By Jim L. Smith
It’s rare that managers, or even most quality auditors, discuss how closely tied the findings of manufacturing audits are to the long-term ability of their companies to compete in this highly competitive market.
Occasionally someone will publish a detailed study of audit effectiveness. A few of the more enlightened studies discuss how effective quality audits deliver a set of competitive priorities and strengths for companies. Some companies have made the commitment to ingrain manufacturing process workflows beyond the factory floor to engineering, service, management, and even to sales and marketing.
Making quality audits pay dividends begins with transforming the use of audit data into competitive strengths and lasting advantage. The secret weapon of manufacturing is transforming a company with auditing as the influencer. When done correctly and with the proper support, it’s been my five decade plus experience that nothing less can create the product reliability that consistently exceeds customer expectations.
Many might say that the quality auditor’s moment of truth is reporting results to senior management. However, the real moment of truth for the quality auditors and the entire organization is when a customer turns that key in the ignition or inserts the plug of an appliance into an electrical outlet and everything works!
Getting audit data out of the silos and making it a catalyst for changing how a company thinks about quality is crucial. Insightful organizations define a road map for how to transform audits from a compliance activity into a valuable tool. The main point is to glean the key points of the quality auditor’s reports quickly so that they can be used to not only make ongoing improvements but to use it for strategic product and service plans.
Auditors can and need to be the revolutionaries of change in their organizations, especially given this uncertain economic environment. It’s not enough to focus on the manufacturing floor anymore. Quality auditing and the gathering of impartial data has to be the new force of change.
To be truly effective, quality auditors must throw off their perceived notions of how their information is being used. Instead, they must see it as a way to revolutionize how their companies can compete in a global economy. There is no turning back from this challenge.
What’s needed is to understand the company’s working elements so that there is a better grasp of how the audit data and information can be used to drive effectiveness.
Imagine being able to integrate the unrealized process and information needs of engineering, product and process planning, product management, with the data captured during nonconformity (NC)/corrective action (CA)-based audits.
Imagine using document management systems to capture an entire history of engineering change orders (ECOs). Imagine creating an entirely new and more effective approach to developing new products!
Imagine integrating key insights gained from internal audits to make next-generation products more finely tuned to the unrealized needs of users. Imagine the potential to completely redefine the safety history of a product based on audit data and make sustainable change in the product development process.
Quality audit data can be used to jump start change in any company’s most critical processes. All tie back to that moment of truth in front of the customers, when the product is first used.
Consider that many quality audits are performed on a schedule of ninety days or less! If this data is used for change, an entirely different competitive dynamic would infuse the industry.
Also consider that some companies use price reduction as the means to gain or retain customers. This, in effect, is buying customers with gross margin sacrifices. This practice essentially goes away with the exception of extreme situations.
Instead of succumbing to the depths of price competition, what if the incremental losses used to fund these strategies were instead invested in quality? If so, that would lead to an entirely new competitive dynamic in many industries.
Who better to find unrealized needs than quality auditors, who must continually benchmark processes, measure the conformance of products to customer requirements, and ensure that quality strategies are correctly deployed?
Quality auditors continually reviewing critical product and process performance data have the potential to revolutionize their organizations, finding new markets in the process. Instead of just allowing complacency to rule, auditors should make moments of truth with customers real, meaningful, and relevant for any company to remain viable in the long term.
About the Author
Jim L. Smith has more than 45 years of industry experience in operations, engineering, research and development and quality management.