What are your ideas about the meaning of context in ISO 9001:2015?

According to the new ISO high-level structure for management systems standards (ISO 9001:2015), there is much more focus on context, leadership, measurement, analysis and evaluation.

A key element of ISO 9001:2015 is chapter 4 “context of the organization”. This chapter contains four paragraphs:

  • Understanding the organization and its context
  • Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties
  • Determining the scope of the quality management system
  • Quality management system and its processes 
ISO 9001:2015 Context

But what does “understanding the organization and its context” mean? The standard itself is rather vague and says “the organization shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and its strategic direction and that affects its ability to achieve the intended result(s) of its quality management system” (ISO 9001:2015 ; paragraph 4.1)

Perhaps the standard is deliberately vague to grant organizations absolute freedom about how they want to determine their context. In our opinion, context is the balance between following questions:

  • Where do you want to be within 5 years with your organization?
  • On which ‘transitions’ will we focus the next years?
  • How are we going to achieve our objectives?

Defining your context  

To put it in other words… Defining your context is organizing three questions:

The interaction between these questions is the core of your strategy/business plan.

It is in this context that you should define your interested parties/stakeholders. Which parties are involved in order to reach the dreams and strategy of your company? What is their role?

The remaining question is… How do you determine that context? Determining your context is a complex process in which you involve relevant stakeholders (e.g. employees, customers, critical suppliers…). A strong context-setting process consists of two phases: divergence and convergence.

  • In the divergence phase, you bring together diverse groups of stakeholders to brainstorm about possible ideas for the future of the organization using guided methodologies (e.g. focus group, appreciative inquiry…). In this phase you collect as many ideas as possible and involve as many (relevant) stakeholders as possible.
  • In the convergence phase, you select the best ideas and make decisions inspired by the richness of ideas from the divergence phase.

What are your thoughts about the meaning of chapter 4 “Context of the organization” in ISO 9001:2015? How do you determine your context? Share your ideas with us, we like to discuss them with you!