ISO 9001, the international standard for quality management systems, has been growing in popularity since 2010. There are no signs that this trend will subside. This news comes from The ISO Survey of Certifications, and relayed in the Journal of Quality and Participation. The top 10 countries totaled nearly 79,000 certifications. At the top of the list was China, accounting for 39,961 certifications—more than the total of the next nine countries combined.

And there is another management system standards (MSS) certification growing in popularity: ISO 14001. What is the difference between the two quality management systems?

The ISO 9000 family of standards addresses quality management, i.e., what the organization does to fulfill:

  • the customer’s quality requirements

  • applicable regulatory requirements, while aiming to

  • enhance customer satisfaction, and

  • achieve continual improvement of its performance in pursuit of these objectives.

The ISO 14000 family addresses environmental management, i.e., what the organization does to:

  • minimize harmful effects on the environment caused by its activities, and to

  • achieve continual improvement of its environmental performance.

The reasons for earning and maintaining a standard certification vary. Some customers ask that suppliers maintain certification. Some governments mandate specific industries carry certification. Other companies seek certification as proof that organizational operations are effectively controlled, which can open new global markets for the companies. In other words, some companies need to comply to certain standards to stay in business; while others see a real competitive advantage to having a certificate.

Earning an MSS is not an easy task. It is encouraging to see that so many companies derive enough of a benefit of the standard certificate to apply and take the time and effort to comply. But what are the benefits of an MSS and how does your company reap the benefits?

An MSS is an internationally agreed upon model organizations follow to ensure proper handling of day-to-day operations. Your MSS includes a structure for operations detailing tasks including the processes for:

  • purchasing material 

  • maintaining accounting records

  • training employees

  • processing payroll 

  • implementing pollution prevention

This can be seen as a daunting task. The good news is there is plenty of assistance along your ISO journey. The ASQ Knowledge Center hosts Standards Central, which gives you the basics—how to get started and how to link standards with other initiatives. 

The benefits for earning a quality management system certification are numerous. And the best way to earn one is to get started and fully commit to the procedures. While there needs to be buy-in throughout the organization, there is no hope without the persistent guidance of quality practitioners. 

The ISO survey is available as a free download here.



A common MSS operating principle is the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) model. Popularized by Walter Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming, the PDCA model is synonymous with continuous improvement. A working knowledge of PDCA is helpful in connecting the ins and outs of standards implementation.
Use PDCA when:
  • starting a new improvement project. 
  • developing a new or improved design of a process, product or service. 
  • defining a repetitive work process. 
  • planning data collection and analysis in order to verify and prioritize problems or root causes. 
  • implementing any change.
Here is a brief overview of the PDCA procedures.
  1. Plan. Recognize an opportunity and plan a change. 
  2. Do. Test the change. Carry out a small-scale study. 
  3. Check. Review the test, analyze the results and identify what you’ve learned. 
  4. Act. Take action based on what you learned in the study step: If the change did not work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If you were successful, incorporate what you learned from the test into wider changes. Use what you learned to plan new improvements, beginning the cycle again. 
For more information about the plan-do-check-act model, visit the ASQ Knowledge Center here.