Internal and External Issues: Understanding ISO

Internal and external issues are part of understanding the organisation and its context, a common clause across all standards aligned with the Annex SL framework, which includes ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015. As such, Both of these standards have a clause which reads something similar to:

“The organization shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and that affect its ability to achieve the intended outcomes of its quality/environmental management system.”

ISO 14001:2015 goes on to add “Such issues shall include environmental conditions being affected by or capable of affecting the organization.”

Clause ISO 9001:2015 – 4.1

Clause ISO 14001:2015 – 4.1

Internal and External Issues

A journey cannot begin if you don’t understand where you are starting from. Identifying the internal and external issues that impact your organisation is part of gaining a better awareness of your organisation, why it operates the way it does, and why it provides the products and/or services that it offers. Many organisations have this in some form, maybe a business plan or strategy, or it might simply be in a director’s head. This requirement requires you to document your organisations internal and external issues so they can be shared and reviewed, ensuring that all internal and external issues have been identified and considered, and remain up to date.

Issues are often considered to be negative, but they can also be positive. Here are some examples of common issues to consider in your management system:



Resourcing – What is needed to run the organisation? This could include people, machinery, buildings or anything else an organisation needs to operate.

Economy – How is the economy where the organisation is operating? How sensitive is your industry to economic disruption? Unavoidable example right now is Brexit.

Finance – How is the business funded and finances distributed within the organisation?

Legislation – What legislation affects your industry? Are any reforms expected in the near future? Are there any landmark cases in the court which could lead to changes?

Marketing – How does the business approach marketing? What information is being communicated?

Government Policy – What is the governments short- and long-term policy on your industry? What is the oppositions policy? Could these affect your organisation?

Operations – How are products and services being delivered?

Competition – What are your competitors offering? Are you competitive? Are there any you aspire to be like? How are you staying ahead? Are there any new entries to watch?

Organisational Culture/Politics – What type of culture does the business have? How is management structured? How are employee issues resolved?

Clients – What are your clients looking for? Do you overly rely on a few clients? Are there new clients you’d like to target?

Location – Where is the organisation? What type of building does it occupy?

Social Trends – Are there social trends which could affect your offering?

Cross Over

Inevitably not all issues are clearly internal or external. For example, finance may have external components if your organisation has investors or loans. Another example could be if your organisation buys a competitor, an external issue could become an internal issue. You can either identify these components separately as individual internal and external issues, or address them as a single issue with internal and external components.


There is no single way to comply with this requirement. Some organisations compile a table, similar to the one above, others incorporate internal and external issues into their approach to risk and opportunities (to be covered in a future Understanding ISO post). We believe tackling internal and external issues separately first is helpful. This way, you can focus on the big picture, the macro issues, without getting bogged down in details and specifics, otherwise you risk not being able to see the wood for the trees. The details can be identified later, once you are happy you have identified all of the big-ticket issues. This stage is about understanding your organisation, not coming up with solutions…yet.

3 thoughts on “Internal and External Issues: Understanding ISO

    • Section 4, Understanding the organization and its context asks you to determine Internal & External issues. This requirement is part of Annex SL which provides the structure for all ISO management system standards. Therefore, there is an Internal and External issues clause in both 9001 and 45001, but the issues pertinent to Quality compared to Health and Safety may be different. The implementation could present an integrated document listing issues for both 9001 and 45001 or keep these in separate documents, depending on which approach is most appropriate for the organisation.

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