Starfish And Turtles

An internal audit initiative that ensures process requirements are being followed

by Janet Bautista Smith

A lean quality program that has features such as self-check, sustainability and feedback at minimum operating cost is an ideal initiative. This type of program offers a greater probability of early risk detection and mitigation through the unique design of the interacting elements.

This article describes a similar program, called the process grid walk (PGW), that yields great success due to its simplicity and measurable deliverables.


Regardless of industry, a typical quality program consists of multiple elements, including internal audits. The PGW model is an internal audit initiative that features a self-sustainable self-check method with verifiable deliverables at minimum operating cost. Its checklist format and content can be adapted to an organization’s needs. For example, it can be based on International Organization for Standardization standards, customer requirements, process or procedural requirements, 5S or security requirements.

Essentially, a PGW is an input to the internal audit program performed by the process owners. Figures 1 and 2 are simple visual depictions of the PGW’s role in a quality program.

Figure 1

Figure 2

The model functions like an internal audit initiative with some distinct features, such as literally taking a walk around the perimeter of the process to ensure the requirements that support the process are being followed.

For bigger facilities or complicated processes, the PGW can be executed incrementally (such as 15 minutes per walk) based on the grid or portion of the process selected. This is to prevent the process owners from getting overwhelmed.

It is designed to cover the different grids (or subprocesses) of the core process using a checklist based on the process or regulatory requirements governing the business. There are two factors that motivate the process owners to “display their dirty laundry”:

  • Management’s buy-in to acknowledge the PGW as a positive approach to empowering the process owners to call out improvement areas.
  • The process owners’ motivation to partake in the initiative as a conduit to continuous improvement.

The PGWs are summarized in a report issued to management and process owners for visibility of achievements, challenges or roadblocks, as shown in Figure 3. Simple icons are used in the PGW log to represent the status of a process report: a starfish icon means the report is on time, and a turtle icon means it is late or was missed. These icons are an effective visual display of achievements.

Figure 3

This method also promotes process owners’ empowerment as voice of the process, a critical input in the internal audit program’s checks and balances.

Lesson learned

Completing a quality system design doesn’t mean the work is done—it’s only the beginning of the journey. Even a well-documented system that is relayed and distributed to the users may remain ineffective and static if there isn’t buy-in from management and process owners.

For any program to be truly dynamic, it must be supported by management and embraced by the workforce through consistent implementation and measurement of results. After this is accomplished, the quality program has a better chance of survival with increased potential to promote compliance and continuous improvement at all phases of the operation.


Smith, Janet Bautista, The Art of Strategic Planning, Process Metrics, Risk Mitigation, and Auditing, ASQ Quality Press, 2015.

Smith, Janet Bautista, Auditing Beyond Compliance, ASQ Quality Press, 2012.

Janet Bautista Smith is the director of quality and continuous improvement at ProTrans International in Indianapolis. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines. A senior member of ASQ, Bautista Smith is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality engineer, quality auditor and certified manager of quality/organizational excellence. Bautista Smith is the author of Auditing Beyond Compliance (ASQ Quality Press, 2012) and The Art of Integrating Strategic Planning, Process Metrics, Risk Mitigation, and Auditing (ASQ Quality Press, 2015).

Thank you for the article. Reviewing it and to follow up on PGW as a quality program to convert in our own department.
--Lynn Field, 03-15-2019

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