Customers for a PDF copy of their quality manual if they are ISO 9001 certified. It might be useful to go through these with your colleuges - particuarly those new to ISO 9001.

  • Should I use hyperlinks?

    Yes, we recommend using internal links/bookmarks within a document to aid navigation and save scrolling.

    We do not recommend using external hyperlinks between documents. Someone changing filenames is always a hazard to maintaining links, especially on a live document such as a quality manual. (People often append a version number or date to a filename as a matter of courtesy - and the hyperlinks will no longer work!)

  • Should I use separate documents for the QM, Procedures and Forms?

    Yes! Always use separate documents.

    ** Beware of people that recommend differently! **

    Separate procedures allow you to revise a single small document as opposed to a larger, combined document. It can quickly become burdensome to revise the entire manual each time an operating procedure is amended. This approach also allows for tailored distribution of documents relevant to the need of the recipient.

    What about 'bureaucracy'?
    One of the main arguments for keeping all documentation within one document is that it is easier to manage. Some people say that separate documents are 'cumbersome', 'bureaucratic', and not user-friendly.

    We disagree.

    Ask yourself - 'how are we going to use the manual'?

    Will you distribute your Quality Manual externally?
    Are you likely to publish your QM on the internet or send it to customers or potential customers or suppliers? If so, would you like them to see all your procedures and processess? We do not recommend this. There is no need for external people to know this amount of detail.

    Internal use
    Are different people responsible for different procedures? Would you like all of them to be able to make ammendments/changes to the whole of the QM, or just their own procedure(s)?

    From an internal point of view, very few people will need to have regular access to the QM whereas they may need access to a specific procedure.

    Think about how you will manage the documentation, who is responsible for what content (e.g. procedures), and who you will be distributing the QM to externally.

  • Should the quality manual refer to all procedures?

    Yes; it is common to include a master-list of procedures in the manual but don't put the revision status in there, otherwise you’ll be revising the manual each time a procedure is revised. You could have a separate list or spreadsheet which identifies the procedures and acts as the master list. This can then show the current revision status of each procedure and is more easily kept up to date.

  • How do I show the interaction of processes in the quality manual?

    Include a simple process map showing all the process interactions. This is an effective way to demonstrate how the interactions relate to individual core processes. You can also include the names of process owners, as well as show how customer processes interact with organisational processes.

  • What information should the procedures include?

    Procedures should define; who does what and when they do it. The procedure should assign appropriate responsibilities and define the process in order to achieve the stated organisational policy.

  • What about translating the manual into different languages?

    Many organisations trade in different countries, and it is useful to distribute the manual in different languages.

    We recommend you publish your quality manual (only the manual - not your procedures) in your native language as a PDF on your website, and ask the viewer to view it in Google Chrome browser. This will use Google Translate to automatically translate the PDF into their language.

    The Translation is not 100% accurate - and you should state this carefully! But if a potential supplier or customer has any specific questions, you can then use a professional translation service to translate the relevant sections.

  • Does the Quality Manual need to be distributed to all employees?

    No, it is not necessary to print and distribute the manual for use by individual departments or employees.

    We recommend you publish a PDF version on your company Intranet and email employes a link to access it.

  • Quality manual writing tips
    • To pass a certification body audit, a Quality Management System must be an auditable entity
    • Just writing about it is not enough – the QMS must also be implemented
    • Aim for documentation (especially if you're a small business)
    • Start with the assumption that you're currently doing all (or most) of what ISO 9001 asks
    • Use separate documents for each procedure
    • Use the same numbering as the standard
    • Ask your Suppliers and Customers for a PDF copy of their Quality Manual
    • Use a Quality Manual Template - start your documentation out on the right track!

    >> View Quality Manual Template sample
    >> View Quality Manual guidance sample