QS-9000: A Value-Adding Process

by Radley M. Smith

If you let it, QS-9000 truly can be a value-adding process. Your company will be more profitable and productive, and your customers will be more satisfied. Of course, this isn't guaranteed. Simply going through the motions, with the least-possible effort, won't deliver any better results than going through the motions in any other process. Back when SPC was hot, two dozen control charts were guaranteed to improve every aspect of your business. That assumption was ridiculous then, and it would be ridiculous to make the same claim for QS-9000.

The key to successful registration lies in approaching the process from the proper point of view. Don't get caught up in trying to do everything at once- you'll only end up with a hodgepodge of ineffective procedures. The following steps walk you through a simple yet effective course of action.

Step one: Analyze existing processes

The first step can be summed up by the cliche' "Document what you do and do what you document." Fortunately, unlike many cliches, this one holds a great degree of truth.

Whenever I hear someone say, "We're about to develop a new quality system for our company to meet QS-9000," the first question I ask them is, "What's wrong with the system that you have now?"

Invariably, the reply is: "We have a bookshelf full of procedures. They haven't been opened for years, but we've got them. In the past, that was all we really needed to do."

My advice: Don't invent new procedures; analyze your existing procedures. Of all the quality-improvement methods, the easiest for everyone to understand and potentially one of the most powerful is the process flow diagram. Flowchart what you're doing today in each and every process that you identify as being related to QS-9000.

If you have trouble sorting that out, construct a matrix, with numbers one to 23 across the top and functional departments down the side. Figure out a coding system that shows which elements each department is involved in. Then have those departments flow chart their processes.

Any attempt to change your system without knowing what it is currently doing will be a complete waste of money and will attack the credibility of the whole QS-9000 process. When I worked on corporate procedures at Ford Motor Co., they varied between five and 30 pages in length. Whenever we'd do an operations review, we would find an out-of-date copy that nobody ever read or even understood. It usually had no relationship whatsoever to what was actually being done.

Sound familiar? Such procedures are fatal, of course, if you're looking at QS-9000 registration. The registrar must make the assumption that you've documented what you've done, when in reality those five- to 30-page monsters bear no relation to anything that anyone has ever done. They're what some "expert" thought was the right thing to do.

Start out with a flowchart showing what you do today. It's probably the single most important step because it allows you to visually analyze your processes. You can then ask questions such as:

Is this process necessary?

Can we state why?

Do we like what we're doing?

Why are we doing it that way?

Could we do it a better way?

Could we do it a simpler way?

Could we combine some processes, eliminate some steps and improve the organization's productivity?

You are the expert on your company. But once you look at the process flowcharts that the people who actually run the processes have developed for you, you may find some surprises. Some may be good; some may be not so good. But you will perhaps find that people are actually doing the job differently from what anyone ever suspected.

That's not bad information; in fact, it can be very useful information in helping to improve the quality and productivity of your operations. It will lay the foundation for improving your quality system and help prepare you for registration. If you don't know what you\rquote re doing today, you've got no basis for changing a quality system. If you have flowcharts that depict what you're doing now, then you're ready to develop, revise or add new processes where QS-9000 requires them.

Even if you have let your quality system lapse, if you're a tier-one supplier to the Big Three or the heavy truck manufacturers that subscribe to QS-9000, you must be doing some things right. Use process flowcharts to identify what's right with your system and what's wrong, and then, where necessary, develop revised processes.

This is probably the most time-consuming phase, but it is the one that lays the foundation for the quality and productivity improvements that many companies realize as they go through the quest for QS-9000.

IBM used to display a sign that said, "Think." If I could have you put a sign in front of your QS-9000 efforts, it would say, " Simplify."

Step two: Develop revised processes

Here's another phrase to live by: If you don't understand something, ask questions until you do understand. If there's a process that looks more complicated than you think it should be, simplify it until it can't be simplified anymore. Don't accept that i's always been done that way or that you think the customer needs you to do it that way. Once you know where the process is, simplify, combine and optimize the process. Not that you're casting it in concrete. Far be it for any interpretation of QS-9000 to say that you can't improve. But try to get the starting point for your process at as high a level as it can be by simplifying.

I have seen processes in engineering that have been simplified from 20 or 30 steps to half a dozen. I've seen procedures streamlined to handle customer complaints in 48 hours rather than 48 days. QS-9000 gave these companies the impetus to improve their processes in an active and effective manner.

A point needs to be stressed here: QS-9000 tells you what to do, not how to do it. That's a very important distinction, and it's one that, as many times as it's been mentioned, has not received the appropriate amount of attention. QS-9000 is not Chrysler's or Ford's or General Motors' quality system. It is an outline of the fundamentals that they require. When you understand that, you understand that your job is to take these guidelines and incorporate them into a system that is unique for your company.

The ultimate in absurdity are the consulting companies that have a prepackaged quality system. All you need to do, they claim, is push a floppy disk into your PC, type your name on it, and you are guaranteed to get registered. You probably will get registered, but you'll be forced to follow someone else's quality system. What could be more counterproductive? It's guaranteed to move your company back several levels in competitiveness. You need a system that is tailored to your company, uniquely based on your products, your processes, your people and every other aspect of your company. It won't be like anybody else's quality system, nor should it be. The auditor's job is to understand how you've constructed your quality system and give you a professional opinion as to whether it does or does not conform to QS-9000.

That's a different spin than many people have on the registration process. Registrars have no preconception of what a "QS-9000 quality system" looks like because they don't know your company the way you do. They know your industry- they know plastic molding or machining or electronics- but that doesn't mean that they have any preconception of what your quality system should look like.

Step three: Perform an internal audit

You've sim-plified, improved some processes and revised some others; what do you do next? Internal auditing. If your concern is to go through the registration process with few or hopefully no nonconformances so that you're registered immediately, there's no more important step than rigorous and repeated internal auditing.

If your company only has one manufacturing location, enlist people from other functions to audit each part of the system. For example, the production department audits the quality laboratories, the controller's office audits engineering, etc. If you're part of a much larger company and you have division people to do internal auditing, that's fine. Something that works even better is to enlist people from one plant to audit another plant. Bringing members of the same company into different but similar plant situations often raises very interesting questions.

It's essential to recognize during internal auditing that the day shift and the night shift usually do things differently. If a plant has three shifts, it will often have three ways of doing things. However, when it comes time for registration, auditors will expect to see that all shifts operate according to the same standardized processes. This is not to say that there may not be alternative processes. If you feel you need to do something differently on one shift, you can document it that way. But this is a highly unlikely circumstance.

To find out what's happening on the different shifts, flowchart by shift on production operations. See what the differences are. See if one shift performs better than the others. If there is no difference, flip a coin, but standardize. Think about what managing a plant means, and ask yourself how you can manage a plant that does things one way on one shift, one way on another. Part of the power of QS-9000 is that it gives you a predictable, hence manageable enterprise.

Internal auditing provides a great method of evaluating if these new, revised processes are working. If they're not working, why not? Internal auditing shows if workers have a better way or if there's some flaw in these new processes. Internal auditing should be viewed as part of a plan-do-study-act cycle that never ends. Anyone who thinks that QS-9000 is a status quo document that freezes the system just doesn't understand it. The idea is continuous evaluation of what you're doing through internal auditing and management review of that auditing.

Step four: Document review

I'm temporarily leaving out a step called preassessment because it' s an optional step that can be used in half a dozen different ways, depending on the needs of the individual company, plant or division. Preassessment can be eliminated or can be performed many times. Other than preassessment, document review by the auditor is the first time that your company has formal contact with your registrar.

This is where "simplify" pays big benefits. You can certainly give the auditor a pile of documents two or three inches high. The auditor will wade through them and register you to that system, but it will probably be a difficult process for everyone concerned. If you gi ve the auditor a quality manual and all the operating procedures that fit within maybe three-quarters of an inch, you will be in an incredibly stronger position. In this case, less truly is more.

My recommendation for documenting a procedure is a one-page flowchart and one page of text. If it takes two pages of text, OK. If it takes 10 pages, you haven't done the job. You're not really ready for registration to proceed in the most efficient fashion. Auditors won't reject 10-page procedures; that's not their job. They'll dig through them and tell you if they meet the standard, then they'll audit you to them. What do you think they'll find? How many of those 10-page procedures will really be understood by your people? Simpler is better, less is more. Simplify, for your sake.

Document review typically takes one day. An auditor sits down with the QS-9000 manual and your documented system, and compares the two. The auditor tells you if there are any holes that you can take care of. It's a very simple, almost mechanical process.

Step five: Registration assessment

The rubber hits the road with registration assessment. You've analyzed your processes, documented what you've done, performed internal audits and successfully completed the document review. The auditors will bring four documents to this step of registration: the QS-9000 manual, the quality system assessment, your documented quality system and an audit plan matrix, which says by the hour of the day who the auditors will be talking with and which elements of the standard they'll be talking about.

It's a final exam, and you've had the exam from the beginning of the course. There is nothing else. If you're doing what your system says you're doing, you get registered. It's that simple. If the document review was successful, all you need to do is demonstrate to the auditors that you really are doing what you say you do.

Preassessment can be an invaluable aid to preparing you for registration. At one plant where we did a preassessment, there was only one major nonconformance. And these people had not been using a consultant, as it turned out. They utilized internal resources to prepare their system. The nonconformance occurred because of all the crib sheets, visual aids and Post-it notes that the operators had in their work area to help them do their job. They would hold instructions like: For the A model, use the yellow par; for the B model, use the green part. This particular plant was full of these bits and scraps of paper, which, of course, were uncontrolle d documents.

That was the only thing wrong at this facility that would hold up their registration. Since this was a preassessment, they knew what they had to do. They've since done it and were registered a few weeks later.

Don't let anyone tell you that registration will be held up if somebody hasn't signed a form on the proper line or if there's a comma instead of a semicolon on a document. This is a smoke screen. You hire a registrar to answer one question: Are you following your documented quality system? The auditors perform a professional assessment that they're willing to sign their name and reputation to.

Step six: Ongoing surveillance

How does surveillance add value? It emphasizes that QS-9000 is a serious issue that continues through time, unlike the supplier quality awards of the past. Those awards fostered the assumption that once you reach the top of the mountain, you will stay there forever. That's a wonderful assumption, but completely wrong.

A system that's not monitored gradually goes downhill, for the simple reason that you've got too many conflicting business priorities. You've got cost considerations, time constraints, scheduling problems, and nobody's making sure that the quality system is not only maintained, but actually reviewed, analyzed and improved. So look at surveillance as a way to help you do the things that you know need to be done in the name of continuous improvement but perhaps have not been able to get management backing to do. This can be one of the most positive aspects of the registration process.

In the past, many registrars operated on a three-year cycle, where at the end of three years, there was a reassessment that was perhaps two-thirds as big as the original registration assessment. With continuous registration, we expand the surveillance process and look at several system elements in-depth during each surveillance. There is never another complete recertification. It is an ongoing process. This is a good way to make sure that such programs as gage calibration and op erator instructions retain their focus, and are maintained and actually improved.

No revolution here

The basic philosophy behind the quality system requirements is keep it simple. Take the time to step back and review your processes, compare them to QS-9000 and revise them accordingly. Make the most of your internal audits. View them as an opportunity to improve existing processes. Of course, your company has many processes and they won't change overnight. But by analyzing your existing processes, revising and adding new processes where needed and developing an effective documentation system, you will have achieved most of what you need to gain registration.

Value-Adding Stages

Analysis of existing processes

1. Flowchart what you're doing today related to the QS-9000 elements.

2. Construct a matrix of the elements and functional departments (optional).

3. Identify what\rquote s right and what\rquote s wrong with your quality system.

Development of revised (or new) processes

1. Simplify processes that are too complicated until they can't be simplified anymore.

2. Combine and optimize processes to simplify even further.

3. Flowchart by shift on production operations.

4. Standardize procedures so that all shifts operate in the same manner.

5. Improve those processes that need it.

Internal auditing

1. Enlist people from other functions or other plants to audit each part of the system. 2. Evaluate the new, revised processes.

3. Review audit results with operating management.

4. Make assignments for corrective actions as needed.

5. Repeat this process, perhaps monthly, until you're satisfied with the results.

Preassessment (Optional)

1. Use to verify readiness.

2. Use to calibrate internal auditors to the registrar's auditors.

3. Incorporate corrective actions where required.

Document review

1. Supply the auditor with your quality manual and operating procedures.

2. Revise any part of the documentation found to be deficient.

Registration assessment

1. Prepare employees for auditors' visit. Remember, auditors will evaluate the system, not individuals.

2. Relax.

Ongoing surveillance and continuous registration

1. Continue internal auditing process. Once a quarter is often best.

2. Continue to flowchart processes as they change.

3. Continue to document new or changed procedures.

About the author . . .

Radley M. Smith is director of the automotive industry division of KPMG Peat Marwick LLP in Detroit, Michigan. Prior to joining KPMG, Smith worked in various quality assurance positions for Ford M otor Co. He is the co-author of the QS-9000 Quality System Requirements and author of The QS-9000 Answer Book.

1996 Paton Press. All rights reserved. Excerpted with permission from The QS-9000 Answer Book by Radley M. Smith. To order a copy of the book, call (916) 529-4125 or fax (916) 529-4110.

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