An interested party is typically includes your customers, government or non-government organization, employees, owners or shareholders. You should know who your interested parties are for many reasons. To name a few, the management system scope needs to include the relevant interested parties' requirements, measurement traceability needs to be maintained- when this is an expectation of those interested parties, the quality policy is to be made available to relevant interested parties (when appropriate), and requirements for products and services may need to include requirements from relevant interested parties.
So, how do you get started?
In plain English, the requirements of the standard want you to be aware of the parties that have some interest in your organization, and to have knowledge of what their requirements are of your business. Follow these steps and you'll be on your way...
- Map Out Internal Interested Parties. You can start your process of finding relevant interested parties by mapping out internal interested parties. Look internally and make sure to include your management team, staff, and any shareholders. These are very important to the management system as they are the face of your brand and the parties that will interact with many other interested parties. (Note: Some companies also define employee's families as interested parties)
- Map Out External Interested Parties. You should continue your process of finding relevant interested parties by first looking at the customer. We may also have to include an end user, depending on the business. They have the biggest effect on our business in both a positive and negative way. There may also be government, legal, or regulatory parties that can have an impact on your business. Changes in legislation also come into play, and can have a major impact on your business. Banks, insurers and financial institutions will also need to be considered along with unions and your local community. The suppliers to your business and their performance will impact your ability to operate to plan so they need to be included, as well.
- Define the Power and Interest in the Relevant Interested Party. A vital tool in helping you determine who is a relevant interested party is to define how much interest they have in the decisions and activities in the organization. For example, a small business may have 1 or 2 decision makers and just be a phone call away from a decision, while a large corporation may require several weeks, several meetings and contracts before a decision is determined. It's important to determine how much power or influence they have over decisions, which could also be determined as their significance or risk. Plotting interested parties helps you to prioritize the effort required to meet their needs and expectations and set objectives and priorities.
- Consistently Meet their Needs and Expectations. Once our interested parties have been identified and mapped out, as well as what each interested party needs, we must look at meeting their needs and expectations. Understanding each party has different needs is important, as a customer's needs (right price, products on time) is vastly different than an employee's needs (job security, a living wage). Start by looking at what issues may arise that may be of concern. Once we identify an issue, we can be proactive in coming up with a solution. Next, look at risks and opportunities. What could be a risk to your organization if an interested party had a need that was not met? For example, a supplier expects to get a detailed description of the raw materials needed for a project. If you don’t give the full specification and details, then what they supply to your business may not work for your product. This could lead to you not being able to fulfil the orders and result in an unhappy customer. How could you go about reducing this particular risk? Maybe a process you could put in place to ensure that you fill in a specification sheet and have a contract agreed on by both parties. Remember that while you will be identifying risks during this step, you will also discover a few opportunities that could have a positive effect on your performance and result in very happy customers, instead.
- Communicate. Finally, part of the ethos of ISO 9001 is consistently striving for continual improvement. By identifying the risks and potential failures in the process, we can prevent them and continue to offer the best service possible. This ensures our relevant interested parties' needs and expectations aren't only continuously met, but we go above and beyond in making sure they have the best possible customer experience. Communication is key in unlocking the parties' needs and expectations. Where issues occur, we can learn from them. This prompts us to change the way we operate to ensure a better experience.
Finally, make sure this exercise is not just a one time analysis. The needs and expectations of interested parties are fluid, so you need a way to ensure this review takes place on a frequency that makes sense for your business.