What is a management system?

A management system is the way in which an organization manages the inter-related parts of its business in order to achieve its objectives. These objectives can relate to a number of different topics, including product or service quality, operational efficiency, environmental performance, health and safety in the workplace and many more.

The level of complexity of the system will depend on each organization’s specific context. For some organizations, especially smaller ones, it may simply mean having strong leadership from the business owner, providing a clear definition of what is expected from each individual employee and how they contribute to the organization’s overall objectives, without the need for extensive documentation. More complex businesses operating, for example, in highly regulated sectors, may need extensive documentation and controls in order to fulfil their legal obligations and meet their organizational objectives.

Management System Standards list
View the full list of ISO MSS.

The ISO model: agreed by experts

ISO management system standards (MSS) help organizations improve their performance by specifying repeatable steps that organizations consciously implement to achieve their goals and objectives, and to create an organizational culture that reflexively engages in a continuous cycle of self-evaluation, correction and improvement of operations and processes through heightened employee awareness and management leadership and commitment.

The benefits of an effective management system to an organization include:

  • More efficient use of resources and improved financial performance,
  • Improved risk management and protection of people and the environment, and
  • Increased capability to deliver consistent and improved services and products, thereby increasing value to customers and all other stakeholders.

MSS are the result of consensus among international experts with expertise in global management, leadership strategies, and efficient and effective processes and practices. MSS standards can be implemented by any organization, large or small.

Management standards, management systems standards and related standards
Management standards, management systems standards and related standards

MSS and related standards: the big picture

This picture explains what are the different types of ISO documents supporting the management of an organization and what these documents deal with. Examples of standards for each quadrant are also provided.


Audits are a vital part of the management system approach as they enable the company or organization to check how far their achievements meet their objectives and show conformity to the standard.

In order to help the auditing related to these standards, ISO has released ISO 19011:2018 providing specific guidance on internal and external management system audits.

Just what is Annex SL, and why is it changing?

ISO management standards and the concept of a high-level structure 

ISO’s management system standards (MSS) are among some of the most widely used and recognized documents that we publish. They include standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 50001, which apply to quality management, environmental management and energy management respectively. In fact, there are more than 80 MSS. There’s a lot to know, and even experienced standards users might want to consult the complete list or find out more about how MSS work

One of the fundamental principles is that all the standards can work together. Those who already use an MSS in one part of their business, and are considering implementing additional ones in another area, will find that the process has been made as intuitive as possible. That’s thanks to the high-level structure (HLS). The concept of HLS is that management standards are structured in the same way, regardless of the domain of application. Users who are familiar with one MSS, will immediately feel at ease with another, even when using if for the first time. 

Annex SL more than a shared structure  

In addition to being laid-out in the same way, there are some parts of a standard where identical text can be used. This improves coherence and recognition, simplifies use, and is defined in something called ‘Annex SL’. It means that in addition to having the same structure, MSS can contain many of the same terms and definitions. This is particularly useful for those organizations that choose to operate a single (sometimes called ‘integrated’) management system that can meet the requirements of two or more MSSs being used simultaneously. 

Annex SL plays a key role in the interoperability and user friendliness of standards for countless users of ISO management standards around the world. You can find comprehensive information about the current Annex SL here. 

Changes will take place in 2021: how might you be affected? 

Annex SL has been in use since 2012. As part of ISO’s commitment to keep its standards real-world relevant, we surveyed MSS users in 2018 to get their views on how the Annex could be evolved. Conscious that any change would have widespread implications, everybody involved agrees that any changes need to be given thorough consideration. Literally millions of people work on a daily basis with MSS, so we are working to ensure that only those changes that bring clear, widespread advantages. Where possible, changes will only be made to specific subparts of Annex SL to better maintain its overall familiarity to current users.  

As with all ISO standards, the revision is a team-effort guided by consensus. The agreed plan is to complete a new version in 2020, which will come into effect in 2021.  

It’s important to bear in mind that the publication of a revised Annex SL will not mean that existing MSS are obsolete or in need of a revision. The approach will be to use the revised Annex SL only in new standards as well as those that are scheduled for periodic revision of their content.  

Upcoming changes will be announced on ISO.org, or you can sign up to our newsletter to receive updates straight to your inbox. 


Certification to management system standards is not a requirement. You can benefit from implementing these standards without being certified to them.

However, if you are looking to get certified to one or more of our management system standards, then you need to get in touch with an external certification body.

That's because ISO does not perform certification.

Read more about certification to ISO standards.

Certification is not the only way to show conformity to standards. Read more about conformity assessment.

ISO survey

Find out how many valid certificates there are in each country for the main ISO management system standards.

What's the difference between Type A and Type B MSS?

Useful to know when it comes to conformity.

Some of our management system standards

We have a number of management system standards, each focusing on different issues affecting global business.
More information can be found about some of the best-known MSS by clicking on the following links. You can find the full list of MSS here.

ISO 50001 Energy management
ISO's standard for helping organizations manage their energy performance.
Manager discussing with male worker at printing plant. Professionals with digital tablet and clipboard at printing press.
ISO 9000 family – Quality management
The ISO 9000 family is the world's most best known quality management standard for companies and organizations of any size.
ISO 14000 family – Environmental management
Improve your environmental performance with this family of standards.