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EXPERT ANSWERS

Immediate action

Q: Is it wise for a new quality manager joining an old-school company to perform an audit right away? If so, how should I go about following through with it? My company distributes industrial and specialty gases. I am new to this industry and am finding that when you don’t manufacture a product—but rather receive and redistribute it—the areas of opportunity for auditing are limited. Where should I start?

Robert Walkinshaw
Cranston, RI

A: Starting a new job with an old-school company that is primarily in the service industry is certainly an opportunity. Frankly, I’m not sure which is more challenging from a quality management perspective—pushback from an old-school company or pushback from a service company. Mitigating the bigger challenge will be the secret to your longevity at this company.

You said the process of auditing is limited. That statement begs further questions. Are you concerned with auditing because your new company has a quality system? If it has a quality system, you have no choice but to conduct an audit, as you well know. Or, are you interested in auditing because it is your own personal strength? If auditing is one of your key core competencies, then I can understand the desire to perform an audit.

Let’s take a look at your question as it relates to the audit. An audit is an assessment—a way to get insight into how things are running compared to some standard. As you get ready for a potential audit, remember a few key points.

First, you are a new employee, and your fellow employees may not know how you do things. Second, the whole notion of formal quality may be new. People may be asking, "Why do we need a quality manager?" Third, don’t forget you are putting people on the defensive if you perform an audit.

To that end, you may want to consider some type of self-assessment that can be completed anonymously. This will give you much the same data as an audit. I have used self-assessments in the IT area as a precursor to more formal auditing activities.

The self-assessment may be an acceptable way to assess the state of the company while maintaining your working relationships in the organization. Remember, to be successful in quality, you need to build bridges and develop relationships with your co-workers. Those established relationships are important, because they make it easier to do the hard work that can often get personal.

If you choose to conduct an audit, and there is no quality system in place, you should definitely create an audit checklist that links current problems to the standard against which you will be auditing. Make sure you have consensus on those problems prior to starting. That way, what you are doing is at least linked to issues that are being experienced within the company.

If the real question is how to get started, here are a couple of points to consider:

  • Make sure you and your hiring manager are clear on your goals. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to point out nonetheless.
  • Earlier, I referred to a list of problems. Make sure you address them. Often, a work plan linked to specific problems that clearly shows what you are going to do about them is quite helpful when identifying actionable tasks for the project. This will help you articulate your value proposition. Remember, it is more important to focus on the problems rather than on an approach or method. Be pragmatic about the improvement models and tools so you can make sure you are improving quality by solving problems.
  • Review any metrics that might be available. Given the type of company for which you work, you may actually need to start by creating the metrics.
  • Lastly, remember you don’t make widgets anymore. More importantly, understand that the service for which your customers pay is your new widget. Taking your service and breaking it down into smaller elements is a great way to convert a service process to a measurable process. Once you have done that, you can start reporting on the service. Once you start reporting, you have a place to start focusing improvement opportunities.
     

Keith Wagoner
Director, continuous improvement
Lincoln Financial
Greensboro, NC

For more information

  1. Kausek, Joe, "10 Auditing Rules," Quality Progress, July 2008.
  2. Sittsamer, Murray J., Michael R. Oxley and William O’Hara, "Turbocharge Your Preventive Action System," Quality Progress, November 2007.
  3. Russell, J.P., and ASQ’s Quality Audit Division, "Improve Your Audit Interviews," Quality Progress, March 2006.
     

Location, location, location

Q: Our company now has three site locations. Does each building need to be ISO 9001 certified or can all buildings be under one certificate? Each building does something different.

Deborah Malboeuf
Quality systems manager
Tosoh SET
Dublin, CA

A: There is no requirement for each site to have its own certification. It is common practice to have multiple sites under one certificate. It is not an issue that the sites make different products or have different functions, as long as they share a common quality system.

The quality systems don’t need to be exactly the same at each site (they rarely are). In that case, you just need to describe any differences among the sites in your documentation.

For example, the sites may use different software packages to track certain performance measures. That is acceptable as long as the approach management takes with the information at each site is common and meets the requirements of the standard.

Also, it should be noted you do not need to bring all sites under the certification at one time. You could pick the most ready site and get it certified, add a second to the scope of certification at a later time and the third after that.

The degree to which the sites share a common quality system will affect audit planning. That will be a discussion for you to have with the registrar you have chosen. You will work together to develop an audit agenda that ensures complete coverage of the sites and any of their quality system differences. If you haven’t chosen a registrar yet, have this discussion with more than one and take it from there.

If you would like further guidance, several authors have analyzed the ISO 9001 revision,1 or you could visit the International Organization for Standardization’s website. For your specific issue, you should review question 54 of the "FAQs on ISO 9001:2008."2

Peter E. Pylipow
Senior design excellence engineer
Vistakon—Johnson and Johnson Vision Care Inc.
Jacksonville, FL

Reference and note

  1. For more on ISO 9001:2008, see John E. "Jack" West’s article on p. 38 of this issue of Quality Progress.
  2. International Organization for Standardization, "FAQs on ISO 9001:2008, "www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/management%20_standards/iso_9000_iso_14000/iso_9001_2008/faqs_on_iso_9001.htm.

For more information

  1. Hunt, Lorri, "Energize Your QMS," Quality Progress, October 2008.
     

On the fly

Q: How do you maintain quality when management changes the way things are done daily and forces you to use methods and tools that are new, untried and don’t work?

D. Bruce Lapham Jr.
Production test inspector, 787 program
The Boeing Co.
Everett, WA

A: First of all, try to understand the reasons for management to make changes to the way things are done on a day-to-day basis. Try to talk to someone in management to find out what motivates management to make frequent changes. Once you know this, it might be easier to figure out ways to deal with those changes.

Regarding your problem of being forced to use tools that are new, untried and don’t work, you might want to collect results achieved through the use of those tools in terms of what management can understand, such as time and money.

If you think other methods of your choosing would have worked better, then somehow you must figure out a way to compile comparative results and show them to management. This is the best way to illustrate why your way of doing things is better than theirs. Most managers can be convinced one way or the other by facts and hard evidence to which they can relate.

I would recommend an excellent article, "Helping Leaders Lead," by Larry R. Smith, which was published in the fall 2008 edition of the Quality Management Forum (Vol. 34, No. 4). It’s full of ideas that could help you in your situation.

Pradip Mehta
Principal
Mehta Consulting LLC
Coppell, TX

For more information

  1. Folkerts, Timothy J., "The Quality Diet: Building a Healthy Business," Quality Progress, May 2007.
  2. Palmer, Brien, "Selling Quality Ideas to Management," Quality Progress, March 2006.

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