Standard vs. specification and guidance documents


Q: What is the difference between a standard and a specification?

A: There is no single or simple answer to your question. The answer depends upon the context of the question. Relative to the ANSI/ISO/ASQ Q9000 Series: Quality management standards, I direct you to ANSI/ISO/ASQ Q9000:2005 Quality management systems – Fundamentals and vocabulary.

ISO 9000:2005 defines specification as a document that states requirements. A specification can be related to activities (e.g. procedure document, process specification and test specification), or products (e.g. product specification, performance specification and drawing).

ISO 9000:2005 does not define “standard”. The first part of the ISO 9000:2005 introduction reads:

“The ISO 9000 family of standards listed below has been developed to assist organizations, of all types and sizes, to implement and operate effective quality management systems.

ISO 9000 describes fundamentals of quality management systems and specifies the terminology for quality management systems.

ISO 9001 specifies requirements for a quality management system where an organization needs to demonstrate its ability to provide products that fulfill customer and applicable regulatory requirements and aims to enhance customer satisfaction.

ISO 9004 provides guidelines that consider both the effectiveness and efficiency of the quality management system. The aim of this standard is improvement of the performance of the organization and satisfaction of customers and other interested parties.

ISO 19011 provides guidance on auditing quality and environmental management systems.

Together they form a coherent set of quality management system standards facilitating mutual understanding in national and international trade.”

In other words…

ISO 9000 is a standard that describes fundamentals and specifies the terminology.

ISO 9001 is a standard that specifies requirements.

ISO 9004 is a standard that provides guidelines.

ISO 19011 is a standard that provides guidance.

This implies that a standard is a formal document that establishes uniform criteria, methods, processes and practices — which may or may not be requirements.

ISO 9000:2005 also makes a distinction between quality management system requirements and requirements for products using the terms “specifications” and “standards.” It states:

“The ISO 9000 family distinguishes between requirements for quality management systems and requirements for products.

Requirements for quality management systems are specified in ISO 9001. Requirements for quality management systems are generic and applicable to organizations in any industry or economic sector regardless of the offered product category. ISO 9001 itself does not establish requirements for products.

Requirements for products can be specified by customers or by the organization in anticipation of customer requirements, or by regulation. The requirements for products and in some cases associated processes can be contained in, for example, technical specifications, product standards, process standards, contractual agreements and regulatory requirements.”

Joe Tsiakals
Voting member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176 (ASQ)
Voting member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 210 (AAMI)

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