The ISO 9000 standard is absolutely clear on this question; the policy comes first and the objectives are then developed in support of the quality policy.
The quality policy is the only true definition of quality that counts in your organization. Provided that you take into account the few important items the standard asks for, you can define and measure quality any way you choose.
Make sure the policy builds on current corporate objectives and values - it must be fully integrated with those concepts.
The quality policy is considered to be the driving force of the QMS as it commits your organization to meeting its objectives. It is also one of the key documents against which the performance of your QMS is measured.
Once you have a set of measurable quality objectives which suit you and your customers, you can drop the vague word 'quality' and focus your energies and your quality system on achieving those objectives.
Your Quality Policy should drive continual improvement
You will be required to ensure that you continually improve the degree to which your products and services meet customer requirements and to measure effectiveness of your processes. To this end the continual improvement principle implies that you should adopt the attitude that improvement is always possible and that organizations should develop the skills and tools necessary to drive improvement.
The translation of the quality policy into practice is made by defining the supporting quality objectives but ISO 9001 does not specify how quality objectives are documented; they may be documented in business plans, management review output, annual budgets, etc.
Quality objectives are now a clear requirement in their own right as opposed to being just a part of quality policy. They must be established in support of the policy and must focus on meeting product requirements and achieving continual improvement.
Incorporate your Quality Objectives into reporting
When your quality objectives are defined they must reflect the quality policy, be coherent, and align with the overall corporate objectives and customer expectations. Clearly defined quality objectives should also be closely linked to your key performance indicators or other pre-existing indicators; otherwise they become meaningless. They must be set by Top Management and be incorporated into reporting.
Keep your objectives up-to-date
Objectives are not static and need to be updated in view of the prevailing business climate, customer expectations and continual improvement activities. Don’t be afraid to revise your quality objectives (either up or down) but ensure that personnel are made aware that they have changed!
It’s worth remembering that even partial achievement of you quality objectives demonstrates continual improvement.
Once you have a set of measurable quality objectives which suit you and your customers, you can drop the vague word 'quality' and focus your energies and QMS on achieving those objectives.
There are many formal definitions of quality but for all practical purposes you can ignore all of them since the only definition that counts is the one on which Top Management agree and communicate via the quality policy.
Remember that there is a clear link between the dynamic aspect of revising the quality policy and the quality objectives and the commitment of the organization to continual improvement.
To learn more about developing your quality policy please visit ISO 9001 Checklist.