ISO TC 176 has released a “Design Specification” for the next revision of ISO 9001, tentatively scheduled for release in 2025. The document is actually called “Working Draft Design Spec for Potential Revision to ISO 9001” and was given the official ISO document number “ISO TC176 SC2 TG05 TF01 N039” which I just like typing because it looks like a cat walked over my keyboard, and I don’t own a cat.
The document itself is marked confidential, so I won’t be publishing it. To be honest, there’s nothing really to see in it anyway, except for a few highlights I will mention here. There’s nothing at all in any way related to ISO’s business operations, so the entire secrecy thing is just driven by ISO’s usual allergy to transparency.
Of Course Spock Didn’t Die
The Design Spec essentially tries to show TC 176 eating its own dog food, as they say, to prove they comply with ISO 9001 themselves. Clause 8.3 of ISO 9001:2015 requires controls when designing a product, and the Design Spec lays all of those out in pretty transparent pandering to that standard. TC 176 used to be ISO 9001 certified themselves, and I’m not sure if they still hold that certification; if so, this was likely produced just so they don’t lose their cert.
The thing is, capturing your design “inputs” is supposed to happen before you start working on the outputs, and ISO didn’t do that, as you will see. So even TC 176 can’t comply with ISO 9001.
The 17-page document is largely an exercise in what is known as “retconning” in the nerd world. That stands for “retroactive continuity,” and it’s what a lot of sci-fi shows do when they run into trouble with their own canon. For example, in order to boost ticket sales, Paramount Pictures kills off Spock in one Star Trek movie, only to invent some mumbo-jumbo technobabble in the next movie that immediately brings him back to life. That’s retconning.
In this case, TC 176 is retconning known facts about things that have already happened so, later, they can tell the world — with a straight face — that they followed their “official procedures” and developed ISO 9001:2015 with full consensus. They will have done none of that, but they will point to this Design Spec (DS) as their evidence. But, of course, they won’t allow anyone to actually see it.
So what’s in it?First, the DS opens with a lengthy justification for why TC 176 is pursuing a revision of ISO 9001 despite the world voting multiple times and saying the standard should not be updated.
In March 2021, the results of the systematic review of ISO 9001 were published and indicated a slight majority to confirm. Due to the narrow margin of the majority, the results were subsequently reviewed by the ISO TC176 SC2 Strategic Planning and Operations Task Group (SPOTG). As a result of the review, a decision was made to establish a project at the “Preliminary” stage to examine whether a revision of ISO 9001 should be proposed for ballot.
Let’s ignore the fact that ISO came up with a task group name (“SPOTG”) that sounds an awful lot like a female erogenous zone. The language of that paragraph fully reveals the lie. The first sentence admits the world voted to “confirm” ISO 9001:2015, meaning not to revise it. The next two sentences then go on to say that they are going to revise it anyway, because — based on their “gut” — they didn’t think the majority was big enough. That’s completely opposite to the concept of “consensus” and violates the entire purpose of having ISO members vote on anything.
The DS then goes on to discuss the history of various attempts to re-do the polling, but which never showed a shift in world opinion:
The report concluded that although none of the sources of information reviewed provide sufficient evidence to justify an early revision of ISO 9001 individually, collectively the inputs warranted consideration by SPOTG for an early revision.
I’ve highlighted the text in colors to make this clearer. The red text clearly says none of the additional surveys came back with the world agreeing to an early revision, and the green text — within the same sentence — then says they intend on considering an early revision anyway. Their logic? That somehow looking at a set of individual no-votes can actually be interpreted as a yes-vote if you look at them “collectively.” That’s not how math works — a bushel of 100 apples doesn’t become a bushel of 100 pears because you fix your gaze on the horizon — but it’s what ISO is hanging its hat on.
The DS then goes on to say that a TC 176 committee “requested development of a design specification to clarify the strategic intent and purpose of the future revision,” speaking about the revision as if it’s already a foregone conclusion — which it is. It then says that this spec would be used to “support member bodies’ decision making if a ballot for an early revision is made.” That means that they intend on holding another vote to override all the prior ones. As I wrote earlier, that is intended for Nairobi in October of this year.
What About Content?
Moving on, the DS says the new standard will operate under the temporary code name “WGXX,” presumably because “Maverick” and “Wolverine” were already taken. The document then spends a lot of pages rehashing information that was already released in press releases and articles from ISO. Much of that language is related to ensuring WGXX complies with the latest updates to the core Annex SL text, which must be incorporated should ISO 9001 be updated. In fact, reading the DS suggests that the updates to Annex SL are a prime reason for the update, and that’s partially true, but it ignores the fact that ISO is doing this in order to get a huge payday. ISO 9001 is their flagship standard, and updating for no reason is like printing money for them.
While much of the DS is copy-and-paste, one bit of new language stands out like a sore thumb. The DS says the new revision must:
… align to the TC176 Strategic Business Plan including consideration of the London Declaration and contributions to achieving relevant United Nations sustainable development goals relevant to ISO 9001.
I’ve already written how the “London Declaration” is a sham designed to help ISO Secretary-General Sergio Mujica’s campaign for UN Secretary-General in 2027. ISO has no interest in actually becoming a sustainable organization, or they’d stop forcing people to fly jet planes to Nairobi for a pointless meeting that could be held over Zoom.
The DS then says some commenters indicated a need to update ISO 9001 in order to address “increased use of technologies, remote working, and global systems.” I know what remote work is, obviously, but how that affects a Quality Management System is not clear. The other two — “technologies” and “global systems” — are just words someone typed, and don’t mean anything at all. So three out of three of the “technological” justifications for updating ISO 9001 are complete nonsense.
Some other concepts tossed around are “resilience, sustainability, collaborative supply chains, organizational agility, and effective management of change,” “business sustainability,” and “business continuity.” Sure, whatever.
You and I know none of that stuff will actually end up in the requirements clauses of ISO 9001, and just be more filler — likely written by Nigel Croft — to pad the page count and get the cover price over $225 this time around.
There are a few passing references to improving the “audibility” of ISO 9001, which is nice to hear. Usually, TC 176 pretends that ISO 9001 isn’t designed for conformity assessment and they leave the auditors out to dry. Maybe they will fix the standard’s language so it can actually be audited now, but I doubt it. The current crop of TC 176 contributors are just very, very dumb people, and they really don’t know how to write. They are just there to sell their consulting services.
Regarding injecting “climate change” into ISO 9001 — which has gotten a lot of press — it’s only mentioned in passing. Only one sentence reminds the readers that there exists a “mandate from ISO related to the use of standards to support the climate agenda,” Otherwise, the concept is never mentioned again.
The Time Traveling Spreadsheet
The DS then gets really wibbly-wobbley timey-whimey by requiring the creation of an “Effort / Benefit Analysis” which they say will be “applied by the working group each time a change is being considered during the ISO 9001 revision process.” The DS goes on at length about this matrix, pretending that it is something that will be done in the future. It says the matrix can be used and “standards writers should ensure that the change meets the intent of the design specification before making the change.”
The only problem is that the Effort / Benefit Analysis was completed a full year ago, before there even was a Design Spec.
The Effort /Benefit Analysis was published under ISO document number “ISO TC176 SC2 TG5 N192 TG05” (damn cat) and released on April 3, 2022. The metadata of the Excel file shows it was created in December 2021 by Sam Somerville (a former BSI staffer turned, of course, ISO consultant) and then last edited by Lisa Uhrig (another ISO consultant, who I wrote about here) in March of 2022.
Now remember, this document shouldn’t have existed in 2021, since the Design Spec requiring it wasn’t released until April 6 of 2023, seventeen months later.
That Excel sheet, which I published previously (and was not marked confidential), shows TC 176 already working on the new ISO 9001 draft language, determining what stays and what doesn’t, as far back as 2021. In fact, that Excel sheet discusses over 500 changes to the ISO 9001 standard, so anything ISO says to the opposite is wholly disproved by the facts.
Basic Drafting Rules
This next point I want to emphasize because it will become important later when we see the actual text. The DS reminds the authors of key ISO rules when creating standards, many of which ISO never bothered to adhere to with ISO 9001:2015 because the standard never underwent proper editing to enforce them. These include:
- “Consistent terminology should be maintained.” For ISO 9001:2015, the standard constantly uses the work “process” incorrectly, and then alternates calling internal auditing a “process” and a “program” in the very same sentence. Not consistent.
- “Requirements are drafted to reduce ambiguity through providing a common understanding that avoids multiple interpretations.” Obviously, that’s not what they did for ISO 9001:2015.
- “Sentences should avoid excessive wordiness.” The ISO 9001:2015 standard gave a masterclass on using 100 words where only 5 were necessary.
- “Avoid prescriptive requirements for documented information.” They literally tell you what to write in your own Quality Policy.
- “Requirements are clearly separated from any explanatory guidance information.” As I said, multiple clauses moved actual requirements to “Notes” making them impossible to implement or audit.
So, no, TC 176 has no intention of following any of those rules because if they did, Lisa Uhrig and Sam Somerville would not be able to sell consulting services.
What is not in the Design Spec is any mention of actual clauses, language changes, or any text from the content of the next revision. As a result, the document is not particularly interesting, except for history buffs and those interested to see how ISO lies to the public through very longwinded, professional-sounding “official documents.”
So we still don’t get any insight into what the new standard will look like, although the updates to Annex SL are a pretty good starting point. I’m told that climate change is definitely in, but may yet get relegated to a “Note,” and that now conversations are being had about adding “gender equity.”
Based on the totality of the information I have to date, I’d say the ISO 9001:2025 standard:
- … will be much larger in page count, and thus more expensive. I expect it to easily exceed $200 a copy
- … will have much more introductory material and more annexes (again, likely written by Nigel Croft)
- … will not clarify confusing concepts like risk, opportunity, or “documented information” because TC 176 can’t figure them out themselves
- … will further muddy the waters on “risk,” for the same reason
- … will have a lot more notes that include meaningless phrases like “technology” and “sustainability” without any context
- … will toss the UN sustainable goals, like climate action, into meaningless notes that won’t upset anyone since we can all ignore them, but will make the document a pandering mess
- … will not fix the problem of how current notes contain requirements, such as in clauses 7.1.3 or 8.5.4
- … will not fix the problem that 8.3 on Design is still tilted toward hardware manufacturers
- … will still not include “preventive action” despite its absence being nearly criminal and likely to kill people
- … will be rushed to print so they can beat the ISO 14001 team this time
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.