© Transition Support Last edit  24/11/2023 







Transition Support

A flexible approach to business improvement

Conformance to Performance


In the period prior to ISO 9001:2000, the dominant theme in ISO 9001 were the requirements for documented procedures. This led to the mantra “document what you do, do what your document and prove it”. Third party auditors were therefore seeking to verify:

  1. conformity of the documented procedures to the requirements of ISO 9001 i.e. did the procedures address the requirements of the standard;
  2. conformity of activities to the requirements of the procedures i.e. were activities being carried our according to the documented procedures;
  3. conformity of records to procedures i.e. did the records produced contain the data which the procedures required and did the data provide objective evidence of conformity with the requirements

What mattered most was conformity as if it was axiomatic that conformity would produce products and services that met customer requirements. But this approach was flawed because it was only as good as what could be predetermined and not everything one needed to do to produce conforming products could be predetermined.


Within the chain of processes from customer enquiry to acceptance of product or service by a customer, there are many stages that are dependent for their outputs on the judgement of competent persons at the scene of the action. These persons assess the prevailing conditions and available information and weigh the benefits and harms of taking one course of action over another  and choose what they consider to be the best course of action before proceeding to the next stage. Different circumstances would possibly result in a different course of action. In some cases the predetermined processes may be followed but in others they may be changed. These stages change a purposive chain of processes into a purposeful chain of processes that adapts to prevailing conditions so as to deliver outputs that meet the current customer’s requirements.

With a conformity based approach one lays down a plan of action and then controls the course of action to ensure the agreed plan is followed as prescribed. With a performance based approach one lays down a plan of action but builds-in review stages where outputs are continually monitored and assessed against prevailing conditions and process adjustments made to ensure the results that will be produced are those that are required by the stakeholders.

This approach is not new. It reflects more accurately what happens in reality. The primary difference is recognition that some work can be planned well in advance and other work can only be planned when prevailing conditions are known. The conformity approach assumed that the conditions that prevailed when the processes were determined (documented) would not change but in reality, change is a constant and therefore its potential impact needs to be continually assessed and course correction made if the objectives are to be achieved economically. (We can’t wait for the wind to change so we can implement the plan designed when there was no wind).

The performance approach focuses not on conformity but on the results to be achieved and adjusts the processes so that they will produce the results required.  

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