Layered Process Audits/Published: January 29, 2018

7 Ways Audits Unintentionally Block Visibility Into Quality

Paul Foster Square Scaled Resized
Published by
Paul Foster
Read time: 4 mins
Quality problems

What sets apart the top 20% of innovation leaders from their competitors? According to LNS Research, one key difference is that a majority (52%) of the top tier has real-time visibility into manufacturing quality metrics, compared to just 9% of the competition .

Organizations collect quality data in a variety of ways, including audits. For companies struggling with quality problems, audits themselves can stand in the way of identifying and fixing the underlying causes.

How is this possible when audits are meant to shine a light on your processes? Common barriers include reactive auditing methods, low audit frequency and data integrity issues.

1. Reactive Audit Approaches

Improving requires not just addressing past problems, but preventing those likely to happen in the future. With audits, that means going beyond rear-facing product audits or inspections to identify the process errors that cause them.

That’s where process audits come in, helping verify compliance with work instructions and find process errors that can cause quality issues. While product audits identify individual defects, process audits prevent a much larger number of them from occurring in the first place.

2. Infrequent Audits

If you’re only conducting a limited number of audits, you’re missing out on a big chunk of data that could provide important insights for solving problems.

Increasing audit frequency, such as with a layered process audit (LPA) program, is a best practice for improving visibility and quality. LPAs are short, 10-minute audits that check high-risk processes multiple times per shift, with different layers of management participating on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.

3. Low Audit Completion Rates

Even if you use LPAs, many companies with manual, paper-based systems struggle with low audit completion rates. This means fewer chances to catch mistakes, less data for developing leading indicators and overall less buy-in for your audit program.

Fixing this problem requires tracking and communicating audit completion rates, also setting clear expectations for team members. When people don’t complete audits on time, the problem should be escalated to a supervisor for further discussion.

Organizations struggling with low audit completion rates have found that an audit management platform can help solve this problem, with capabilities for:

  • Sending emails with direct links to audit checklists
  • Mobile auditing that allows users to conduct audits on a smartphone or tablet
  • Viewing real-time data on audit compliance metrics and findings

4. Not Including the Right People

One mistake companies make with audits is not involving people outside of the quality department. This mistake relegates quality to a separate silo, also limiting the quality of insights from audits. Compare this with LPAs, in which as many as half of all salaried employees from different work areas provide a wide variety of observations.

For instance, an engineering person will see a process differently than a quality person, and may be able to identify critical errors or improvements. Similarly, non-experts follow instructions closely and ask questions, rather than just glossing over items. So instead of just checking off an operator for following work instructions, that guy from finance might actually pause to see if the instructions are even posted.

5. Pencil-Whipping and Data Integrity

Another problem blocking visibility is the prevalence of pencil-whipped audits, where people rush and pass every item without actually checking them.

Sometimes people don’t want to point a finger at coworkers, other times they just zone out when performing repetitive tasks. Still others do audits from their desks, not bothering to visit the shop floor. No matter the reason, these habits deal a serious blow to data integrity and visibility.

To find effective solutions, organizations can again draw from the LPA approach:

  • Rotate auditors so there’s less pressure to let friends slide
  • Randomize audit questions so it’s harder to skim over them
  • Require auditors to upload a photo from each audit
  • Time audits to prevent rushing (like when someone completes a 10-minute audit in under a minute)

6. Outdated Audit Checklists

Paper-based audits usually fall short in terms of keeping questions fresh. Changing out questions requires recalling old checklist copies and distributing new ones, a task that can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list.

An automated platform provides a distinct advantage by allowing users to easily add and audit questions so organizations can:

  • Create based on recent defects and customer complaints to prevent recurrence
  • Sustain the gains made through corrective action
  • Verify compliance with changing customer requirements

7. Delayed Action and Analysis

Audit findings are most useful when you use the data in real-time to inform decisions. Not two weeks or two months later when someone gets around to compiling the results.

Every moment wasted between an audit and follow-up is an opportunity for problems to go undetected. Effective reporting is the critical step between auditing and action, enabling organizations to step in quickly when leading indicators show signs of problems ahead. Beyond monitoring trends, you need to ensure non-conformities are flagged, mitigated and routed to the right person for corrective action. Again, this is an area where automation can help establish a closed-loop process.

Ultimately, the move towards automated audit management isn’t just about engaging your team with flashy technology or streamlining your work. It’s about getting more and better data faster, a key requirement for companies aiming for operational excellence.

Related articles