An article by Jason S. Sullivan, 11-11-19
- Processes should have inputs and outputs.
- Does it match, or is there a gap?
- Find ways to add value.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Quality is everyone’s responsibility.
Earlier this year, I attended an AS9100D internal auditor training class. It was a tough three days, but I learned many things. I’m now a trained AS9100D internal auditor.
AS9100D is a Quality Management System. I won’t get into the nuances of AS9100D. Instead, I wanted to focus on some of the more significant concepts I learned.
Whether you’re preparing for an audit or focused on the day-to-day operations of your business, you may find this information helpful.
Processes should have inputs and outputs.
What is a process? A process is a set of interrelated activities that transforms inputs into outputs. Processes feed into each other – meaning output leads into the next input. Don’t forget that a system is a set of interrelated processes.
Processes should begin and end with the customer in mind.
Each process should have a detection point. Think of a detection point as a gate – the process shouldn’t go through the gate until it’s correct. The gate is there to prevent mistakes from going on to the next department. It helps eliminate non-conformities, also known as escapes.
If a process has ten steps, and a mistake occurs on the second step, let’s catch the mistake where it happens – not on the final step. Even better, let’s prevent the mistake from happening in the first place. By the way – your customer definitely shouldn’t be the one to catch the mistake.
Does it match, or is there a gap?
Audits look for whether processes have a gap or match to the intent, implementation, and effectiveness. Often two out of three have a match, but the third one has a gap. It could be any of the three, but gaps in effectiveness may be the most common. Think of it as a triangle – a process needs all three sides. If you keep auditing the procedure, you’ll likely continue getting the same results. Audit the process. Things on paper don’t always translate to how the process works in real life.
Find ways to add value.
So often there is a tribal knowledge in teams and companies. Audits, for better or worse, sometimes help flush out this knowledge. Audits should do more than find non-conformities and issue corrective actions, though. Audits should also highlight excellent performance, share information, and contribute to continuous improvement.
Ask open-ended questions.
Pilots go through a preflight checklist before takeoff. Depending on the circumstances of the flight, this checklist can be quite extensive. Some people tend to go into audits the same way. Instead of a comprehensive list, pick a handful of questions. Consider taking the questions from the procedure as a guide. Let your natural curiosity take over from there. Ask helpful, open-ended questions, and see where the conversation takes you.
Quality is everyone’s responsibility.
We all undertake different roles – sometimes at the same time. Even if your company has a designated Quality Team, guess what? You’re part of quality, too. Everyone’s role affects quality. And, more than that, quality is everyone’s responsibility.
My instructor asked us two questions that stuck with me. The questions bookended the training class in a funny way that summed it up. Did he plan it that way?
- Was it adequate? He asked this question the first day after our lunch break. The training class was at a hotel conference room, and the hotel served us lasagna for lunch. “Was it adequate?” he asked, referring to the meal. (Yes, it was adequate. I have a policy against turning down lasagna, though.) It’s a question you could ask of anything. What he meant was – did it meet your requirements?
- Did you get what you came for? The second question came at the end of the training class. “Did you get what you came for?” he asked, referring to the experience of the training class as a whole. What he meant was – did it meet your expectations?
The customer is a common denominator throughout every aspect of your business. Your focus should be meeting customer requirements and expectations. A satisfied customer makes your business possible. Not only that, a satisfied customer signs your paycheck. Focus on the customer. Meet their requirements and expectations – and they will likely keep coming back to you.