by Andy Hofmann
When approached to begin contributing regularly to The Auditor, I had to think hard about the commitment. Writing about auditing is challenge enough, but making it interesting certainly will add to its difficulty. Doing this every couple of months will make for an interesting challenge. Hopefully, you the reader will let us know when we hit the mark, or not. We thrive only when provided feedback.
For this first installment, I would like to compare where we are as a professional community to where we have been. As a gauge for where we are, I offer up some reflections from October’s American Society for Quality’s (ASQ) Audit Division conference in Orlando. Interestingly enough, the conference also provides insight into where we have been as a professional community. Of course, having been an auditor for more than three decades, I can add some additional insights to my observations.
I must say that the ASQ Audit Division could not have organized a more fitting or thoughtful speaker than the opening keynote speaker, Bret Pfost, senior manager of park operations, safety, training, and compliance at Disneyland Resort. He gave us a look into an organization that makes dreams come true every day. This ability depends on more than magic, Pfost explained. It’s just plain hard work followed by more hard work.
Pfost took us through the four keys to Disney success: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Each of these items could be the topic of a keynote address on its own, but Pfost reported that each Disney theme park conducts more than 5,000 audits a month to ensure each item’s effectiveness. Most of these audits are done in less than 15 minutes and are performed by every level of the organization.
The purpose of all these audits is to ensure that the training provided to every Disney cast member is applied to his or her work. In other words, is the training effective? How many of us look for this kind of commitment when auditing the requirements in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards that address competency and training effectiveness? Unfortunately, we are often presented evidence of a tremendous amount of training and little—if any—determination that it’s been useful.
Although Disney audits employ checklists—which are often associated with an antiquated form of auditing—the company uses them in strategic and innovative ways. Where data suggest that particular messages aren’t being well received and converted into action, instant meetings are arranged to identify how things can be improved. This rapid response and immediate action is the only way Disney can manage in a world that is made up of tens of thousands of customers daily.
The conference also included presentations on every manner of subject related to auditing, from writing better audit findings to counterfeit parts. It wouldn’t be possible to do justice to the amount and quality of information present in one column. What one can conclude from all these different subjects is that the audit community is engaged in continual improvement. Conferences like the ASQ Audit Division’s give us the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences and make us better at our jobs.
At lunch on the first day, Gary Cort addressed the audience in a presentation that can only be called paradigm breaking. Cort has had a tremendous career in quality, culminating with his appointment as chair to ISO/TC 176, which is responsible for writing and maintaining the ISO 9000 series of standards. He challenged us to reflect on the rapid pace of change in business since the industrial revolution. Cort said what we’ve all been thinking: Stuff is changing so quickly that organizations are struggling to keep up.
The main point of Cort’s presentation is that organizations which face international competition have to move and change quickly. They cannot be burdened by the lumbering management systems we’ve become accustomed to: static policies, procedures, instructions, and records. Like Disney, we live in a world where the guests/clients/customers are constantly changing and looking for the next great experience. This cannot be delivered by a static management system.
Cort challenged us to use our audits to point out to organizations where they have systems that are redundant to their goals. There are layers of inefficiency in organizations that don’t contribute to their metrics. These are the antithesis of quality, and they slow or even prevent product delivery. Such processes need to be converted into enablers. Cort is convinced that we as auditors have a key role to play in such a transformation. Are we up to the challenge?
Reflecting on this question, I left the conference for a few moments to look back over three decades in auditing. When I was first introduced to this trade straight out of college, I was obligated to attend a five-week course on auditing. We went over everything from how to read a technical specification and drawing to how to write a checklist, audit report, and nonconformance statements. We also learned about audit administration.
Administratively, auditing was expensive. Every hour of verification required at least the same amount of time to plan and report the activity. I remember having forms to keep track of what characteristics we had verified, how big of a sample we had selected, and, of course, a place to stamp as evidence of having completed the work. The checklist was written from both the management system requirements and from the product requirements documents. In those days, a second-party auditor would spend as much time looking at a product as he or she would examining the system that created it.
Over time, auditing evolved to focus almost exclusively on the controls in the management system. Instead of looking at output or product, we now focus on the thoroughness of the activities leading to the creation of the output. There are countless business decisions being made—from the source of materials, people, and equipment to the manner or process in which the output will be created. It’s this decision process that is now the subject of our audits.
What this evolution indicates is that we in the audit community are capable of adapting to the realities of our business partners. As the decision process becomes more rapid in face of global competition, the controlling processes must become leaner. Our job is to ensure that the controls put in place to guide these decisions are effective.
This is a different kind of auditing than that of 30 years ago. We have to use technology and understanding of business decision processes to determine how well the customer is being served. We have to focus on metrics, the customer’s requirements, and the actions taken in face of unexpected results. We need to be able to look at training programs and determine if they produce the kind of results the organization had in mind when implementing them. We need to look at suppliers and their contributions and risks. Finally, we need to look at the customers to see how they are voting with their money.
The ASQ Audit Division conference had presentations on each of the foregoing topics. When attending the individual presentations, I didn’t see the whole picture. Only upon reflection did it become clear that we have to rapidly change the way we work to stay relevant. This will mean exciting and challenging times ahead. One might even say it will be magical.
About the author
Andy Hofmann has been involved with management systems for more than 30 years. He has audited more than 2,500 systems, giving him a unique opportunity view of organizations that are performing well and those that struggle. A regular contributor to American Society for Quality management systems conferences and publications, Hofmann’s intellectual property has received wide acceptance. Currently the president of ICS Certification Services, Hofmann continues to work with management systems professionals throughout North America. He has an MBA from the University of Toronto and is a Certified Engineering Technologist.