Miriam Boudreaux is an ISO and API certifications specialist and the CEO and Founder of Mireaux Management Solutions, a technology and consulting firm headquartered in Houston, Texas.
Before venturing out on her own, she held positions as a process engineering manager, senior quality manager, and corporate quality director. She successfully led her companies through ISO 9001, ISO 14001, QS 9000, and TL 9000 certifications.
Boudreaux holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Lima and a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Houston. Throughout the years, she has achieved various certifications, including an ISO 9001 and ISO/IEC 27001 auditor certification from Exemplar Global and a Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) and a Certified Quality Manager (CQMgr) certification from the American Society for Quality (ASQ).
She served as an examiner with the Texas Award for Performance Excellence in the 2003–2006 award cycles. She also participated multiple times as a speaker at various conferences, including the International Conference on ISO 9000, the American Society for Quality in Mexico, the Underwater Intervention Conference, and the ASQ Houston Regional Quality Conference.
In 2009, she created the ISO Vanguard Blog to provide lessons learned and insights regarding management systems topics that could help companies improve. Her articles have been featured in magazines such as Quality Progress, Quality Digest, the American Industry Automotive Group (AIAG) newsletter, and many other publications.
In 2010, Boudreaux was selected as one of the nominees for Houston Woman Business of the Year. In 2011, Mireaux Management Solutions was nominated as the fastest-growing technology business in Houston. In 2012, after almost 20 years after first learning about ISO standards, she successfully led her own company to achieve ISO 9001 certification, truly showing that she as well as her team live by what they preach. In 2014, she led her company to become ISO/IEC 27001 certified, becoming one of the only technology and ISO/API consulting firms with a dual quality management system (QMS) and information security management system (ISMS) certifications.
In this conversation, we chatted about the overlapping skills of auditors and engineers, the things she loves about her job, and how we can find new management system auditors even in unlikely places.
EXEMPLAR GLOBAL: Please tell us how you found your way to a career in management system auditing.
MIRIAM BOUDREAUX: I started learning about ISO standards at my first employer here in the United States. I was a process engineering manager and they wanted to get certified to ISO 9002. I’m an industrial engineer by training, so the process approach (although in wasn’t spoken about using that term back then) aligned well with what I was trying do. My next employer was a high-tech manufacturer that was all over ISO standards, so I was able to get involved a lot more. Eventually I was put in charge of an auditing team of about 20 people; I really liked the aspect of managing the audit, but I also liked auditing. So that’s kind of how I got my start.
EG: So many people with engineering training, like yourself, have become excellent auditors. What are some of the skill overlaps between engineers and auditors?
MB: The experience is very relevant, especially for an industrial engineer. Other engineers, like chemical engineers or mechanical engineers, may have somewhat limited perspectives on the broader system. But industrial engineers are the people that are really focused on improving the process. After all, whether you are talking about a high-tech company or a traditional manufacturer, there is always something to improve. That might mean making the line run faster or the machines run better. In a very advanced, high-tech environment, it could mean having zero or close to zero nonconformities. Those goals tend to align with the mindset of an engineer, especially an industrial engineer, which is what I am.
That first company I worked for was a very traditional manufacturer, and I did so much in terms of creating procedures for constructions or developing recipes for the how we made tile, which was our product. That was all non-existent until I started. People in the company were kind of paying attention and seeing what I was doing, but not really. And then, when management decided to take up ISO standards, everyone wanted what I had been building! All of a sudden my work became very important, and I started creating binders of recipes and procedures. So, when ISO became the norm, I thought it was just wonderful.
EG: You have strong experience in training. When you train someone who is an engineer vs. someone without an engineering background, how is that training process different?
MB: That’s a very good question. In our company today, a lot of our consultants are engineers and you’re right—there is a difference. They tend to approach concepts from more of a process perspective. I think it helps for a person who does not come from engineering to have training from the ground up. For example, if they don’t have some of the basic process training that we do around document control, it’s a little hard for them to get into the flow of doing audits against ISO standards. That’s not to say that they won’t get it; they eventually do, but it’s a little hard for them to understand right away how it all works and fits together in a real-world company. On the other hand, someone who is an engineer will generally have a good understanding of the operations and processes of the company. So, yes, I would say those who aren’t engineers have to face a little bit more of a learning curve in the beginning, but in the end, they can reach the same point.
I remember training someone who had come from the retail sector. They had no idea about ISO standards, auditing, or processes, but they were taking one of our very basic classes on document control where we teach everything. By the time this student took the ISO 9001 course they had become very good at this type of work. Sometimes people just click with the material. I could tell by the time they finished the first class that this person understood everything.
EG: That’s so great! We love hearing those kinds of stories. What is the story about how you moved from having an employer to starting your own company?
MB: I was doing great at the second company where I worked, which was a high-tech contract manufacturer. At that point, I got married and had my first child. I’ve always worked a lot, and I wanted to really focus on raising my child myself, so I quit the job. However, within three months I was back helping them do a few things related to my old job on a part-time basis. They really gave me a sweet deal. I came in just one day a week for a few hours, and then the rest of the week they let me work from home. My working hours were from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., and so by the time my son woke up, I had the whole day to be with him. It worked very well for about a year, and then when they found someone to really take over the full position, I realized how much I liked the freedom of that setup. Little by little, I started promoting my services and after a year I incorporated. That was back in 2002. Since then, I’ve been steadily working on building up the company.
We started by developing auditing software and doing some consulting and auditing. At first, we focused just on ISO 9001 and ISO/IEC 27001. Soon we started doing training, and we were an early adapter of e-learning. A lot of that had to do with my own limitations because I had young kids and I couldn’t go and train for three straight days for example because I did not want to be away from my family for so long. Clients were already using our software, and I realized we could develop videos to go with it, and everyone could just watch them online. Again, it was kind of a necessity for me to do the training in that fashion. Eventually, we started offering training and consulting in the American Petroleum Institute (API) standards along with ISO 14001 and ISO 45001. We grew slowly but surely, and a lot of it was through word of mouth. People knew me and recommended me to their colleagues, and I was asked if I could help people with this standard or that standard. I had gained experience with lots of standards back when I worked for the high-tech contract manufacturer, but it’s a little different when you’re consulting for clients.
EG: Tell us about what you do every day. What are some of your favorite things and your least-favorite things about your job?
MB: Nowadays I’m more in the office and not out in the field as much as I used to be, but I just love giving advice to clients on how to improve their processes. From the outside looking in, it’s easier to see waste. Of course, that perspective needs to happen in the realm of ISO standards. Some people think that ISO standards are inefficient because they believe that you need to do very specific things to comply, even if you’re a very small organization. But I always teach my clients the importance of making the standards work for you and your company regardless of size. You can comply with the standard and improve at the same time. People like that style because I’m always focusing on improvement within the context of the standard or standards, instead of taking up an ISO standard and then making your company fit into that mold and seeing if the improvement follows. I always look for how to make the company better. These are the things I really enjoy.
As far as what I don’t like, even though I’m not on the road as much as in the past, I’d have to say travel was something I grew to dislike at some point because I was doing so much of it. At a certain point, leaving my family started to get kind of hard. I don’t regret it, because it was part of growing the company, but I wish we had more widespread Teams and Zoom meetings back then. Those virtual meeting platforms were just not accepted as much as they are now. People wanted to see you in their facility, and there were times where I felt I needed to see their facility myself as well. Like a lot of people, after the pandemic we found that virtual meetings were much more efficient, and not just for us. Spending time on-site is also disruptive for the client or the auditee because they must make time for you when you’re there. Now, you can make the meetings when it’s convenient for everyone; everything doesn’t have to stop for three straight days. So, when I think back, I didn’t really enjoy all that travel and would have liked to have had access to some of these remote technologies at that time. But don’t get me wrong, on-site visits are still much needed, but many things can be done online.
EG: Without question, there are a lot of benefits to doing this work remotely, but there also some aspects of the job that just don’t work as well as being on-site. For instance, obviously, if you want to look at a facility remotely and someone on-site is holding a device, they may not show you things they don’t want you to see. So how do you overcome some of those limitations?
MB: It’s true. Some parts of an audit can be done remotely, like document review or some auditee interviews, but other parts work best on-site. A lot of it also depends on the type of industry the auditee is in; some sectors require more on-site work. Also, it’s not just about the auditing methodology itself; for example, auditing was generally invoiced by total number of days spent on-site. Now we must break it down into how much was done on which task because that invoicing needs to tie back to tangible outputs.
EG: What do you see as the benefit of life-long learning within this career?
MB: Auditing is a little bit tricky because not only do you have to be an expert in the language of the standards, but you really have to be a people person. You must learn those traits because your people skills need to be off the charts to get people to talk. If you do that, everybody involved will feel like the audit was a win-win because even though you may find nonconformities, they see the value that the discovery of those nonconformities will bring to their processes. That’s the outcome you want to achieve, and having periodic training helps you get there. Instead of thinking you are so good because you can spot a nonconformity, you still need to be grounded and humble in your skills.
When you train, you realize the things that you aren’t doing anymore. Especially when you’re in a group setting, you realize the good perspectives that everyone brings to the table. At one point in my career, I was a subcontractor for one of the largest registrars in the world, and they offered great training every year to their auditors. There were a lot of things to learn, whether it was about personality types or the language of new standards. It was all intended to help make you a better auditor. On the other hand, companies don’t necessarily see the value in training internal auditors. They could call anybody on the team an auditor and have them do internal audits. These are the areas where I still see some gaps in terms of life-long learning and training.
EG: As an industry, how can we better recruit auditors?
MB: That’s a great question, but it’s a tough one. I think everyone needs to be given a chance. As we mentioned before, engineers are a bit more inclined to have a process-based mindset. But you just never know. You remember that example I gave of the retail person who had the knack and became a very good auditor with some training. Now, in the case of our company, not all our auditors have a background as engineers. The ones that are not engineers still have a good outlook and understanding, but the training is very important. So, when it comes to recruiting, I would say that we should not just cater to a certain kind of person, but anybody. In the future, I hope we’ll also have people at the start of their careers, because even if someone is only an average auditor at the beginning of their career, improvement is possible. The more you do it, the more you sharpen your skills; the more audits you do, the better you get at being an auditor. Likewise, if you stop doing audits, you’re going to get rusty. When I was doing a lot of audits, the work just became easier. Ultimately, you never know who might become a good auditor, but you have to give them plenty of chances. Doing one audit a year isn’t enough. They need to be involved with supplier audits or audits of sister companies—anything to allow them to develop skills and keep them sharp.