A Guide to Understanding ISO Standards

Jama Software

ISO StandardsIf you’ve worked in product development for any time at all, you’ve probably heard the term “ISO” used in conjunction with the terms “standards” and “compliance” (along with a variety of four- and five-digit numbers).

But what does that all mean, and how does it affect you? In this article, we will provide you with a basic guide to understanding ISO standards.

What is ISO and What are ISO Standards?

The International Organization for Standardization is a nongovernmental organization. It consists of a network of standards bodies from 165 member countries (currently), with one body representing each member country. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), for example, represents the United States. The organization maintains a central office in Geneva, Switzerland, to oversee this network.

Because “International Organization for Standardization” is a mouthful and would have different acronyms in different languages, the organization’s founders chose ISO—derived from the Greek ‘isos’, meaning equal—as its official abbreviation. As the group’s website proclaims: “Whatever the country, whatever the language, we are always ISO.”

ISO’s purpose is to help unify standards on an international basis. ISO standards are designated by the term ISO followed by a number, like ISO 9001. In some cases, ISO standards share a numeric code with an industry association, as in the case of ISO/IEC 12207. IEC stands for the International Electrotechnical Commission, which prepares and publishes international standards for electrical, electronic, and related technologies.

Nearly 800 ISO technical committees and subcommittees are tasked with standards development. As of June 2021, ISO has published some 23,886 international standards covering almost all aspects of technology and manufacturing.

What Are the Benefits of ISO Standards?

ISO forms a bridge that links the public and private sectors. Many of its member institutes are either departments of their national governments or mandated by them. Other member organizations are rooted solely in the private sector, having been set up by industry association partnerships within their country. ISO helps these diverse bodies reach consensus on solutions that meet both the requirements of business and the broader needs of society.

ISO standards help make the world a safer place and give consumers confidence that the products they buy are safe, reliable, and of high quality. Regulators and governments count on ISO standards to help develop better regulation, knowing they have a sound basis thanks to the involvement of globally recognized experts.

Finally, compliance with ISO standards gives companies an advantage in the marketplace. ISO certification provides assurance to potential customers that the company adheres to industry best practices. In many industries, companies require that their suppliers are certified to certain relevant ISO standards.


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How Does ISO Design New Standards?

The ISO process for creating a new standard begins when an alliance of industry associations or consumer groups submits a request. ISO then recruits subject matter experts and industry stakeholders to form a technical committee or subcommittee. This committee executes a two-round drafting process and then takes a formal vote on the second draft. This second draft is called the Final Draft International Standard (FDIS). If the FDIS is approved, it is certified by the central secretariat, and ISO publishes it as an official international standard.

As technologies and best practices evolve, industry associations may request an update of an ISO standard. Different versions of the standard are distinguished by the year the revision was published appended to the standard designation. For example, the latest version of ISO 9001 is ISO 9001:2015.

What ISO Standards Are Related to Product Development?

ISO 9001

The ISO 9000 family of quality management standards is easily the most popular set of industry standards in the world. Of these, ISO 9001 is the only one to which companies can be certified.

ISO 9001 describes how to put a Quality Management System (QMS) in place to better prepare your organization to produce quality products and services. Today, over one million companies in more than 170 countries are certified to ISO 9001:2015.

ISO/IEC 12207

ISO/IEC 12207, Systems and software engineering – Software lifecycle processes aims to define all the processes required for developing and maintaining software systems, including the outcomes and/or activities of each process.

First introduced in 1995, ISO/IEC 12207 establishes a common framework for software life cycle processes with well-defined terminology that can be referenced by the software industry. It defines the processes, activities, and tasks to be applied during the acquisition of software products or services, as well as during the supply, development, operation, maintenance, and disposal of software products and to the software portion of firmware, as well.

ISO/IEC 12207 also provides a process that can be employed for defining, controlling, and improving software life cycle processes.

ISO 8887

ISO 8887 specifies the requirements for the preparation, content, and structure of technical product documentation (TPD) of the design output for the cycles of manufacturing, assembling, disassembling, and end-of-life processing of products. It describes the TPD needed at the critical stages of the design process.

Beyond those requirements, the standard also identifies and describes methods and conventions appropriate to the preparation of documentation necessary to realize a design, including the application to multiple life cycles. ISO 8887 also incorporates guidance on the ultimate reusing, recovering, recycling, and disposing of the components and materials used.

ISO/TS 16949

Based on ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949 is a technical specification (TS) aimed at the development of a quality management system that provides for continual improvement within the automotive industry. First published in 1999, it emphasizes defect prevention and the reduction of variation and waste in the automotive industry supply chain and the assembly process.

According to the British Standards Institution (BSI), the ISO/TS 16949 standard was created by the International Automotive Task Force (IATF) to help streamline this process. It focuses on the avoidance of errors and defines the requirements for the development, production, and installation of automotive-related products. Today, certification is required by almost all Tier 1 companies, many of whom require their Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers to certify. As a result, over 50,000 certifications have been issued to date against this standard.

ISO 26262

ISO 26262, Road vehicles – Functional safety applies to safety-related systems that include one or more electrical and/or electronic (E/E) systems and that are installed in series production passenger cars. Introduced in 2011, this standard addresses possible hazards caused by malfunctioning behavior of E/E safety-related systems, including the interaction of these systems.

With the increased number and interaction of electronic systems within passenger vehicles, this standard is being adopted rapidly within the automotive industry.

ISO 13485

Unlike many ISO standards, ISO 13485, Medical Device Quality Standards, is a single document and does not belong to a family. It was originally published in 2003 and revised in 2016.

ISO 13485 puts a quality management system in place for the production of medical devices and equipment and is very specific to the health industry. It is often implemented with ISO 9001 to show that an organization is qualified to do business in the medical device field.

ISO 13485  is a regulated standard against which over 25,000 certifications have already been issued.


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How ISO Affects the Product Development Process

Product developers sometimes ask, “What are the differences between standards and requirements?”

According to Merriam-Webster, a requirement is “something wanted or needed; a necessity” or “something essential to the existence or occurrence of something else.” Other definitions include “a necessity or prerequisite” and “something required or obligatory.”

Webster’s defines a standard as “something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality” or “something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example.” In other words, a standard is a principle, example, or measure used for comparison—a benchmark used to evaluate suitability for a purpose.

To meet a requirement, a thing, person or organization must do exactly what the requirement says. To meet a standard, a thing, person or organization must meet the minimum requirements of the standard and align with its intent. Standards typically allow some leeway for tailoring to individual organizational practices and obligations.

As mentioned earlier, many corporate and governmental customers want their suppliers to adhere to certain ISO standards, especially in industries that are multi-tiered or highly regulated. Certification to applicable standards is often a contractual requirement within those industries.

Is ISO Compliance Required by Law?

The ISO standards themselves are not legally binding. There are no laws that compel companies to meet or be certified to any ISO standards.

However, national regulators may refer to ISO standards as examples of good practice. For example, a building regulation might say you must comply with certain local regulations and that one way of complying with those is to comply with a given ISO standard.

Also, while not legally bound, many companies find certification to certain ISO standards is a necessity if they wish to compete for contracts within their industry or with specific customers.


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What is ISO Certification?

In this guide, we’ve talked frequently about ISO compliance and ISO certification. So, what’s the difference?

Compliance simply means that your product or process conforms to the requirements of the ISO standard. ISO certification, on the other hand, is the result of a formal procedure and thus a bit more complicated.

ISO itself does certify companies directly. Instead, specific certification bodies perform the task of auditing and then certifying an organization’s compliance with a given ISO standard. These bodies, often known as registrars, must themselves be certified under a separate standard, ISO/IEC TS 17021.

During the certification process, the registrar audits the organization to ensure that its operations are in compliance with processes outlined in the current ISO standard. Where inconsistencies or “non-conformities” are found, the organization must typically create a program for correcting these problems before the registrar will issue a certificate.

Once an organization is granted certification, it receives a certification mark that can be used on its company stationery, websites, etc.

When it comes to ISO standards governing ongoing business practices, like ISO 9001 for example, approval is typically valid for a period of three years. After that, the company must recertify to the current form of the standard.

Applying ISO Standards in Lifecycle and Requirements Management

What tools can help meet ISO standards in the realm of product lifecycle management? Jama Software provides several.

First and foremost of these is our flagship product, Jama Connect. For example, let’s say your organization is seeking certification to ISO 9001. To achieve that certification, you need to demonstrate you have put in place a defined, repeatable process for assuring quality. Jama Connect is a tool built specifically for requirements management and requirements traceability. Not only does Jama Connect simplify the tracking and tracing of requirements, it also makes it simpler and easier to maintain and demonstrate a robust quality process. That’s because Jama Connect automates so much of your requirements management process.

We’ve also built guides that will help you build compliance with specific ISO standards. If you work in the automotive sector, you may want to check out our guide for ISO 26262 compliance. Likewise, if you work in the medical device field, be sure to get a copy of our Guide to ISO 13485 for Medical Device Development.

Finally, to learn more about choosing the right requirements management tools to help your company attain or maintain ISO certification, download our Requirements Management Buyer’s Guide.



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