How to do a Quality Audit and Track Improvements

Product quality is the test of every customer relationship a manufacturer has.

Ingraining product and process quality into the DNA of shop floor to top floor operations create new opportunities to excel at exceeding customer expectations.

Only by choosing to excel at manufacturing quality can any company hope to exceed expectations, grow a great reputation and attract new customers.

Quality audits and the improvements are the roadmaps to excel at exceeding customer expectations.

  • The majority of manufacturers have Statistical Process Control (SPC) processes in place to measure, monitor and improve manufacturing quality yet could be achieving more by taking a systematic approach to internal quality audits.
  • Manufacturing audits most often find Non-Compliance and Corrective Action/Preventative Action (CAPA) areas for improvement that once addressed lead to higher production yields and faster time-to-market.
  • Bringing an energized intensity to each phase of the Deming Cycle is essential if any audit is going to deliver lasting change in product quality.
  • Getting on a regular cadence of internal quality audits often uncovers areas for improvement across a diverse series of process and product-related areas including Supplier Quality Management (SQM), Document Control, Training, Production Scheduling, regulatory compliance and product returns.

The Best Internal Audits Always Keep Customers First

Non-conformance, Corrective Action/Preventative Action (CAPA), returns, reworked sales orders and rejected orders are early warning signs that customer relationships are at risk.

When designing any audit it’s important to take the quality metric or key performance indicator (KPI) that has a direct impact on customers.

The following are the key factors why the best internal audits always keep customers first:

The greatest strength of Six Sigma is improving business processes so they exceed customer expectations.

At the center of any excellent Six Sigma-based quality audit are a quantified definition of customers’ expectations and requirements.

Integral to Six Sigma is the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) methodology that provides a flexible framework for troubleshooting where processes are falling below customers’ expectations and which process improvements will make the greatest positive impact.

Committing to a strong and quickly deployed service recovery strategy based on internal audits creates credibility and customer goodwill.

Immediately after an internal audit is complete it’s time to launch a service recovery strategy to resolve the problems that led to the audit.

An example of service recovery strategy is providing a free year of maintenance on a product that may have quit working. The goal of service recovery strategy is to compensate customers for the time they lost due to poor product quality.

The urgency to excel for customers’ needs to drive the Deming Cycle in each audit until it becomes a core part of the quality DNA of any manufacturing operation.

Bringing an energized intensity to each phase of the Deming Cycle is essential if any audit is going to be a lasting change in product quality.

Defining and executing the PDCA (Plan, Do Check Act) approach to audits and improvements increases their chances of success. Over time this approach will engrain quality into the DNA of any manufacturer.

How To Do A Quality Audit That Tracks Improvements

The scope and scale of quality audits vary by type of manufacturer yet all share a common set of characteristics. The following are the lessons learned on how to do a successful quality audit:

1. Capture data on process and product areas that will be the focus of the audit.

The best data is from customers and the failures they are experiencing, coupled with internal data on specific products and workflows. Getting this data will help to define the scope and scale of the audit company-wide.

2. Define the audit goals, timing and type based on the data obtained from customers and company-wide.

Full-scale audits will include interviews with members of the manufacturing, operations, and supplier quality and product quality assurance. Define customer-centric audit goals taking into account the PDCA approach to solving product and process quality problems.

A critical success factor to any audit is setting accurate timeframes and schedules. Define the best possible audit timeframes matching the audit type to get the most valuable data possible is key to troubleshoot problems quickly.

3. Select a cross-functionally-based trained audit team and appoint a senior executive as champion.

A member of the senior management team can quickly remove roadblocks to getting audits done on time and delivering customer-driven results.

Having a cross-functional team brings the needed insights to quickly complete the audit and take action to alleviate the systematic and product-based challenges. If trained auditors are not available, create an Auditor Certification Program.

This program needs to include courses on the essentials of Quality Management Systems as defined by ISO-9000, audit execution, the role of an ISO Lead assessor, training in TQM, Business Process Mapping and other techniques to analyze and take action on quality data.

Auditor training also needs to cover embedded workflow functionality, workflow Gantt charts and document control.

4. Define audit modules and assign auditors to complete each according to the overall audit project plan.

Each audit module focuses on a specific product quality, workflow or business process area that contributes to the overall audit plan. It’s important to define a standardized approach or protocol to completing each of the audit modules so the data and insights captured are scalable and usable across all manufacturing operations.

5. Perform the plant audit on a module-by-module basis, designing the cadence and timeframes to meet ISO requirements.

The best internal audits are designed to capture interactions of manufacturing systems and processes. As a result they are scheduled for a specific time frame or duration. It’s important to have a schedule of module completion that guides internal audits to capture all available troubleshooting data.

6. Summarize the findings and propose a plan of action for solving the quality problems immediately.

The senior executive leading the audit team works with each author to summarize and provide a clear roadmap for improving product and process quality.

The audit champion also needs to define and take action on strategies to turn around the supplier quality, sourcing, and work floor quality levels to the work instruction level to solve the quality problems.

7. Audits often surface new metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide insights into a new area of process improvement and manufacturing quality.

Having auditors provide the most useful metrics and KPIs they found during their individualized audits and adding them to the manufacturing quality dashboard helps drive improvement.

Being able to use existing data to gain new insights is how manufacturers get on a journey of continually improving quality.

8. Using Six Sigma and DMAIC-based data to drive Manufacturing Intelligence and predictive analytics of where and how quality can be improved is an evolving best practice today.

The ability to quickly interpret and act on Manufacturing Intelligence is going to be the strongest competitive differentiation many companies will have in the coming decade.

Manufacturers have the opportunity to take quality management to a predictive level of performance by using Manufacturing Intelligence-based solutions to gain insights into Six Sigma-based data.

Quality Audit Whitepaper

For more than 25 years, IQMS has been designing and developing manufacturing ERP software for the repetitive, process and discrete industries. Today, IQMS provides a comprehensive real-time ERP software and MES solution to the automotive, medical, packaging, consumer goods and other manufacturing markets. The extended single-database enterprise software solution, EnterpriseIQ, offers a scalable system designed to grow with the client and complete business functionality, including accounting, quality control, supply chain, shop floor, CRM and eBusiness. With offices across North America, Europe and Asia, IQMS serves manufacturers around the world. For more information, please visit