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Mark Whitworth


Taking the Step from Gemba Walks to Layered Process Audits

A natural progression in on-site internal auditing

Published: Monday, June 12, 2017 - 11:02

Reading the Automotive Industry Action Group’s CQI-8 Layered Process Audit (LPA) Guideline, you might notice a line saying LPAs are “completed on site ‘where the work is done.’”

For lean manufacturing experts, this specific quote might bring to mind gemba walks, a method where leaders observe and solve problems on the shop floor. In Japanese, gemba means “the real place,” or in manufacturing, where the work is done.

Whether the reference is intentional or not, LPAs and gemba walks share clear similarities. Could this be why companies doing gemba walks have an easier time with LPA programs, despite their complexity? This article compares gemba walks with LPAs, exploring how to tell if you’re ready for LPAs and how to prepare.

Comparing gemba walks to layered process audits

Gemba walks are an essential strategy for getting managers out of their offices to experience shop floor processes up close. In this sense, they’re similar to LPAs, where frequent checks of critical processes give managers fresh perspectives (and maybe even challenge some assumptions).

Other similarities between gemba walks and LPAs include:
Focus. Any gemba walk or LPA has a specific focus, whether it’s a high-risk procedure or one where bottlenecks tend to occur.
Layers. Both practices involve multiple layers of management who participate at different times.
Communication. Gemba walks and LPAs open the door to conversation and coaching, rather than focusing on punishing mistakes.
Visibility. The presence and involvement of leadership on the plant floor makes quality visible, elevating it as a priority for everyone.

Taking gemba walks to the next level

On their own, gemba walks are a valuable tool for uncovering inefficiencies in an organization’s processes. LPAs complement gemba walks by providing:
More structure. LPAs are more structured, consisting of a set of up to 10 questions focusing on specific areas critical to quality and/or safety.
Robust data. LPAs can generate a large data set of quality insights, helping you develop leading indicators that show you where you’re headed.
Nonconformance management. LPAs let you correct problems and log corrective measures on the spot, so you only have to send larger issues to the corrective action system. By uncovering issues internally before they become customer problems, suppliers can expect as much as a 50-percent reduction in returns.

Are you ready for layered process audits?

Although organizations with mature lean programs are primed for LPAs, the most important ingredient for success is a genuine commitment to improving quality. Any expert will tell you that doing LPAs just to check a box will never give you the same results as when you believe in their ability to truly improve quality.

So, what does that kind of commitment look like?
• Taking the time to analyze data while they are still actionable, rather than letting the results sit in a spreadsheet or file cabinet
• Investing in training and resources to help your team be successful
• Structuring audits and follow-up activities in a way that prevents pencil-whipping
• Not allowing leaders to delegate audit responsibilities
• Sticking to your audit schedule, instead of just accepting that you will only complete a portion of them (a major problem in many organizations)

Laying the foundation

For many companies, making these audits work requires an automated LPA system to handle scheduling, data analysis, and checklist management. Many aerospace suppliers see the benefits of LPA in the auto industry, but they are reluctant to do it themselves because of the administrative overhead.

Automation slashes the resources required, allowing some manufacturing sites to reallocate up to two full-time employees focused on audit scheduling and management. An automated LPA platform makes it simple to:
• Schedule an entire year’s worth of audits, accounting for shifts, days off, and time away from work
• Send email notifications with links to checklists, also escalating overdue audits as needed
• Use mobile audits to eliminate paper checklist management
• Update audit checklists as needed to account for key changes or newly identified risks
• Pinpoint trends driving quality with user-friendly graphs and key performance indicator (KPI) tracking

What you decide to do with these insights is where the real work starts. Knowledge is power, but only if you’re ready to take responsibility for what you find in your data. You may find that the ROI of layered process audits makes taking the step from gemba walking to LPAs a natural one.


About The Author

Mark Whitworth’s picture

Mark Whitworth

With nearly 25 years of management, technology, and entrepreneurial experience, Mark Whitworth specializes in architecting global, cloud-based software platforms and developing partnerships to help clients enhance performance, control and flexibility throughout the production and process life cycle. He is extensively familiar with operational improvement frameworks—having run a successful management consulting firm catering to Fortune 500 clients, including Toyota and Johnson & Johnson—and has worked with regulatory bodies in the audit and assessment space for more than two decades. As chief operations officer at Ease Inc., Whitworth provides the leadership, management, and vision to ensure stable company growth and dependable, high-quality customer support. 


step up or step down?

I have no doubt that Mr. Whitworth believes there is value in making the required LPA approach as useful as possible.  The subheading of the article is probably accurate:  Mr. Wentowrth's approach to the LPA is no doubt a natural progression of internal auditing.   And I'm sure that his firm's checklists and approaches will help you provide solid objective evidence that the audits were done and more importantly the objective evidence will be in a form that any auditor will readily recognize and accept.  I don't mean to denigrate Mr. Wentworth's work in any way.   Raer, I am questioning the questioning the basic premise that the 'objective evidence' approach of most of our 'management system standards' makes anything better.  It makes the auditor adn the audit host's job a lot easier, but it doesn't improve business.

The LPA will not provide you with the value that a true gemba walk culture will provide you.  The gaps between a real gemba walk and a 'formal audit' process are not trivial.  In my experience we are moving backwards (away from Lean and the Toyota Production System) when we go from gemba walks to any formalized 'audit' process. 

The real downside of the LPA is the same as any method required or suggested by any management system standard:  the obssession with 'objective evidence' that something happened as planned.  This is all waste.  The paper work becomes more important than the actual effectiveness of the walk. It also tends to result in far fewer 'walks' than when the walks are done because the manager knows first hand how useful they are.  When true gemba walks are being done the 'objective evidence' is seen in the continual improvement of the key metrics of quality, delivery, delivery, cost and employeee engagement.   If you as a senior leader are not sure if the gemba walks are being done and done properly, go on your own  gemba walks - you don't need a report.   

Mr. Wentworth is correct:  the hard work begins with the findings.  Regardless of whether the findings come from a true gemba walk or a formal audit.  So why not just skip the paperwork and concentrate on the waste?