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Travis Carlton


How a Pilot Program Can Ensure Success for Your Automated Layered Process Audits

See positive results faster

Published: Thursday, January 23, 2020 - 12:03

Whether we’re talking to a front-line operator, a plant manager, or CEO, people’s reactions to being assigned a new recurring task are remarkably similar: “Oh great—more to do.” Sound familiar?

It’s a reaction that’s common in organizations transitioning from paper-based to an automated digital process for layered process audits (LPAs), even though the end result may be a sharp reduction in defects and simpler audit processes. Although there are numerous benefits to moving from a paper-based to a mobile digital platform for your LPA program, the focus of this article is how to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Layered process audits focus on quick, straightforward elements of process inputs, helping ensure process standardization and reduce defects upstream from the point of manufacture. Automating LPAs can involve a transition process, one made easier by adopting a pilot program to help you learn as you go. Here we discuss different types of pilot programs, as well as some best practices to ensure success.

Different types of pilot programs

Most commonly, manufacturers will roll out automated LPAs on a site-by-site basis. The first acts as a test site, with the goal of bringing on additional sites once the team has refined the process.

Alternatively, some organizations start with a process they understand well, so they know what questions to ask and the expected results in terms of findings and follow-up. Once they have the transition process down, they then add other types of audits.

Less common approaches to LPA automation rollouts include:
One department at a time: Some of our Champions for Quality have rolled out LPA automation by department or section, making adjustments as they go to streamline the overall process.
Train the trainer: Another Champion for Quality reported approaching LPA implementation one or two plants at a time. Each plant would then help train the next, giving them the opportunity to share best practices and lessons learned.

The most important element of a successful rollout

So, what’s the No. 1 thing that will help ensure a successful rollout? Of course, it helps if you have already done LPAs and have some checklists and questions in place. More important, however, is how actively engaged your team is.

We’ve seen sites that have never done LPAs that are able to get up and running quickly because they’re dialed in and eager to start. Conversely, at sites where the team isn’t fully onboard with doing something new, people don’t always put in the same effort, making the entire process more difficult.

If your site falls into this latter group, know that leadership buy-in can go a long way toward overcoming resistance. Once team members see that key people are behind the initiative—and more important, why you’re making the change—they’re much more likely to be willing participants.

Critical to this strategy is fixing problems quickly and not ignoring findings, which shows the new process is a value-addition, and leadership is genuinely committed to quality. Linking LPAs to corrective actions can help. By initiating corrective actions based on findings, you can ensure your team closes the loop on problems, instead of letting them fall through the cracks. You can also add new LPA questions based on those corrective actions, so you can be sure your team is holding any critical improvements in place consistently.

Addressing audit completion rates

Low audit-completion rates are a common challenge for those new to LPAs as well as seasoned experts. Accountability is a big part of the solution, as well as leadership buy-in.

However, low audit completion rates can also be a sign of other problems. For instance, you might have scheduling conflicts that your audit plan doesn’t account for. Even more common are audits that are too long.

LPAs should take only 10 to 15 minutes to complete. The only way to ensure this happens is by using very direct, precise LPA questions with a clear, black or white answer.

It’s also important to look deeper to find the actual cause of missed audits, an area where reporting on metrics like average audit time and missed audits by department can help.

Finally, it’s essential to recognize that high audit-completion rates don’t mean anything if people are just pencil-whipping audits to get them done quickly. To avoid this problem, some manufacturers use dummy questions that say, “Fail this question.” That means if you only see an 85-percent failure rate on the question, you need to ask whether the remaining 15 percent of auditors are even reading the question.

A pilot program is a proven strategy for rolling out automated LPAs while minimizing problems and allowing you to benefit from lessons learned along the way. By focusing on engagement and leadership buy-in, organizations can overcome many of the challenges discussed here—and see faster results from LPAs.

First published Dec. 16, 2019, on the Beacon Quality blog.


About The Author

Travis Carlton’s picture

Travis Carlton

Travis Carlton is a customer success manager at Beacon Quality.