It’s hard to fix those elements of a business that just don’t work as they should when you don’t know what to fix.
Those annoying bugs, miss-aligned systems, or tools that don’t quite do the job right can establish themselves overtime as a permanent resident of your business. They take over your culture leaving you disheartened and the staff disappointed.
Often managers are not even aware of the cause of their stress—the reasons things aren’t working as they should. And when charged with the responsibility of management, the stress of watching something fail, fall apart and dissolve can be heart-breaking for those who care.
Worse still is not knowing what went wrong, or more importantly why it happened.
Declining profit margins, high staff turn-over, equipment failures or inferior products are symptoms of a business under stress.
The staff often know what the symptoms of failure are, and sometimes even the root cause of the problem—but without the power to make change, their voices can be drowned out by their managers screaming for those very answers.
Ideas are squashed along with any desire to improve. The cycle of disappointment continues: “that’s just the way it is.”
If you can measure something, the information can guide you to make decisions about whether the situation is suitable, or if it needs to be corrected—think of simple every-day examples:
1.The type pressure is too low and needs to be 32psi—the tyre will fail so it’s better to pump it up;
2.The temperature in the classroom is too hot—students won’t concentrate, better to cool the room; or
3.The computers in the office won’t work with the new database software—the staff can’t do their job effectively, better to fix the software compatibility issue.
These are all examples of symptoms of a performance problem.
Yes, these problems can all be corrected easily but the effective manager will look to correct the root cause of the problem, not just mask the symptom.
This is the challenge—getting to the root cause of a performance issue, and finding a way to correct it.
Thinking of the first example, what if you are in charge of an emergency response vehicle? Are you going to accept that tyre pressures are low—how did you even find out about the tyre in the first place—by chance? How do you know that the type pressures will be correct tomorrow, and the day after that? What system is there in place, that ensures your emergency response vehicle is ready for use?
Given that the types are dodgy, what about the battery, the fuel, and for that matter where is the key to start the vehicle—how are these issues managed?
These are the questions a manager should ask, and these are questions an auditor will ask—they are designed not to test a person’s competence, not to attribute blame, not to embarrass anyone, they are designed to test that the system works—as it was designed.
This is what auditing is about:
- Understanding how the system should work,
- Testing to see if it does work, and then
- Looking for ways to improve it.
An effective manager uses a quality audit as a tool to identify the root causes of performance problems so she can decide how to allocate her resources to fix it.
If you can learn this skill—if you can learn to do a quality audit, then you can find the answers to your problems yourself—before they manifest into a serious performance problem.
The aerospace industry uses quality audits regularly.
Just as pilots are examined by a medical doctor each year to search for symptoms of disease or a medical condition that would affect their performance, the aerospace industry examines its health by way of a quality audit.
The audit looks for symptoms of stress, failure or even the possibility of failure in a system—and if used properly, the audit can find ways to improve even the most well-oiled machine.
If we consider our example of the emergency vehicle with low tyre pressure, the purpose of the audit is to find the root cause of the failure—the flat tyre. We are not looking to blame anyone, we are looking for the reason the type of an emergency vehicle was found to be flat.
If our interest moves to how it happened and what caused it to go flat, we can identify the reasons for the failure, we can imagine other possible reasons it could go flat in the future and we can test how well our organisation is equipped to prevent this from happening again, and how well it can recover in the event that it does happen again.
This information is interesting to a manager—especially the one who is accountable for the organisation. An audit report explains in detail what is right with a business and what is wrong with a business—it is a powerful document.
If you can audit your company, write an audit report and use this information to allocate your finite resources to where they are most needed, then you are well positioned to be an effective manager.
The usefulness of a quality audit is not limited to aerospace—it is relevant in any endeavour where you have people performing tasks: a coffee shop, a mine site or a retail store.
A quality audit is a health check of your business—and one of the tools available to the management team.
There is an old Russian saying: Trust but verify. America’s President Regan borrowed the phrase and it is repeated in many audit programs across the world.
Trust that your systems are working, but verify this assumption to be true. Quality auditing is not an arduous task—like most business tools it requires planning, procedures and reporting protocols.
One of the effective ways to learn quality auditing skills is via a nationally recognised qualification, such as Diploma of Quality Auditing BSB51615. This way you can learn the skills and get qualified at the same time.
These skills can be taught and we’d be happy to share them with you.