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Lean and ISO 9001 – How aligned are the two?

February 4, 2020 admins 0 Comments

We recently conducted a LinkedIn survey to understand how professionals within various industries perceive ISO 9001 and Lean. Not surprisingly, the majority of participants agreed that there is a strong alignment between the two. This article reviews some of the high-level commonalities between ISO 9001 QMS and Lean to show how the two complement each other in leading an organisation towards Operational Excellence.

“Value” for Customer

The fundamental reason for implementing either Lean or ISO 9001 QMS is “to enhance customer satisfaction and provide value to the customer” by implementing a systematic and structured approach to the business operations.

According to “Lean Thinking“, written by James Womack and Daniel T. Jones (1996), an organisation must accurately specify its value and relate it to meeting the customer’s needs. Understanding the needs and expectations of the interested parties would certainly help implement a sound Quality

Leadership and Vision

Two critical elements of any successful business are stable leadership and well-understood objectives/targets at all organisational levels. Many organisations fail to achieve their potentials due to not having such elements.

ISO 9001 and Lean highlight the need for committed and accountable leaders who aim to achieve long-term results by re-investing in all their resources and delivering quality products to enhance customer satisfaction. Lean policy deployment (Hoshin Kanri) can support organisations to develop required road-map with well-defined business objectives to achieve their strategic direction

Management System (QMS).

Hence, an organisation must precisely understand it’s customer’s needs and requirements and define value in terms of specific products and services. Delivering the defective or undesirable goods or services is a waste (Muda) in Lean or a Non-conformance as per ISO 9001.

Process Approach

For an organisation, critical enablers to deliver a defined value are its understanding of all interrelated processes and how to systematically managing them to increase effectiveness and efficiency.

This is achieved by defining a Value Stream, which, as per Lean, are specific actions conducted across the organisation, including those performed by partners and suppliers, to realise a particular product or service.

ISO 9001 also explicitly promotes the adoption of a process approach, to enable the consideration of processes in terms of added value at each product or service phase (i.e. from design concept to production, from initiation to order fulfillment or from despatch to payment).

A simple yet highly effective S-I-P-O-C approach promoted by ISO 9001 and extensively used to define Lean processes, enables organisational teams to visualise and control the interrelationships and inter-dependencies among all the processes, eliminate waste and improve the overall organisational performance.

Continuous Improvement

Successful organisations consistently evaluate and improve their products and services to address the future needs and expectations of the customers. Furthermore, these organisations proactively manage risks to their operations through internal and external stakeholder engagement.

A systematic approach of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is used extensively in Lean to achieve these goals, and it is considered a cornerstone of continuous improvement. The process of continuous improvement, aka Kaizen, is to make incremental improvements to eliminate waste from all the processes.

ISO 9001 promotes the application of PDCA approach to all processes and QMS as a whole, to continually improve business processes and the effectiveness of QMS.

By continually monitoring, measuring and evaluating performance against established objectives, targets and standards, an organisation can ensure its processes are adequately resourced and effectively managed, to enhance value for the customer.


Organisations need to meet specific requirements to get accredited and maintain ISO 9001 accreditation. An organisation committed to Lean transformation finds itself not being far from meeting those requirements. While an auditable framework of ISO 9001 guides what is required, organisation learn about how to achieve Operational Excellence through Lean transformation.

With the common goal of “consistently improving value and deliver consistent products and services that customer needs through a structured process approach”, Lean and ISO 9001 are very much aligned and complement each other.

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