Integrating ISO with Lean = Synergy?


I sometimes hear people say they don’t think ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is worth pursuing.  This may be true relative to certification, but having been involved with both Lean Initiatives and ISO Certification I am convinced the process of implementing ISO is compatible with, and may provide synergies when combined with Lean. 

 Stated benefits of the ISOProcess Approach1 (pp. 1-2) are:

  • Integration and alignment of processes to enable achievement of desired outcomes.
  • Ability to focus effort on process effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Provision of confidence to customers, and other interested parties, about the consistent performance of the organization.
  • Transparency of operations within the organization.
  • Lower costs and creation of shorter cycle times, through the effective use of resources.
  • Improved, consistent and predictable results.
  • Provision of opportunities for focused and prioritized improvement initiatives.
  • Encouragement of the involvement of people and the clarification of their responsibilities.

 These benefits can be compared to Womack  and Jones (1996)2 description of the benefits of lean thinking (p. 15):

It [lean thinking] provides a way to specify value, line up value-creating actions in the best sequence, conduct these activities without interruption whenever someone requests them, and perform them more and more effectively.  In short, lean thinking is lean because it provides a way to do more and more with less and less—less human effort, less equipment, less time, and less space—while coming closer and closer to providing customers with exactly what they want.

 ISO and Lean are clearly both initiatives with a goal of improving efficiencies and effectiveness.  Lean’s approach defines certain principles–value, value stream, flow, pull, perfection, and associated elements including standardization, visual controls, and accountability.  ISO provides a disciplined process approach assuring responsibility, accountability (audits), and control of documents (procedures).                              

Andrea Chiarini (2011)3 takes a look at integration of ISO 9001 and Lean based on a study of 107 manufacturing companies from different European countries.  She links the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) Deming Cycle to ISO and Lean principles (p. 101) as follows [click on image for clear view]:

Iso Lean

Though too lengthy to include here, Table IV of her article (pp. 106-113) associates specific ISO 9001 requirements with Lean tools and principles, and suggests guidelines for integration.

As a final reference, Bolea (2012)4 relates Lean and ISO as follows:

The implementation of Lean is clearly linked to the innovative spirit of the organizations, based on essential principles that focus on creativity, commitment to change and continuous improvement. Therefore, it could even be considered as a process [the ISO approach], specifically in the group framing Process Measurement, analysis and improvement (related to Chapter 8 of ISO 9001), while all the activities involved, interact and cause changes in the product realization processes (Chapter 7 of the standard), Resource Management (Chapter 6) and Management Responsibility (Chapter 5).

 Here is the  Synergy!

Lean Gives ISO Context — ISO Gives Lean Discipline!


1ISO 2008. ISO/TC 176/SC 2/n 544R3, ISO 9000 Introduction and Support Package: Guidance on the Concept and Use of the Process Approach for Management Systems.

2Womack, J., Jones, D. (1996). Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation. New York: Simon & Schuster.

3Chiarini, A. (2011).  Integrating Lean Thinking Into ISO 9001: A First Guideline, International Journal of Lean SixSigma,2(2), 96-117.

4Bolea, L. (2012).  Lean and ISO 9001. Are They Compatible? Innovation and Technology (Featured Knowledge).  Retrieved from: