Frank Cain worked for Honeywell for 40 years on aerospace/NASA contracts, bringing ISO 9001 and AS9100 quality management systems (QMS) to the Clearwater site. Serving as the management representative, he implemented the QMS infrastructure, trained the organization at large, served as chairperson of the Procedure Steering Committee, and was the “father” of the company’s root cause and corrective action process. He also served as the site manager for quality compliance for 12 years.
Cain currently teaches an ISO 9001/ISO 14001 course at the University of South Florida for the College of Industrial Engineering. He is a lead ISO 9001 auditor (former lead AS9100/AS9110/AS9120 auditor), consultant, and trainer; and has authored the following two books: QMS Made Easy to Understand and Apply and Six Easy Steps for Organizations’ Self-Transition to AS9100D.
In this conversation, we discuss how he came to audit ISO standards, the importance of mentorship, and how Cain helps foster the next generation of management system auditing professionals.
EXEMPLAR GLOBAL: Let us start at the beginning. How did you find your way to a career working with ISO standards?
FRANK CAIN: I worked as an electrical engineer for Honeywell Aerospace in Clearwater, Florida, for 40 years. In 1994, I was contacted by a representative of top management, who said, “Frank, we have made a strategic decision to implement ISO 9001, and you’re going to lead it.” I had to learn a great deal about the standard, its content, and the implementation that I was to lead. Not too many years after that top management decided to implement AS9100, so we had dual certification. I was the management representative, so I presented the health of our quality management systems at each management review meeting and functioned as the liaison with our third-party auditor. I also served as a site manager for quality compliance for the entire site
As I approached retirement, our third-party auditor said to me, “Frank, you really have an affinity for this; how would you like to become a third-party auditor?” So, under his guidance I started traveling around the country at my own expense to develop my auditing credentials. I took the necessary training courses and exams, did the appropriate site visits, and eventually became a lead auditor. I have now completed more than 250 third-party audits, and I have done consulting work as well as training for many different organizations. To share my knowledge, I developed a set of training courses I call my “QMS Coffee Break Training” which are currently found on Linkedin. I really believe in these management system standards and the commonsense requirements contained within them.
EG: In 1994, a brand-new version of ISO 9001 had just been released. Since then, it has been updated three more times. As you have seen standards like ISO 9001 as well as AS9100 evolve, what do you consider to be the most important enduring reason for companies to get and maintain their registration?
FC: The requirements of the standards have always sought to bring consistency to registered organizations. One organization that I work with registered to ISO 9001 years ago. They immediately embraced its requirements and apply them daily. As a result, they have increased the size of their facility seven times since the last time I visited! That is just one example, but standards like ISO 9001 are powerful drivers of improvement and sustained business success. I am proud of being a part of it. When I stand up in front of a class to teach this material, they can feel my sincerity, excitement, and enthusiasm.
EG: In the 2015 update of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and others, ISO introduced the concept of the high-level structure to make it easier for users with multiple standards to implement them. How do you see this integration in terms of helping users?
FC: When organizations register to more than one ISO standard, they find that the individual standards contain common requirements like management review, the corrective action, and data analysis, which can be audited together.
If I may, I would like to back up for a moment and drop a name. Once assigned the task to implement the quality management systems, I had to acquire a solid knowledge of the material, especially the correct interpretation of the management system requirements. I linked up to a man who is now retired from Boeing by the name of Gene Barker. He was knowledgeable contributor to the standards. I would contact him over the phone or through email, and ask, “Is this the correct interpretation of such-and-such requirement?” I learned a great deal from Gene.
EG: Would it be fair to say that Mr. Barker was a mentor of yours?
FC: I would say so. I also learned from my time as the management representative, and when working with our third-party auditor during registration and surveillance audits. I acquired related knowledge from various sources. I found it interesting, and I learned quickly. My organization was looking to me for answers, so I had to know what I was doing.
EG: You had to go out on your own and find the answers to your questions, and people like Mr. Barker that you referenced earlier were obviously very important to you throughout that process. Given that experience, and with the understanding that developing the next generation of auditors is a critically important issue, what actions do you take today, in your role as a teacher and a mentor, to encourage people to explore careers in auditing?
FC: One thing I do in teaching my course is to provide real-life examples which demonstrate the importance of the requirements within these standards to ensure that students have a full appreciation of the management system and have a clear understanding of its requirements and how to properly apply them. Upon completion of the course, the acquired management system knowledge gives them a leg up when they go for a job interview or when they accept an QMS-related assignment within their organization. Over the last 12 years of teaching the ISO 9001/ISO 14001 course at USF, I have had six students who have since graduated and decided to select auditing as their career. I have consistently received outstanding yearly student feedback which propels me to continue teaching the course year after year.
EG: That is wonderful, because you are really contributing to the next generation of people coming into this career, and that is just what we need. How long have you been teaching your ISO 9001/ISO 14001 course?
FC: In addition to teaching for USF, I taught courses at St. Petersburg College nights on/off for 33 years while working full time at Honeywell. I like communicating ideas and seeing my students understand the concepts and requirements, and be able to properly apply them,
At one time I was at St. Petersburg Beach, and all of a sudden, I hear a voice calling, “Mr. Cain, Mr. Cain, Mr. Cain!” I had no idea at first who it was, but the man who was calling my name came up to me and said, “I took your basic electronics course years back at St. Petersburg College. It stimulated my interest in the field. I just graduated from USF with a degree in electrical engineering, so I wanted to thank you.”
EG: That’s really rewarding when you hear something like that. Speaking of engineering, do you feel that people with training as engineers make the best auditors? More broadly, is there one type of background that is better or worse for preparing people for auditing careers? And are there certain traits common to good auditors?
FC: There is an advantage to having an engineering background. A large section of the ISO 9001 standard addresses design. If the auditor clearly understands the terminology and the required process and artifacts inputs and outputs, then the third-party auditor will more effectively audit the requirements than a person who might be coming from another unrelated background.
With that said, there are universal areas still in need of continual improvement in the auditor-development process. One is helping auditors be more aware of their own biases. This is just one of many soft skills that we can improve. Putting the auditee at ease is another. I have seen auditors who have antagonized their auditee. Conflict management and conflict resolution is important as well. Things like writing, speaking skills and time management should not be overlooked. If it were up to me, I would recommend an overview course that auditors could take, which would cover the highlights of these areas.
Certified auditors have the necessary credentials, and of course their job is to verify organization’s compliance to requirements and assess process effectiveness. But I do see the frustration of audited organizations because some auditors do not fully explain the requirements or clarify an identified nonconformance. For example, the auditor might say, “We’re writing a nonconformance because you’re not complying with the following requirement.” I sit down with the organization’s management representative and other interested parties and clarify the requirement and what is not compliant; once they fully understand the requirement and nonconformance, they will do a more effective job determining the root cause and corrective actions for the identified issue.
Another thing I should mention here is that, as auditors, we all observe best practices from organization to organization. We are not to mention where we have seen those best practices, but where appropriate, more sharing of relevant best practices brings value to the audited organization.
EG: These soft skills are so important. An analogy might be a doctor with a poor bedside manner—that doctor can know all the technical details of their job, but if they are unable to make the patient feel at ease and get some buy-in, they are suboptimizing the process and getting poorer results. It is not dissimilar to auditing.
FC: That is true because an auditor can do everything right from a technical perspective but might struggle to conduct the opening or closing meeting or have trouble relating to people without having an argumentative attitude. If we can polish those soft skills just a bit, we will greatly improve the auditing process.
EG: Looking forward, what do you see as the future of the auditing profession and how it might evolve in the years to come?
FC: Let me start to answer that question by talking about the ISO 9001 quality management system standard. It is well-established, well-deployed, and well-communicated, and there are clear benefits to registration. Organizations pursue registration either to have a competitive edge over their competition, or they want to compete for a particular job that has a requirement to have the ISO quality management system in place. Given all that, I see that these standards will continue into the near future.
So how do we make students and professionals aware of the need for management system auditors? Having coursework at colleges and universities is good because it introduces the basics at a time when students are thinking about their careers. Of course, Exemplar Global does an outstanding job raising awareness through events like their Expos, websites, and newsletters. I am proud to be a part of it. Yearly, I participate in events to share my knowledge, skills and lessons learned with others. These venues provided the opportunity to raise auditing awareness to larger audiences of existing auditors and prospective auditors.
Getting the message out about the benefits of this career is the most important thing in my view. However, auditing is not for everyone. Some individual’s character and personality fit well, some do not. When I was at Honeywell, I had to manage auditing the entire facility—all the processes and their support employees. There were major contracts, including those with NASA. So how was I going to perform all the required auditing with a small core group of auditors? I sold to top management the idea of establishing a “pool auditor approach” where I would select from the organization employees interested in auditing from other organizational functions like finance, supplier management, etc. We would give them one week of training about the auditing process, the requirements of the specific standard, and they would participate in a mock audit to verify their learned skills. During the mock audit exercise one individual was screened-out since his personality did not fit the audit assignment. Pool auditors were funded for a second week to conduct the actual audit, overseen by one of my core auditors. The Pool Auditor Program was successful and ran for 10 years. The participating pool auditors took the auditing discipline back to their respective organizations, thus raising awareness of the auditing discipline and compliance to requirements across the entire organization.
Again, not everyone is suited for this work. The auditor needs to be a good listener. Good writing and speaking skills are important, as is understanding people’s body language and respecting their personal space. It is important that the auditor makes eye contact with the auditee and that the auditor uses open-ended questions. To be a good auditor you need all the soft skills as well as a good technical understanding of the requirements of the standards and auditing skills.