ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - July 2000

Issue Highlight - WWW
- Friends of mine showed me a letter recently that I thought you might find interesting. It might be a sign of things to come in this New Economy:

In This Issue...
Is Anyone Out There?
Increasing A Good Idea's Profitability
Internal Quality Audits
Every Summit Beckons A ConQueror
Finding Your Way Home In The Workplace

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Heard on the Street
Sites Unseen

Internal Quality Audits Not Always A Rollercoaster Ride
How U.S. Tsubaki Uses Cross-Functional Internal Audit Teams to Guarantee a Safe Ride

    When you are at the top of one of the many new higher, faster, super roller coasters at your favorite theme park this summer, say a prayer for the effectiveness of an internal audit. Than enjoy the swosh downhill since your prayer is in good hands with the internal audit teams from U.S. Tsubaki which help guarantee the safety of the chain hoisting you to the top.

    At U.S. Tsubaki, the integration of employee teams has made the procedure a great success. With employees volunteering to run the audits, not only do they feel an increased sense of partnership, but gain an increased understanding for procedures in departments outside of their own.
While internal audits are rarely a smooth ride, U.S. Tsubaki audits glide to great success by one simple concept—involvement.

    “When I use a word,” said Humpty Dumpty, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.” As Lewis Carroll and his roly-poly friend atop the wall suggest, words are forever on the shifting sands of connotation, tending to become something more or less than their dictionary definitions.

   “Audit” has taken on a tone of fear thanks to income tax scrutiny. Currently, “judgmental” risks tripping on the hurdle of political correctness. Yet Mark Lassen, quality director for the award- winning firm of U. S. Tsubaki, strongly defends both quality system auditing and employee team judgment as tools for organizational improvement.

 The Many Faces of Audits

   “Audits, audits and more audits seem to be a constant in the quality conscious global market place of today,” Lassen states. “Those of us in quality control are aware of ISO 9000 auditing and the requirements of QS 9000,” he continues, “but auditing has many guises. Organizations are examined, teachers seek accreditation, health care professionals are certified, stores have secret shoppers, school pupils pass exams, graduates receive diplomas or earn degrees. Performance standards are nothing new.”

   What is newsworthy with U.S. Tsubaki is the integration of quality system auditing with employee team involvement.

   A Japanese firm with eight locations and over a thousand employees in this country, U.S. Tsubaki began its combination of quality auditing and team management four years ago, when it began audit registration with ISO.
“We began not in our Wheeling, Ill., corporate headquarters, but in the Holyoke, Mass., manufacturing plant, then into other plants on the East Coast,” Lassen recalls.

   Were there any challenges in the shift to audit/management teamwork?
“No major problems, but because some areas are union and some are not, setting up an audit committee involved union contract provisions and the bringing together of salaried employees and hourly workers,” Lassen replies. He adds that each location has its own governing audit committee.

 Stopping the “Quality Police”

    According to Lassen, the combining of an audit process with team management “has the potential to provide dynamic improvement within any organization that takes the time to link the two on a structured basis.”

   “Pull the internal auditing away from quality control,” Lassen urges, adding that “auditing from the outside lacks understanding of the various departments and how they operate. Making quality checks part of a team’s responsibility allows team members to learn how other parts of the company work.”

   Too often, Lassen says, the quality department is given sole responsibility for compliant internal auditing. “Their recommendations then come across as orders from the ‘quality police.’ On the other hand, using the power of teamwork to get everyone involved in the review process develops a sense of partnership.

   “Each department or function that will be part of the internal audit process should have a representative serving on the audit committee. This person should have a good process knowledge, be aware of team attitude and leadership skills and hold respect within the department represented.” The audit committee then sets up appropriate departmental audit development teams.

    Asked how the auditors are picked, Lassen replies, “We begin with asking for volunteers. However, ‘Uncle Sam’ letters requiring participation are sent when needed. The lead auditor must be trained and sufficiently ‘personality driven’ to appeal to team members.”

    Was there much opposition to the audit team effort?

    “There were prospective audit team members who said they lacked time or were reluctant to take on the responsibility,” Lassen admits. “Some of the older supervisors also seemed skittish at the prospect of team-directed internal audits.

    However, when they saw that audit team members become more valued employees and that they could learn a great deal by ‘walking in the shoes’ of workers from other departments, they became big supporters of the team audit program.

    For example, a punch press operator on an audit team focusing on raw material supplies gains a much better understanding of delivery problems affecting his own department.”
    In setting up departmental internal audit teams, the committee identifies members according to their expressed interest, possible nomination by a department head or by committee recruitment. The team develops a charter, meeting time and audit schedule.

    “In general, the team’s internal audit effort should provide value to the organization and its employees by providing continuous improvement of operations, improved product and service quality, decreased costs and a more effective quality system,” Lassen states. The team reviews third party audits, takes appropriate actions as needed, and provides progress reports to the audit committee.

 Not Quite Twenty Questions

    Based on Tsubaki’s quality system, Lassen cites specific questions for audit teams to consider: “What is the department function? How does its customer service rate? Are documented procedures in place? How about specific instruction procedures? Is a record of complaints readily available? What are the critical processes? What are areas of special concern?” One of the concerns he mentions is strict compliance with a chemical “recipe” in the heat-treating of metal.

    “Among our products are roller coaster chains, and the hardness of the metal is a crucial safety factor.” The team would also check all 24 of the ISO requirements and send a follow-up letter upon completion of the audit.

    The overall audit committee assigns third-party auditors from areas other than those being audited. Check sheets with Yes and No spaces in answer to each question minimize paperwork. The lead auditor serves only as tiebreaker.

    “All non-conformances are written out, and since the audit committee includes representatives from various departmental areas, the check sheet reviews help team members to better understand other areas of the firm,” says Lassen.

    What happens to the non-conformance orders and audit team checklists?

    “Each division keeps a copy of its records and copies are also retained by the quality director,” Lassen answers. “In each division, the reports come before the vice president or general manager. The quality director makes his report to the board of directors. Thus, the audit committee recommendations do have an impact on corporate decisions.

 “May I Have That in Writing, Sir?”

   “Team observations lead to improvements, and U.S. Tsubaki even sends people to teams in other plants and rotates its auditors,” Lassen continues. He also grins in recalling a young team member from the plant who served on a team auditing the company president and its board of directors.

    “He was awed at being in the corporate offices, but when he asked the president about company policies and his boss gave a verbal reply, the young fellow remembered audit team procedure and asked for written evidence.”

    Getting back to what an audit is all about, Lassen compares auditing to a storm: “It blows in with thunder, rain and lighting; it may bring damage and incite fear. But the rain brings new grass and lightning burnout can rejuvenate the land. Torrents test roof strength, sewer system capacity, and whether or not dams will hold.

    “In the same way, internal auditing results in new ideas, better training, corrective action, greater customer satisfaction and cost reductions.”
Reviewing the benefits of team-based internal auditing, Lassen cites the breaking down of barriers between departments and a rejuvenation of team activity.

    “Sometimes team management grows stale,” Lassen says. “Involving employee teams in the audit process can help the old problem of maintaining team strength. The frequency of audit scheduling keeps improvements on an upward curve.”

    In addition, he stresses the increase in employee knowledge through the process of planning audits, developing checklists, responding to corrective action requests and understanding the functions of other departments.

    “Good auditors develop a habit of looking at things in detail, enabling them to identify opportunities for improvement,” says Lassen.

    “Finally, a good internal auditing process adds to organization value, eliminating product defects, excessive scrap material and returned goods, while also reducing customer complaints. These all result in financial savings,” Lassen concludes.

 Cheaper Than It Seems

    “There is cost involved for time away from jobs, but it’s more than covered by overall savings,” Lassen replies. Insofar as occasional travel to other locations is concerned, he reports that travel assignments only go to auditors with established expertise and good scores. “Travel serves as a perk, further incentive for quality audit-team participation.”

    Lassen is extremely proud of the fact that for the seventh consecutive year, U. S. Tsubaki has been named General Motors’ Supplier of the Year, a tribute to 100 percent delivery time and consistent product quality.

    While Lassen has served as initial trainer of lead auditors, that will soon change. “We are planning a U.S. Tsubaki University to focus on employee training and enhancing the team audit effort bringing it to the standard required by the Regulation Accreditation Bureau”

    At U.S. Tsubaki, the assurance of an internal management team quality check-list and the advantages of peer review decisions add a successful shine to the meaning of the words “audit” and “judgement.”


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