process approach

Do your customers hate you?

Here's a quick challenge and reality check to see how you're doing thus far with your organizational improvement goals.  Take an honest look at your customer-facing processes as if you were the customer. Better yet, actually WALK the customer trail. Put yourself in the driver's seat as if you are a customer and analyze the overall experience.  I'm not talking about "...but our company's internal data for defects per million shows that we're making pretty good parts".  I'm talking about taking a long, hard look at customer perception.  How does your customer perceive the overall quality, service and ease of doing business associated with their relationship with you? Have you seen the television show Undercover Boss? Yeah... do that. Customer satisfaction is not always about facts, figures and statistics.  Sometimes it's all about asking this simple question:  "Dear Mr. Customer - How likely is it that you would actually take the time to recommend me to a friend or colleague?" Think about all of the facets of going out do dinner. You judge your satisfaction with the restaurant based on 

Do you measure customer satisfaction by the number of customer complaints you have?

The lack of a formal customer complaint is not a reliable indicator that the customer is satisfied.  Customer complaints are more often a sign that the customer is so extremely dissatisfied that they feel obligated or angry enough to tell you about it.  What about the other portion of customers that simply turn and walk away?  In most business circumstances, by the time a customer has left you, its too late to regain their trust.  You've lost them and they're not coming back.  In fact, there are a certain set of customers that will spend their nights and weekends talking trash about you, your company and their horrible experiences in dealing with your sorry butt.

Ok... now that I've made you feel like a complete loser, let's at least have a little fun here.  Sit back, grab your cup of coffee and feel the pain associated with being a dissatisfied customer.

Want to gauge your customer's perception of you?  Here are some tips and techniques that we've seen work out in the real world:

SIMPLE & LOW COST:  Ask your customer to help you in getting 100% by partnering with you on the solution of 100% satisfaction.  Rather than asking "Is everything ok?", try asking "What would I have to do in order to receive an A+ or 100% rating?"  This approach invites the customer to give you pointers on improvement rather than the traditional invitation for feedback (i.e. "Y'all doing ok?").  By making it an "Us (you and your customer) against them (bad grades)" you create a partnering perspective with your customers in order to solve the puzzle (how to get an A+) together.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD:  Use a process to measure how likely your customers to "promote" your organization called by using a grading scale called the "Net Promoter Score".  Learn more about this process here.

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COMPLEX & HIGHER COST:  If you are in an organization that can spare a few more bucks, consider using a product like Online Survey Software from Qualtrics.  It is complex software on the back end but simple for your customers to complete on the front end.  Questionnaires and data from survey results are kept on a cloud for simple analysis, quick feedback on-going monitoring of key metrics.

ISO 9001:2015 Forum - October Webinar Posted!

Quality Professionals are invited to attend an open forum on expected changes to the ISO 9001:2015 International Standard. This forum is part of a series of updates from Charleston area subject-matter experts aimed at assisting organizations in their preparation of the upgrade to the new standard. The panel of experts will include veterans from various sectors such as automotive, aerospace, environmental and information security to discuss the potential impacts on various industry-specific standards (ISO/TS 16949, AS9100, ISO 14001, ISO 45001 and more).

Writing a Nonconformance (NCR)

NCR can find broken processes and really help with profit improvement "A problem well stated is a problem half solved." - Charles F. Kettering, American Inventor & Social Philosopher

The first step in solving a problem is to ensure you fully understand what the problem actually is. I regularly see horrible examples of this in practice inside some of the companies I work with. One classic example was in Atlanta, GA a few years ago. Here is the scenario...

Operations Manager: "What the h@!! is going on? Logistics has dropped the ball again! Our #1 line is down because they can't get their heads out of their a$$e$ and keep up with ordering the resin we need. This is our biggest customer!"

The scenario, at least in the mind of the Operations Manager, was that the Jack-Wagons working over in the Logistics Department simply couldn't count. I didn't buy it. In this case, as in most cases where suppositions seem a bit unlikely, I decided to do something I typically do during an audit - walk the audit trail by following the process upstream. This seems like such an obvious move... 1. There's a problem. 2. Walk the trail to find out the source. 3. Ask questions and "show me, show me, show me". HOWEVER, in many organizations, the minute an employee crosses the line into another department he/she is outside of their home turf. A defensive culture will likely breed a departmental approach (staying in your own neighborhood) versus a process approach. If you are not familiar with the process approach, you can learn more about this methodology here from a March 2011 post.

After walking the trail and crossing the territorial boundaries of Production into Scheduling and on to Logistics, I was able to trace back the material in the ERP system with the status "On Hand" and location "Op 120" -  which was the Molding Operations where I had started my hunt. After circling back around to the Operations Manager and hearing another string of Logistics bashing, I started to do some real snooping in the surrounding areas.

Standing at what I'd like to call the base camp of "Mount Unknown Product", I rolled up my sleeves like a eager bidder on Storage Wars and sifted through stacks of components, raw materials and residual miscellaneous. No luck there, although I noted the lack of control and visited that area later in the audit. After asking several questions of several Molding Operators, one of the ladies jumped in with "Oh yeah, that's probably that skid over there in the corner." Sure enough, the skid we were looking for was off in the corner with a simple 2"x2" yellow sticky label on it marked "BAD PRODUCT".

After pointing out to the Operations Manager that the source of the problem was likely one of his team members as opposed to those fools in Logistics, I asked him to consider a better solution. I then pointed out how I would be writing a Nonconformance Report for this finding, and how my nonconformance statement would clearly define the problem at hand. I jokingly stated, "If you want, I can write this NCR in a similar way as that sticky note? I can simply write 'Bad Process' and let you try to remember what I actually meant." He didn't think it was funny.

There were several missing links to the materials and inventory control process I observed during this audit; none that included someone coming to work deliberately trying to screw things up. Links that were obviously broken were the identification of product, controlling suspect or known nonconforming product, use of approved documentation and recording the instance of a nonconformity. An important transactional control was also missing, which was the signal used to notify Logistics that the parts were now unavailable. That signal should have been an ERP move from "Op 120" to "Op 120 Hold". That move to Op 120 Hold would have signaled the Logistics group to order another batch of components in order to keep the customer's order moving forward.

At the end of the day, the use of a simple 1-page Nonconformance Report (NCR) that forces the Originator to follow a simple process checklist (i.e. Yes/No - Did you move product out of IN PROCESS into a PRODUCT HOLD Operations?) may have prevented a late shipment. By the way, the company's poorest performing KPI (key process indicator) was "% On Time Delivery". This KPI was also tied to their variable compensation profit sharing process.

Nonconformance Report (NCR)

Here is an example of a simple NCR Form that may be useful in improving YOUR bonus payout. Click on the image to launch the product and view the PDF or download the native version. Who would have thought a simple form could make your customer and your wallet happier?


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White Paper: Strategic Planning

Download our latest White Paper Keys to Competitiveness using Strategy. In this paper you will learn the tools to begin to developing an organization strategy plan and use it as a foundation for setting your organization up for success. Here is an excerpt:

How important do you feel planning is to remain competitive? Do companies routinely take time to plan? Typically…no. (Ain’t nobody got time for that!) It is far more exciting to be reactive – to be the hero that solves the problem at the time of crisis. Whatever adrenaline rush you get from this, it is a poor way to run a business. Many of your competitors ARE planning. This puts you at a distinct disadvantage. However there are some companies are not planning. So applying this discipline gives you the competitive advantage over others.

It all starts with strong leadership.

Great leaders inspire others to greatness. They get more energy and creativity from their staff than complacent managers. They help create vision, urgency, discipline, and accountability – many keys to successful strategic planning. Leadership is needed for strategic plan development, strategic plan implementation, and strategic plan systematization.

You need to ask yourself this one question… Are you a strong leader that is ready for the strategic planning processes? 

To read the entire White Paper: Keys to Competitiveness Using Strategy you can download it here.

Turtle Diagrams

A "Turtle Diagram" is a quality tool used to visually display process characteristics such as inputs, outputs (expectations), criteria (metrics) and other high-level information to assist in the effective execution and improvement of key business processes.

March 27-28 | TS 16949 for Process Owners (16hrs)

ISO/TS 16949:2009 Standard for Process Owners (16hrs)

March 27-28, 2012  |  Charleston, SC

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Description:   This course caters to the process owners (top & middle management) within automotive manufacturing organizations who have a responsibility to demonstrate their commitment to the quality management system.   This course will teach process owners the value of the automotive process approach, an overview of how to use core tools as intended and the basics of ISO/TS 16949 compliance.  Case studies and scenarios make this course fun.  If you are looking for a course that will help your organization “live it” versus just “look it”, look no further.  This course is for you.

Designed for:  Process Owners (manufacturing, support and management processes), Internal Audit Team Members, Supplier Quality Engineers & Managers, Process Improvement Managers, Continuous Improvement Managers, Organizational Development Managers, Quality Engineers, Manufacturing Managers

Course Agenda

Day 1

  • Introduction & Welcome
  • Gathering of Student Goals & Expectations (CSRs)
  • Overview of ISO 9001 & ISO/TS 16949 – Part I
  • The Automotive Process Approach
  • Use of Turtle Diagrams for Process Mapping
  • Overview of ISO 9001 & ISO/TS 16949 – Part II

Day 2

  • Overview of ISO/TS 16949 Requirements
  • Deep Dive of ISO/TS 16949 Requirements – Clause 5.0, Management Responsibility
  • Lean Manufacturing – Simple Tools & Techniques
  • Problem Solving Techniques
  • CAPA – Corrective Action & Preventive Action
  • Student Goals & Expectations (Reviewed)

Download the Course Registration Form

For a full list of all training dates, visit:

Automotive Process Approach

The process approach is taking any activity, or set of activities, that uses resources to transform input to outputs.  For example, every day a restaurant tranforms a certain amount of energy and materials into creating a meal for it's customers.  The output of the process ---> the quality and efficiency of the meal + facility cleanliness + the dining experience + appropriate cost + other expected elements = meeting the desired results of the customers.

The systematic identification and management of the processes employed within an organization, and particularly the interactions between such processes, is referred to as the “process approach”.

Effective operations depend on:

  • identification and management of numerous interrelated processes
  • clear understanding for how processes interact
  • clear expectation of output from one process equals an input into another
  • clear communication of roles and responsibilities
  • an overall understanding of the big pictures (goals & objectives)

The automotive process approach is a requirement from the IATF Rules documents (ref. Rules for Achieving IATF Recognition: 3rd edition for ISO/TS 16949).  Automotive organizations must ensure that priority is given to:

  • questioning processes, the sequence and interactions, and performance against the measures defined
  • focus on processes which directly impact the customer
  • questioning the process objectives/targets, with focus on where targets are not being met
  • focus on issues that have the greatest impact on the customer
  • questioning what plans are in place to ensure targets are met
  • corrective action plans where objectives are not being met
  • following audit trails to linkages between customer concerns, performance against objectives and relevant process documents (e.g. control plan, FMEA, etc.),
  • questioning the clients' process for gathering, communicating and implementing customer-specific requirements

Focus on the customer.  Is the customer satisfied with their dining experience?  How can we do better tomorrow?

Focus on organizational performance.  Did we achieve, as a business, our organizational goals (i.e. make a profit, retain valued staff, satisfy regulatory requirements, etc.)?