I guarantee no one is thrilled to see a calendar invite from me. Why? Chances are I’m asking them to join me in a quality audit review. These meetings aren’t usually anyone’s favorite. But don’t RSVP your excuses just yet! When the following three keys to a successful quality program are in place, the quality auditor has a great opportunity to build a bridge of confidence between the project execution ideal and the reality of everyday project pressures.
Key #1: Management Support: Simply reporting to an independent someone who has no ties to engineering or sales isn’t ideal. You need an executive sponsor with a passion for quality and confidence in the quality assurance process. It’s important for engineers to consider the auditor an advocate who can influence and impact change when the root cause is a broken process itself.
Key #2: Auditor Credibility: The most effective quality auditors have project experience. In my case, I’ve been a project manager and MES developer in the past, and have lived the challenges associated with project execution. To mentor and offer credible solutions, the quality assurance auditor must understand the pressure the project team is under to manage scope, budget and customer satisfaction. Successful auditors are also able to recognize the difference between an execution problem and a problem within the execution process itself.
Key #3: Engineering Commitment to Quality: Is the project team following the letter of the law or the spirit of the law? Everyone on the project should be equally committed to a quality product. The first thing I like to do during an audit review meeting is to remind the team that this is their process. They decided what was important and how they were going to substantiate that they did what they say they did. If it’s important (and it must be because they said it was important), the simple question from the auditor is, “Why didn’t you do it?”
If it’s a broken process, they know the auditor can help them fix it. If they have a better way to do something, then we need to document it and introduce it to the rest of the engineering team. Process can be changed, but not unilaterally. We all have to agree that an execution process change is going to result in a better outcome for our customer as well as for us.
When management, operations and quality work together, engineering sees more immediate results from a project’s quality audit and they find more value in the execution process. So the next time you see my invitation to that dreaded meeting, consider it a message from a friend instead!
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