Layered Process Audits: Going Beyond Compliance to Get More Value

Layered Process Audits

By Joe Plata
January 7, 2020

Do layered process audits drive real improvement in your organization? Or are they just another hoop to jump through for customers like General Motors (GM) and Fiat Chrysler (FCA)?

Layered process audits are comprised of quick checks of high-risk processes, preventing defects by identifying when people aren’t working to standard. While each audit only lasts about 10 minutes, they also take place daily, creating an administrative burden that leads many manufacturers to simply treat them as busy work.

This “check the box” attitude creates its own avalanche of problems.

Completion rates are low, delivering little data. People pencil-whip audits by passing every item blindly—a problem for nearly half of respondents in our State of LPA survey. Completed checklists become an overflowing pile of unfinished paperwork, waiting for someone to enter and analyze the findings. When auditors do uncover problems, they may not receive the proper follow-up, sending the message that management doesn’t actually care.

It’s a vicious cycle that adds up to huge amounts of wasted time and money considering the effort required to set up, manage and track LPAs. Ultimately, this bare minimum compliance approach also means more defects, complaints and warranty costs. That’s because process failures lead to product failures, and if nobody’s looking for them, they will continue to impact quality.

In this post, we examine how to break this cycle, leveraging strategies like checklist design, problem-solving and automation to get more from LPAs and move beyond compliance.

Going Beyond Compliance with LPA Questions

Writing questions that deliver real value is a typical struggle. Common big mistakes like generic questions or checklists used across the entire plant can seem like the only practical option when using paper checklists. An LPA software platform allows teams to build a question library and create checklists customized to individual work areas, a best practice recognized in the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) CQI-8 Layered Process Audit Guideline.

Organizations should look for opportunities to add questions that go a step further than customer requirements and complaints, creating LPA questions focused on:

  • Process steps identified in process failure mode and effects analysis (PFMEA) planning
  • High-risk failures that have occurred in other product lines, work areas or plants
  • Items uncovered during Gemba walks and other quality initiatives

Creating a More Effective Corrective Action Process

Our 2019 State of LPA Report identified corrective actions as a top-three quality challenge for organizations surveyed. Usual problems include ineffective problem-solving and follow-up, with many manufacturers saddled with a growing backlog of overdue corrective action requests.

When auditors come across issues during LPAs, the process must address the root cause of the problem. Manufacturers can’t afford to risk recurrence, given the expensive repercussions when defects reach the customer.

Root cause analysis can’t be just a cursory exercise where people accept surface-level conclusions. Instead, teams must look deeper to identify problems and design solutions, leveraging tools such as 8D problem-solving, 5 Whys and Fishbone analysis.

Organizations must also dig deeper by:

  • Including detailed information on nonconformances so people are better equipped to solve problems, such as with attaching photos
  • Creating a closed-loop process that prevents problems from being left behind
  • Adding new LPA questions based on corrective actions to make sure you’re holding hard-won gains
  • Updating PFMEAs based on nonconformances

Using LPAs as a Tool for Building Quality Culture

More than just identifying process nonconformances, LPAs provide companies with the opportunity to build stronger teams throughout the organization. Rather than a punishment tool, LPAs are a chance for management to show genuine appreciation for people who are doing things right, empowering operators by showing you value their work. The result is enhanced communication in both directions as well as greater awareness that quality truly is a leadership priority—both hallmarks of a culture of quality.

Of course, this doesn’t happen on its own. You have to make a concerted effort to build rapport when conducting audits. Auditors can show genuine respect with small actions such as:

  • Looking people in the eye when talking with them
  • Attentively listening to what they say and reflecting back what you hear
  • Soliciting improvement ideas
  • Avoiding blame, focusing instead on what people need in order to follow the standard

Automation: A Catalyst for Change

For those using paper-based LPAs, there’s no question that administration takes up a lot of time that could otherwise be used for uncovering actionable insights and solving problems. A mobile LPA platform helps manufacturers go beyond compliance, allowing them to:

  • Use question randomization and dummy questions to ensure people don’t pencil-whip audits
  • Add annotated photos to both questions and audit findings
  • Easily update and customize checklists without dealing with paper copies
  • Get instant visibility into data and develop leading metrics you can use to prevent problems
  • Link audit nonconformances to corrective actions, so problems get solved faster
  • Boost audit completion rates for better engagement and improved quality culture

Going beyond compliance with LPAs is a multi-faceted effort that can mean trying to undo years of ingrained habits. Writing better questions, improving corrective actions and using LPAs to foster quality culture are all strategies that can help, with automation providing critical momentum for turning the ship around.