How Layered Process Audits Foster Quality Management Maturity

Layered Process Audits

July 2, 2018

Quality Maturity

Management expert Philip Crosby famously asserted that quality is free, declaring that managing defects always costs more than doing things right the first time.

It’s even the title of his 1979 book Quality Is Free, which provides Crosby’s detailed quality maturity grid for helping organizations evaluate their performance.

Quality management maturity should obviously be every auto and aerospace manufacturer’s goal, but it can be hard to get from point A to point B. High-frequency audit strategies, specifically layered process audits (LPAs), provide a defined path for getting there.

Understanding Quality Maturity and LPAs

Crosby’s quality management maturity grid, summarized below, can help manufacturers assess where they stand and what they need to improve.

LPAs are an ongoing series of short checks focused on process adherence, engaging every layer of the company from operators to executives. Let’s take an in-depth look at these unique process audits in the context of Crosby’s measurement categories.

Management Attitude and Buy-In

Layered process audits build quality maturity by personally involving management in quality, with layer 3 auditors including plant managers and visiting executives who conduct audits monthly.

Here are a few real-life examples of how LPAs help management understand and engage with quality:

  • A leader hears from an operator first-hand how a specific fix would boost process adherence—and then commits to implementing that improvement
  • A visiting executive shares a lesson or observation from another plant that improves efficiency or quality
  • A plant manager has the chance to interact with operators and make them feel like valued team members

Management also becomes increasingly invested in quality as they start seeing the tangible results of LPAs, such as fewer defects and complaints.

Quality’s Position in the Organization

By making regular process audits part of everyone’s job description, LPAs incorporate quality into daily activities rather than relegating it to an administrative function.

Not only do auditors come from every department, an effective layered process audit system involves collaboration among quality leaders, operations and upper-level management. Whether working on LPA questions or implementing corrective actions, this collaboration takes quality out of its silo and positions quality managers as thought leaders.

Problem Resolution

LPAs improve resolution of problems, in many cases preventing them by identifying process errors that cause defects. A properly designed LPA system includes closed-loop processes for correcting non-conformances.

LPAs also emphasize open communication and working together to solve problems, as opposed to simply blaming operators. By creating a framework for this mental shift, LPAs lay the foundation for a true culture of quality.

Cost of Quality

Implemented correctly, LPAs can have a major impact on reducing cost of quality. Auto and aerospace manufacturers we work with have reported LPA results such as:

  • 53% fewer customer defects
  • 73% reduction in internal PPM
  • 94% fewer overdue corrective action requests
  • Lower scrap costs overall

Automation can also push those costs down, reducing time for tasks like scheduling and follow-up by as much as 85%. Depending on the size of your facility, an automated layered process audit software could allow one or more employees to pursue more value-added work.

Quality Improvements

Compared to one-off quality initiatives, LPAs are a strategic, ongoing and structured activity. What are the key characteristics that enable continuous improvement?

  • Each layer conducts audits at a frequency linked to their level in the organization, with team leads auditing processes daily.
  • Daily audits provide a large data set for analyzing emerging risks and potential sources of defects.
  • Closed-loop mitigations and corrective actions let teams step in before process non-conformances—a top cause of defects—impact customers.

Company Position on Quality

Manufacturers who effectively use LPAs should, over time, be able to say that they:

  • Identify and resolve problems proactively
  • Prevent defects as a routine part of operations
  • Understand why they do not have serious quality problems

The last one may seem like a stretch, especially if you’re just starting out. But the fact remains that one of the biggest benefits of LPAs is the visibility enabled by a large volume of audits.

Layered process audits are all about combining this visibility with other elements like solving problems, breaking down silos and gaining management buy-in. The only logical result of these achievements? A higher level of quality maturity.