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Mike Micklewright

Quality Insider

Auditors, Turtle Diagrams and Waste

Less is more

Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 - 23:00

In the past several months, registrar auditors strongly recommended to three former or current clients that they develop and install turtle diagrams for each of their processes. Two auditors from one registrar actually taught a former client how to develop a turtle diagram during a surveillance audit.

In the stand-up quality comedy routine that I perform for ASQ’s section meetings, conferences and corporate events, I reveal my sarcastic list of “seven basic habits of highly effective registrar auditors.” Habit no.2 is, “Inform the auditee that you aren’t allowed to give advice, and then give advice.” I then reveal a double-billed cap, and say that, in the spirit of ISO 9001 clause 7.5.3, “Identification and traceability,” registrar auditors should be required to identify their service at the time of provision.

So, when auditors are auditing, they should show the “auditor” side of the cap. As soon as they start giving advice, they should flip the cap around and show the word “consultant.” Registrar auditors must not give advice, because by doing so, they lose their objectivity.

What is a turtle diagram?
Two registrar auditors suggested the turtle diagram format below. The typical turtle diagram has inputs and outputs surrounding the process in question. How does this diagram do what the procedure or agenda forms don’t? Such diagrams defeat their own purpose—they aren’t written in process format. For example, how do the three “support processes” and the two “linkages” fit in, and when do they fit in? Furthermore, the document is written in batch form rather than process flow.

Two registrar auditors developed this turtle diagram during a surveillance audit for their clients. It is easy to see how it would be helpful for the auditor and his report, but it isn’t easy to see how this adds value to the company’s quality system.

Following is a more typical turtle diagram, containing the following sections (turtle parts):

Each section contains a list of internal information under that heading, listed in batches and in no particular process order.

Of the three companies that developed the turtle diagrams for their auditors, none of them have found any value in them. The diagrams aren’t used to train employees or in any other capacity within the company. In some case, they have even confused employees. They serve no value, except to the auditors.

Don’t change your quality management system (QMS) for your auditors. Change your QMS only to make your system more effective and then ensure that it meets your standard requirement goals, not some auditor’s interpretation of them.

Why do auditors suggest turtle diagrams
Because it makes their job easier. As part of the process auditing approach,they need to show proof in their records that you have identified the inputs, outputs and objectives of each process. If they can just copy your turtle diagram, their job is lot easier and there is more time to talk about the weather.

If registrar auditors ask you to develop turtle diagrams or any other document:

1) Ask them to show where in the standard it says that you need such a document.
2) Ask them to show you their own turtle diagrams, as examples, of the contract review process used in your company, the auditing process currently being used, the customer complaint process you might use and the issuance of the registration process you expect to be used in the near future.

Does ISO 9001 require turtle diagrams?
No, it doesn’t. If you read the standard, you will find no reference to a turtle diagram anywhere. In fact, the closest the standard comes to anything that might be interpreted as a turtle diagram is in section 0.2, of the process approach section: “An activity using resources, and managed in order to enable the transformation of inputs into outputs, is considered as a process. Often the output from one process directly forms the input into the next.” This is a great definition, and it doesn’t state that a turtle diagram must be drawn to demonstrate these processes.

Clause 4.1 of the general requirements section of ISO 9001 states, “The organization shall a) identify the processes needed for the QMS and their application throughout the organization b) determine the sequence and interaction of these processes.” This can be done thousands of ways. There is no requirement for a turtle diagram.

What is a procedure?
We all know the classical definition. It’s a document that explains who does what, when and where. It’s a document that defines a process and cuts across functional or departmental lines (whereas, a work instruction can be done by one person or one department).

A well-written procedure will have most of the requirements of a turtle diagram in the body of the document.

Below, is an excerpt out of a company’s process control procedure. Compare the colored words in this procedure excerpt to the parts of the turtle diagrams above.

The “process name” is the title of the document, the “inputs” and “outputs” are obvious when reading how the document flows from one step to the next, and the “performance indicators” can be located in the “purpose” section of this procedure, in a single objectives and goals form, or in a balanced score card organized by process.

So what’s wrong with turtle diagrams?
They’re slow and wasteful, because they’re redundant. They are antilean. The information in a turtle diagram should already be in your procedures. You don’t need them, and they probably won’t be used. They only help auditors to do their job, while adding complexity to your QMS.

Most QMSs are way too big and they’re growing larger, more complex and nonuser-friendly. When entropy,the law of disorder, sets in and you have no way to control it, and your auditor strongly suggests more documents, it further complicates your QMS. If the QMS becomes too complex, it won’t be put into practice.

One of my clients, after reading my article on the “Two-Page Quality Manual” hired me to reduce his corporate quality manual. His quality manual was 75 pages in length. He had added a 20-page Six Sigma policy manual and, at the Registrar’s suggestion, added 27 pages of turtle diagrams. When I told the corporate management representative that his 27 turtle diagrams served no value and they were probably not used at all within the company, he admitted that this was correct. He had added them into the system primarily because of the auditor. I eventually showed him how to reduce these referenced documents from 122 pages to 5 pages, eliminating redundancy, not important content. By simply getting rid of waste, his document is now user-friendly and meets all the requirements of the standard.

Turtles move slow, and turtle diagrams make your system slower, because they add waste to your QMS.

Lean quality systems
You need to ensure your QMS becomes lean. This doesn’t mean vague. It means getting rid of the redundancy, of which you probably have a lot. No requirement, specification, instruction or procedure should ever be repeated in another document. Turtle diagrams are redundant. I’ve seen some companies repeat a specification in five or six different places (e.g. print, work order, inspection sheet, control plan and work instruction). In this chaotic system, anytime a change is made, some documents don’t get changed as they should.

Your obligation as a quality manager is to do your job to ensure your QMS is lean, useful and user-friendly.

Registrar auditors need to do their job
Regarding the client that received training on how to draw turtle diagrams from two auditors I found out about this only after recently providing them with internal auditor training. Five years ago, I consulted with them until they got their registration. Since then this company hadn’t written a single preventive action, had only two internal audit findings and they were still registered.

Registrars need to do their job by putting companies on probation or decertifying them if they have major nonconformities. This is their job and they must uphold the spirit of the standard, their true customer. They must stop consulting and advising, and start auditing correctly to ensure that companies are truly qualified to claim registration to a standard.

Use lean principles in your documentation system
In effect, some auditors’ advice encourages excessive nonvalue-added documentation. Most auditors have had little or no training in lean and elimination of waste. Anything or anyone encouraging waste (e.g. turtle diagrams or a 50-page quality manual) is only encouraging ineffectiveness.

Many of you have allowed entropy into your QMS by blindly accepting whatever auditors suggest. Remember that for any nonconformity written or advice given, auditors have to quote a requirement that isn’t being met Simply ask them to show you in the standard where turtle diagrams or a lengthy quality manual is required.

It’s your responsibility to ensure an effective system. Effectiveness is only possible when the system is easy to use. Look for the waste. Look for the inefficiencies and the ineffectiveness within your system. Teach your internal auditors about lean, value-added actions, value stream management, waste elimination, 5S, and quick changeover, so that they can help you achieve your goals.


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.



I agree with most of this especially about having a short quality manual.  What's interesting is that Turtle diagrams are incredibly useful within Lean, particularly for cross functional office processes that aren't documented at all.  They can help orient Lean events to see what the ideal state is compared to what is really happening.

I cant agree more

Thank you for the article.   I found the article while responding to a request to "dust off my turtles, its audit time."  I find it inappropriate to hand any document to an auditor that isnt integral to our business.  Turtles have a place, lets keep them in the pond.

The us of the turtle diagram

I found your article to be a bit over the top by completely discarding the use of the turtle diagram. I have successfully implemented turtle diagrams and found them to very useful.

I didn't need an auditor to "teach" me how to "add" to my QMS documentation. I replaced the antiquated use of procedures (the ones that never left the file drawer anyway) with a useful tool for communication and understanding. I reduced my quality manual to just a few pages and eliminated every useless procedure (kept the ones required by the standard).

The turtle diagram does not replace a good mapping of the process but it can replace about 75% of most quality systems that were standard and procedure based instead of being process based as the new standard fully intended.

The ISO standard was revised from the old "shall have a documented procedure" days. The old procedure based ISO standard created a cottage industry in writing procedures. The new ISO standard has now evolved into to a process based system that forbids the use of standard based checklists during 3rd party auditing.

Don't be so quick to throw out a useful tool in the guise of reducing documentation when your only answer is to create even more useless procedures.

I’ll take a good process flow chart and a turtle diagram any day over a standard and procedure based quality system. The only real mistake the authors of the new process based ISO standard made was the weak wording that allowed procedure based quality systems to continue with only a matrix to show how their old dusty procedures were “really” processes. The only other possible real error was to still call the new ISO standard a quality management system instead what it should be called… a business management system.

Turtle diagrams and Process Owners

I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds one of the weakest implementations in any QMS is that of process ownership. By sitting down with nominated process owners, taking their process apart and reassembling it in a turtle, then not only has it started to make sense for them, but we actually create a job description for a process owner. Essentially, any manager's job is to provide the right people, hardware, software and documents to ensure their process is creating the right outputs, and this is what a turtle encapsulates.

Selling a turtle as job description (a quiet negotiation with HR beforehand is advised!) has proved exceptionally valuable to me and the process owners I have worked with have been complimented in audit for their understanding. Most of their processes were effective without requiring any sort of procedure because the owners and managers were confident enough to explain the turtle to their team. Sure, they're an excellent audit tool as well.

Who's to blame?

Or to re-train? The auditors, the registrars or the accreditation bodies? Or all of them? I've been an auditor myself for twenty years and I still do internal audits: I'm not proud of myself when going out of a company I have to record nothing but trivial non compliances, to match the standard's requirements. Be them turtles, octopuses or SWOTs, it's always a "significant waste of time", only good for consultants or training organizations that vampire their customers on this. Let's be honest and mirror ourselves: most companies are what they are, they don't want any registration unless forced to, and we all know that there's no worst way to make somebody do something than forcing him.  

Thank you!


Thank you so much for your article. I could not agree more that eliminating waste is important. Keeping it simple helps everyone understand quality and ensures the manual will be followed better!