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Columnist Jack West

Photo:  Jack West


Strategic Planning and Your QMS

Long-term sustainable growth necessitates periodic revitalization.




Any organization's quality management system (QMS) must be able to track when changing conditions require major adjustments to maintain market relevance. It's crucial to recognize when dramatic system changes are needed. It's also important to be innovative when developing those changes and to consider the issues to be addressed prior to implementing them. The objective is to keep the organization and its QMS relevant in the face of change.

In my June column ("Creating a Solid Quality Foundation"), I discussed the importance of aligning mission, vision, plans and policy. I mentioned that developing and updating these important items should be considered part of the organization's strategic planning process. However, maintaining an aligned mission, vision, plan and policy is only part of the work needed for sustainable success. Organizations that succeed over time have three characteristics:

They're continually learning and growing.

They have a way to determine the need to make basic changes in their products and management systems.

They're innovative about making those changes.


In other words, successful organizations have the ability to sustain their success over long periods regardless of external forces. They remain competitive in spite of conditions that drive their competitors out of business. They seem to thrive on innovation and change.

Long-term sustained growth depends on the organization's ability to continually address a variety of activities simultaneously. An organization's leaders should consider asking questions such as:

Do we use internal scans, external scans and self-assessment to understand future requirements?

Do we use innovation to understand future missions, visions and strategies needed to meet new requirements?

Do we change objectives, targets and key processes to meet new needs?

Do we prepare the work force for inevitable changes?

Do we implement, maintain and improve a new QMS to meet future requirements?


Planning for the future is essential for long-term survival. The strategic part of planning is often overlooked in the emphasis on evaluating current and projected market conditions, and forecasting short-term sales trends, revenues and margins. These tactical activities might be needed, but they only scratch the surface of future market conditions. A logical extension of the management system is to ensure that the organization has processes in place to understand the future market and business conditions it will face, and to compare current and projected products and processes with that picture of the future. This applies to more than just the organization's products and services. An organization must also plan changes to its QMS to meet future needs.

The most important aspect of planning is determining key processes. Yesterday's processes aren't likely to meet future needs. The need to maintain registration to management system standards such as ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 should never be viewed as an impediment to change. Rather, innovation should be used to achieve better processes that still meet the standard's requirements. When this is done correctly, the time and money that the organization invests in optimizing processes will be well spent. If this part of planning isn't performed well, there could be dire consequences for the organization. If it's performed well, there's high probability for long-term success.

The organization needs action plans to describe how it will identify the processes most important to creating change, meeting the new vision and achieving the new objectives. This work should start with top managers and involve others at appropriate levels. Most organizations will have determined key processes that are appropriate for the current conditions. The issue is to determine which processes are important in achieving the vision and the required future results. The action plan must assign responsibility for developing these processes and integrating them with other system processes so that the system is reoptimized to meet its new objectives.

As the old saying goes, "Plan well but don't plan forever, for without action all planning is useless." It's important to take action when it's needed, but without a robust planning process, organizations can miss critical opportunities to ensure their long-term success.

Note: This article is based in part on chapter 10 of Unlocking the Power of Your Quality Management System: Keys to Performance Improvement by John E. (Jack) West and Charles A. Cianfrani (ASQ Quality Press, 2004).


About the author
John E. (Jack) West is a consultant, business advisor and author. From 1997 through 2005 he was chair of the U.S. TAG to ISO TC 176 and lead delegate for the United States to the International Organization for Standardization committee responsible for the ISO 9000 series of quality management standards. He remains active in TC 176 and is chair of the ASQ Standards Group.