How to Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement with Audits

Layered Process Audits

December 10, 2015

Improvement with audit

Manufacturer-workers-metal-grinding.jpgWorld-class organizations live and breathe a culture of continuous improvement. When an error occurs, management systems kick in to investigate and prevent the cause. Even when problems do not occur, employees look for ways to reduce waste and improve performance. But how exactly does one create a culture of continuous improvement? A key catalyst is often a management tool called Layered Process Audits (LPAs).

When used properly, layered process audits can foster a culture of quality throughout an organization, thus leading to reduced scrap and rework, fewer customer complaints, and greater productivity. A Harvard Business Review article on sustainable performance makes a clear case for the benefits of total workforce involvement. This creates a culture of shared performance feedback and provides a greater sense of control in how things get done.

Although LPAs must be driven by management and supervisor-level personnel, success also requires “buy-in” by line workers and everyone on the shop floor. LPAs become part of the everyday practice and provide constant opportunity to identify improvements.

What Are Layered Process Audits?

In the strictest sense, layered process audits are performed on a regular basis, at a predetermined frequency, by multiple layers of management from the entire manufacturing organization. The number of layers in an LPA system can vary greatly from site to site, based on the organization’s needs, but it typically includes representatives from at least three layers: supervisors, managers, and the plant manager.

The goals of improving processes and eliminating defects can’t happen when an audit process appears to only be “top down,” in which line workers feel “subjected” to audits, or worse, “bottom up,” in which executives don’t have to participate. That’s why fostering a layered process audit atmosphere where everyone plays a role is critical, and why we recommend including executives and other non-manufacturing employees.

Two-Way Communication Makes Everyone an Auditor

Each auditor, regardless of layer, is responsible for performing the same audit on a periodic basis. An important aspect that is often overlooked is standardizing how auditors communicate with the workforce, which is just as important as the performance of the audit itself.

That’s because the way in which auditors communicate with line workers can either encourage or discourage them in seeing themselves as a key part of the process. Two-way communication ensures that line workers see themselves as part of the process and, in a real sense, self-auditors in their own right, which fosters a greater sense of pride in their work. This inclusive, full-circle layered process audit reinforces a culture of problem remediation and improvement implementation centered on observing, communicating, and correcting.

Effective LPAs start with having managers on the floor on a regular basis, which is the first step in showing line workers that the company truly cares about quality, Of course, it’s imperative that line workers not feel as though they are being judged and subjected to an audit. Consequently, it’s always best if interactions start with a manager sincerely asking the line workers if there is anything they need. This empowers line workers by assuring them that they are a valued part of the process and the company. Only after they have had their say and engaged in two-way dialogue should the conversation continue with any questions or observations regarding areas of process improvement or remediation.

Layered Process Audits: Observing, Communicating, and Correcting

Layered process audits should be implemented throughout manufacturing operations, verifying processes not only on the assembly floor, but also in shipping, distribution, engineering, and other support functions.

An LPA system positions manufacturing enterprises to obtain the following benefits:

  • Optimal product consistency
  • Standardized work procedure adherence
  • Waste, scrap rework, and reject minimization
  • Greater efficiency with cost reductions

Layered process audits are best instituted in a thoughtful and inclusive manner through two-way communication and the creation of a shared audit culture. By fostering this culture among the company stakeholders, layered auditors, and line workers as “de facto auditors,” the company can reap additional benefits such as:

  • Production staff “buy-in” to the quality culture
  • Better communication between operators and leadership
  • Overall improvements of the entire manufacturing ecosystem

The goal is to create an effective LPA system through improved communication and the use of automation wherever possible.

Effective LPA: Communicate and Automate

A standardized LPA checklist is essential for uniformity and congruity of the process from layer to layer and audit to audit. That also means that asking the right questions in the right way is essential to the purpose of the checklist.

This is just as important as having a single vision in terms of nonconformance identification. Creating the right language for the questions may reveal new best practices that come from the explanation for a nonconformance.

In terms of the overall process, managers should be able to randomize audits and audit schedules, thus ensuring complete engagement throughout the organization. Information about the findings should be recorded and readily available to management for later analysis.

Creating a culture of improvement becomes easier when you can automate the process in terms of:

  • Industry- and process-specific question generation
  • Audit process scheduling and tracking
  • Recording corrective action
  • Scoring

Finally, best-in-class LPA solutions should feature intuitive dashboards and dashboard creation tools in order to create customized, comprehensive views that fit the specific needs of the manufacturing environment. When the solution is optimized for mobility and digital communication processes, everyone can stay informed and on the same page.

This type of full visibility of audits facilitates proactive process correction. The more that you can automate, the more time you have to assess and improve your processes, thus lowering costs and boosting the bottom line as well as workforce and customer satisfaction.