Afaq Ahmed, ASQ CQA/CQE/CMQOE, Exemplar Global lead auditor QMS/skill examiner, is an operational excellence and management systems trainer, course developer, speaker, and consultant. Starting his quality journey in 1983, Ahmed has conducted more than 250 quality system audits and operational excellent assessments throughout his career.
Ahmed talks to The Auditor Online to reflect on his long career in the quality, operational excellence, and auditing professions and makes some predictions for the future.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I regularly read quality/excellence related technical journals and magazines. This is usually how my day begins and this has been my practice for several years. After that, I either work on developing new training material or enhancing existing ones. Technical writing is my favorite past time, so if I am not auditing or conducting a training or presenting at a conference I will work on articles and papers. I have published several technical materials in the past ten years.
How did you get into auditing?
I was introduced to auditing in 1987 during my job as a quality engineer for an automotive electromechanical part supplier to the big three auto makers. At that time, I coordinated a series of in-plant audits with the Ford supplier quality assurance engineer in preparation for the Ford Q1 award.
The knowledge I gained during these audits came in handy when I joined Westinghouse Corporation as a supplier quality engineer and conducted several supplier audits. During the same time the company decided to develop and implement a ISO 9001 quality management system and I was selected as a member of the task team. I conducted internal audits of several plants during the implementation and subsequently in 1990, the company became the first elevator and escalator business in the U.S. to be ISO 9001 certified.
What is your history in the profession?
In brief, I have 30-plus years of experience in the design and implementation of operational excellence management systems/quality management systems, audits/assessments, business performance improvements and supply chain improvements.
My quality journey started in 1983 as a head of the quality control department. I was involved in setting up and managing a state-of-the-art inspection and testing facility in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
After a short while, I became involved in quality engineering when I joined a team, chartered with the start up of new production line for an automotive part supplier for the big three auto makers. I worked closely with Japanese engineers to develop process flowcharts, process FMEAs, and control plans to commission the new line.
After gaining hands-on experience in quality control and quality engineering, I moved on to developing, implementing, and managing quality management systems. I provided leadership and coaching in developing ISO 9001 and ISO/TS 16949 (QS-9000) based quality management systems. I also spent considerable time during these years conducting first-, second-, and third-party audits.
I have conducted 250-plus quality system audits and operational excellence assessments in variety of manufacturing and service industries such as oil and gas, aerospace, automotive, medical devices, welder test centers, testing laboratories, health care, and stockists using ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949 (QS-9000), AS9100, ISO/TS 29001, and ISO 13485.
From 2000 to 2015 I worked for the world’s largest oil, gas, and chemical company. As a strategic transformation professional of the CEO’s accelerated transformation program our team was chartered to develop the operational excellence framework, implementation approach, and assessment methodology for the entire corporation.
In my current career as an operational excellence and management systems trainer, course developer, speaker, and consultant, I write about quality and travel globally to teach quality wherever it is needed. My vision is to build a legacy as a quality mentor and coach for the quality and operational excellence community.
Why did you want to become an auditor?
Since I got into quality profession more than 30 years ago, audits and assessments have always been part of my work. I believe one is missing an essential element in their quality/excellence profession if auditing has not been an element of their career.
What are some highlights of your career?
I am a founding member of the operational excellence management system for Saudi Aramco. I provided leadership in the development of the operational excellence assessment approach, including the assessment handbook and the assessor’s training program. Adaptation of one assessment team and one assessment site visit approach for seven unique management systems.
Leading a high-level operational excellence assessment team for a very large chemical facility to identify gaps and develop a roadmap to enhance reliability, cost, profitability, and efficiency.
What do you like the most about being an auditor?
Audits and assessments give me a feeling of fulfillment as a well-rounded quality/excellence professional.
It provides me an opportunity to assist organizations to improve competitiveness by achieving excellent results and thereby add value to the society.
Auditing also presents the opportunity to study, observe, and examine variety of different industries and service sectors; meet new people; and travel and understand other cultures.
What is the most challenging part of being an auditor?
Planning for multiple management system audits with a very large audit team. Understanding and satisfying unstated needs of clients and auditee (e.g., certain dress code requirements in some parts of the world).
Auditing in foreign countries. Some countries will not issue a visa to a U.S. national unless vaccine (e.g., yellow fever shots) requirements are met.
Do you have any tips for auditors to improve the standard of their auditing?
Too often the quality department bear the sole responsibility for the internal quality audit program. Involve cross-functional teams of auditors to get management buy-in on internal audit results.
Auditing requires well-rounded professionals with knowledge, not only in quality, but all facets of the business including organization structure, strategic planning, managing, and business metrics. Auditors should build their knowledge and hone their skills in the use of quality improvement tools.
What will auditors be focusing on in 10 years?
Perhaps increase in new or alternate auditing techniques (e-auditing), leveraging new technology innovations such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things.
Auditors/assessors will play a key role in enhancing processes to assist organizations in achieving excellent results. I believe that more and more organizations will use self-assessment tools to identify gaps in enablers (processes, etc.) and bridge these gaps to achieve best-in-class results.