In the first part of this series we talked consistency and continuity, and some key benefits delivered by audit management functionality in EQMS. The benefits discussed were more foundational and best practice-driven, like sharing knowledge and guidance at the same time as maintaining frameworks for execution and outcome, rounded off by the preservation of and accessibility to enterprise-wide audit memory.In this post we continue with our discussion with a focus on the benefits of increased accountability and visibility, as well as improved efficiency.
Accountability & Visibility
Just like the communal space in the workplace kitchen or restroom, with the exception of a family business perhaps, a parent is not there to clean up after you, put things where they belong, or perform the tasks you are responsible for. Not one of us wants to police or nanny other people, especially where we have to influence superiors to execute on their commitments.
Why? Because it becomes an emotionally charged blame game and that alone has the potential to undermine the purpose and the positive motive for having the policies, procedures, controls, training, and so on in the first instance. Audits by their very nature are and should remain objective and their execution and outcome should be respected and received objectively, devoid of emotion, for the potentially enormous benefit they deliver to our business.
Audits and assessments are often perceived as a chore by those being assessed, a view that is fundamentally at odds with the underlying purpose. Bottom line is that it ensures we walk our talk, but also anticipate and address problems. We are all on the same team, pulling in the same direction and all accountable for, at a minimum, conforming to our sworn quality policy and practices. Ideally, of course, we go beyond this and (pro) actively seek out ways to continually improve.
Quality leaders and their team members who conduct audits face the challenge of educating and permeating the quality culture to drive home the fact that every single point of assessment is an opportunity for improvement or to identify real challenges that impact performance with potentially serious financial implications. We are ALL accountable to this.
Enterprise quality management software (EQMS) has at its core the concept of ownership and accountability. From the audit team (and their qualification to execute), every single assessed element and finding (including/encouraging positives) can be associated with an owner, an individual or role. Our action might be positive or preventive, for example, introducing or improving a particular control in a broader context or the more common outcome, immediate (containment) and corrective actions. Regardless, a good audit management tool provides (simple yet effective) capability for assignation of the original assessment criteria, the finding, verification of the finding, a subsequent non-conformity (or not) and one or more actions.
The tracking of a problem from identification, through resolution and verification of effectiveness is clearly visible for all stakeholders. The process, depending on complexity of the issue, may involve few or many contributors and approvers. It may have elements of root-cause analysis, or implicit risk management and management of change associated. Time sensitivity and financial information may be critical. A robust process with the right technology empowers the people involved. Recognition of those who perform in this context and exposure of those who do not is critical. Knowing that the accountability, control, and visibility exists can transform quality audit perception and associated behavior within an organization.
Audit scheduling, conducting the audit(s), and tracking the outcome using audit management and CAPA tools in EQMS can save significant time—time better spent on identifying improvement activities. Identifying auditor availability, setting automatic cycles and reminders for recurring audits are low-hanging fruit for injecting efficiency. But the efficient capture and management of audit data across an entire enterprise, not to mention the efficiencies with regard to notifications and follow-up for findings and the processes associated, all add up to a considerable amount of saved time (and likely reduced frustration).
Audit efficiency also comes in the shape of instant data capture and interrogation via mobile devices. Vendors of EQMS solutions have been quick to bring to market mobile options to prevent the need to track on paper first, and then enter data later. With rules-based workflows, audit outcome can be automatically routed to the appropriate individuals for the next steps, acknowledgment of an NC, initiation or acceptance of an action or root cause analysis, or risk assessment for example. All of which is immediately tracked and available in the global repository.
Reports are generally out of the box and range from a comprehensive single audit report in full to analytics of a single element across many audits over time or multiple facilities, or, if desired, the entire company. This powerful mechanism for identifying trends is very efficient as the data was captured at source. There’s no need for compiling or building charts in excel from multiple sources—this is an exercise in manipulating what has been captured in a consistent manner.
Audit management and the associated features in EQMS is a superb candidate for cross-silo integration and collaboration. Bringing together environmental, health, and safety (EHS) disciplines to use the same platform as the quality team’s or vice-versa is a common approach for large organizations streamlining their activities. There are many examples of world-class organizations doing this for their audit process with some driving efficiencies way beyond just the quality and EHS scope, too.
Unifying multiple disciplines with audit management as part of EQMS does offer huge opportunities for efficiency, but it offers a path to unify the approach and leverage the best of the people who audit, too. This brings us back to one of the first points in part one of this blog—the consistency and sharing of knowledge for those young audit 'Jedi'—but now we are sharing best practices and guidance around specifics and audit principles across many more stakeholders and that has to be a positive thing.