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How to prepare the organization for an audit?

  • One of the most important goals for the whole plant is to pass the next OEM audit successfully – announced the plant manager many times.

We found ourselves in a critical situation after a “not perfect” result from a customer audit. It happens sometimes. The evaluation we got was not acceptable for the customer, not for our organization. But we got a new chance. We had several months to fix the issues, implement the improvements.

To be clear – I did not drive this process; I was one active team member. But I learned a lot from this experience – I think it is worth sharing as best practice.

We listed the found non-conformities, defined the root-causes, and the necessary improvement actions.

But we did not stop there. We did not only focus on the technical stuff. We knew we had many things to do with the quality mindset of the whole organization.

As I described in my other post, part of the audit preparation is the colleagues’ preparation.  

We needed a good plan, training the engineers, and preparing the shift leaders, technicians, and each operator or the production line.

Some quality guys alone can not reach such an ambitious goal. We had to engage all levels of the organization. How can it work?  We had to involve them in the process. They had to understand what is their contribution to the Quality Management System.

By the way, it is an ISO9001 and IATF16949 requirement: 7.3 – 7.3.1. Awareness – supplemental:

“The organization shall maintain documented information that demonstrates that all employees are aware of their impact on product quality and the importance of their activities in achieving, maintaining, and improving quality, including customer requirements and the risks involved for the customer with non-conforming product.”

What was our plan? Training and training for everyone. They had to understand their contribution to part quality – and customer satisfaction.

But we knew training is not enough. Each person is different. Some of them are getting nervous if someone is asking what they are doing. They could make mistakes just because their hands were shaking.

We wanted to make sure about the quality awareness of each worker.

Therefore we created simple audit plans with essential but straightforward questionnaires. Mini audits were continuously performed.

Each workstation, each shift had to be audited. Here these mini audits were pieces of training at the same time.

Could not the operator answer successfully? No problem, he/she got the explanation right there. The goal of these audits was the excellent preparation of our staff. To increase and spread the quality mindset continuously.

Who were the auditors? The quality guys only?

No way! We intended to involve everyone—managers, process engineers, shift leaders, technicians – and finally, quality engineers.

This process did not happen in one day. It took many weeks, hundreds of mini audits, and training.

And the result? Our effort paid back! The following customer audit was a success.

But I believe we gained much more. We strengthen the quality mindset, the customer focus in the whole organization. We found a way how to increase the awareness of our people.

As always, think in system with Pro Automotive.

If you are interested in reading articles about automotive quality management topics, best practices, case studies, follow Pro Automotive.


How to (not) behave during a customer/certification audit?

I do not precisely remember what the question from the auditor was.

I have no idea what the answer from my colleague was. I was with the other auditor; I explained something about the process. I could not follow what the other pair was talking about.

Then the auditor replied something, and my colleague just started sadly nodding with his head. Immediately he took his notebook and wrote what he just heard.

Then the auditor said once again something.

The same happened; my colleague made the notes. Then the auditor also started making notes.

I found myself in alert mode. Something was obviously not OK. I had to intervene immediately.

⁃ Is there everything alright? – I asked.

⁃ I am afraid, this and this I miss – the auditor explained what he was looking for.

⁃ Well,  that we call a bit differently, but we have – I answered.

I asked my partner to show that.

He explained how that works because he knew that. But he was just blocked by the audit situation. He could not think clearly under pressure.

But the most dangerous was his body language.

He did not question what the auditor said. He accepted everything and just messaged: we were guilty.

Even that we had a good answer to the auditor question, we did a bit differently than the auditor’s first expectation. He was too nervous to recognize and gave up defending our way of working immediately.

Later, I gave him feedback, explained what I saw and sensed. We send messages without saying a word, just with our behavior and body language.

And we must defend our interest – if that is possible. At the production line, when and where the question was raised.

This situation was a lesson learned for me too. I should have known that. I did not prepare my colleagues properly. We are all different.

Part of the audit preparation is the preparation for the colleagues.

How to answer, what to say, what do not say.

A good practice to train our colleagues.

We can simulate an audit environment by conducting internal audits.  The colleagues can get more comfortable with different questions.

There is an additional lesson I learned over the years. I repeat it every time to the guys as advice.

„Never brag” and  „only answer to the question of the auditor”! „Only to the question, do not add anything else what additional things we are doing. If you answered the question, wait for the next question if there is any.”

This sounds too cautious or maybe odd, but I have seen issues so often because these single pieces of advice are not kept.

Do not forget that when you think about the necessary preparation for the audit, the participants should be prepared and trained as well.

As always, think in system with Pro Automotive.

If you are interested in reading articles about automotive quality management topics, best practices, case studies, follow Pro Automotive.

Problem solving

Who should the 8D sign off?

The customer or IATF16949 audit outcome: the problem-solving process is not effective, not according to the customer requirements, or you face re-occurred failures.

I have seen two typical reactions to such a non-conformance:

  • organize training for the whole team
    • HR will get the task, and they will send the team to outside or in-house training.

Job well done. The issue is close, right? (No, not at all as I already wrote about it in this separate article.)

  • The Quality Manager needs to sign the 8D before closing.

Unfortunately, this usually will not save the world, but we can have the next wildcard if this happens:

  • the  Plant Manager will also review and sign the reports before sending them out to the customer.

Why do we expect it will be an efficient solution to prevent insufficient 8D reports landing at the customer?

What will change from this action?

Let’s assume that the next level managers are really quality professionals and know what they should look for.  (I think it is not evident – and not a requirement –  that the next level manager will have the professional knowledge to identify the reports’ issues.)

If this is the case, we will still have the timing issue – it is not easy to find free time with a plant manager to review 8D reports. This can have a negative impact on our response time to the customer, which can initiate the next negative evaluation.

Imagine a big organization with many customer issues.  How long will the manager have the time and patience to review each case deeply?

What can we solve with the supervisor’s advance review?

In a short time, it can help.

We can detect obvious unlogic issues, no technical solutions.

We can also expect that the engineers will make more precise reports because they do not want to confront their managers. They try to avoid unpleasant moments. This positive effect will last as long as the manager will have the time and passion for closing reviews.

Is it not showing a lack of trust towards our colleague? How long do we plan to micromanage our colleagues?

Should we not understand the real root-cause behind the weak reports?

How about our Quality Management System (QMS)?

We have to understand the systematic root-cause.

What is the exact cause of insufficient reports?

Are we sure that it can only be a competence issue?

If so, which competence should be exactly improved? How exactly can be improved – besides the joker “send them for training!”?

How was the individual competence assessed before, and which actions were defined to improve?

Why did we not detect it?

How is it possible that the customer or the auditor highlights the incomplete 8Ds for us?

There are so many questions we need to ask ourselves.

8D reports signed off by managers can help in a short time, but that is not a sustainable solution.

Do not stop with simple answers without understanding the systematic issues behind.

As always, think in system with Pro Automotive.

If you are interested in reading articles about automotive quality management topics, best practices, case studies, follow Pro Automotive.


Is classroom quality training efficient for engineers?

The root-cause analysis outcome for system issues is lack of competence.

Corrective action: Training – of course!

How many times have you met with this symptom?

Some automotive core-tools competences for some engineers are missing. The obvious solution: send them for training!

What is next?

HR got the task to organize training about automotive quality topics, like APQP, PPAP, 8D, FMEA, MSA, etc.

Simple, right?

The best thing is that once the training is ordered, there is no such difference if 10 or 15 guys participate. Let’s send some technicians, other engineers, internal auditors, whoever has some time can participate. More is just better.

The training is held by a qualified expert (a good chance that he did not work in a production plant for ten years or more), and he/she mainly explains the things which are already described in the released handbooks/standards. OK, they can also answer questions, present it more deeply.

Due to important meetings, production issues, and phone conferences, many participants walk in and out during the day.

Final result: everyone passed the test, the same satisfaction feeling for the different persons:

  • HR: Training finished, job well done!
  • Managers: Training finished – no more excuse, let’s work!
  • Quality system auditors: There was training, the competence is now improved! Great evidence for future audits!
  • 8D team: the systematic issue is corrected, the claim can be closed now!

Everyone is happy….or…almost everyone.

How about the engineer?

Even he could not participate during the whole time, some chapters missed, but finally, he received the certification – that is good, as it can be useful for the next job, it can be listed in the CV as well.

Did it make any sense? Will he understand the reasons behind, will he see the whole picture?

I doubt that.

Why do we fool ourselves and address competence issues by organizing classroom training about generic, well-documented quality topics? Just because everyone does the same? Or because the auditors look for evidence?

Has anyone really looked at which part of competence is missing for the engineer? Not as general, but specifically.

Based on my seventeen years of experience, such classroom training are just not efficient.

I know I will be criticized – especially by some training institutions.

Indeed, there are circumstances when they can be useful if the intention is to get a general description or some generic explanation for freshly graduated engineers. However, often they are not only used for such a purpose. They are used because we choose the most straightforward answer for improving competence without considering other solutions.

Why is that year after years, series of same training held at the same company, most of the time for the same audience? Same actions, same results.

Shouldn’t we do something different?

A much better solution to find an experienced mentor for the engineer who supports him/her during real challenges while he solves real issues.

Such a mentor can be internal or external, but he must have excellent practical knowledge and skill and willingness to transfer his knowledge.

I already described that in detail in my other article: Train your own team! , but here are some other examples.

  • Not fully understand MSA Gage R&R? Help him to manage a full study alone. Support him with the planning, execution, and interpretation of the result.
  • Systematic root cause analysis issue? Explain to him the background and do the fishbone analysis together with the team. Do not let them simply rule out possibilities, but show them the proper way of verification.
  • FMEAs have nothing to do with reality? Find a mentor for the team, do the studies together.

Bad news: it will not be finished in 2 days, like classic classroom training with an external trainer. Jolly joker solutions do not work in real life.

Such a process requires much longer time, months, half a year, or more.

On the other hand, the engineer will finally have a skill. The change can not be observed from one day to another.

But when you look back, you will see a different work quality, and you will see a motivated person who is eager to learn and who has his day by day, issue by issue successes.

Assess the needs and define necessary actions individually and find the right mentor for your colleagues.

As always, think in system with Pro Automotive.

If you are interested in reading articles about automotive quality management topics, best practices, case studies, follow Pro Automotive.


Train your own team!

Several years ago, as a quality manager, I found myself in a situation that I had to make a tough decision. I quickly needed to build up my customer quality engineering team due to responsibility changes within the organization.

I had two choices:

  • hire experienced quality engineers as quickly as possible
  • choose internal candidates without any experience within the customer quality field

I made several interviews, met some “quality stars” from outside who had lots of confidence, but I realized that they also had lack of technical knowledge as well.

Just because someone worked as quality engineers for years, unfortunately it does not necessarily mean they have the knowledge which is required for the task and the personality which is needed for the team.

Finally, I recognized that anyway I need to train my colleagues a lot and in mid term, it is much more important to have team members who are eager to learn and who are fitting into the team.

I decided to choose internal candidates who really wanted to learn and convinced them to take this challenge.

I personally made several trainings for them, focusing on problem solving and Core Tools, but only which were appropriate for them.

The best method to train your employees is to let them work on challenges – learning by doing.

When the first quality claim arrived (certainly on Friday afternoon – as always…), I took the lead in the claim handling and explained all steps and the reasons behind, I led the customer communication.

But they got small tasks within the claim handling process which they were able to solve.

From time to time they got more and more responsibility and they were able to manage it better and better.

Half a year later they were working independently, but they always came to me for advice if they needed, explained what they were planning, and weekly we reviewed the risks and the difficulties together. They were motivated and their skills improved a lot. Now one of them is working as a Quality Manager.

What else could be more motivating for a leader than to support candidates from the organization to develop themselves?

As always, think in system with Pro Automotive.

If you are interested in reading articles about automotive quality management topics, best practices, case studies, follow Pro Automotive.

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