Stennis Uses Six Sigma Principles to Streamline Audit Processes
Stennis Space Center (SSC) dubbed it the “Year of the Audit.”
Starting in early 2013, within a 12-month period SSC hosted an Institutional, Facility and Operational Safety Audit; a Quality Audit, Assessment and Review; an Environmental Functional Review; and two International Organization for Standardization audits. It also performed 30 internal audits.
The extreme audit schedule brought to light redundancies and communication flaws.
“We weren’t using any of the data [from the external audits] to roll into our internal audits,” explained SSC Safety, Quality and Management Systems Division Chief Amy Rice. “The audit systems weren’t talking to each other. We weren’t using our full capabilities to be more efficient.”
SSC Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) leadership decided to use Six Sigma principles to identify redundancy and inefficiency within the center’s processes by having an independent black belt contractor assess the situation and run a kaizen event (a meeting devoted to improving the processes). The four-day event was run from April 22-25, 2013.
Stennis Deputy Director for SMA Maggie Jones served as champion for the effort.
“At some point you have to change the way you operate in order to improve efficiency,” she explained.
Through the event, SSC SMA leadership focused on the core problem and developed objectives and strategies for improvement. Their problem statement indicated that disparate audit, inspection, and surveillance processes were contributing to the center’s inability to identify leading indicators of potential safety and quality issues. The group created a value stream, targeting each step of the audit process for opportunities for improvement.
“I didn’t realize the full scope of the challenge until the kaizen event,” said Rice. “It was eye-opening how similar the functions [of the different audits] were.”
From this value stream, the participants identified seven key areas for improvement: the audit schedule, process documents, available resource pool, audit packages, audit checklists, Corrective Action Report (CAR) processes and CAR tracking systems. The participants established seven teams to take on each area of improvement.
Rice described her experience leading the team responsible for updating the audit process documents.
“Our goal was to have a single document for the disparate processes. Bringing [the various documents] together was a challenge,” said Rice. Her team was able to consolidate the documentation by using a requirement matrix, which had been developed by another task force within the group.
The teams streamlined the audit processes by
- Integrating four audit schedules into one
- Consolidating four audit documents into a single document
- Establishing a committed resource pool of volunteers
- Standardizing audit packages and audit terminology
- Creating an audit checklist template
- Introducing a new software system to better access audit metrics
“We did not reduce effort within SMA, but refocused our resources,” stated Jones.
Rice has been tasked with evaluating other areas at SSC that could benefit from a similar Six Sigma assessment, and SSC has shared their experience with the SMA directors of other centers.
“When you meet requirements and do it in a more efficient way, you can ultimately have cost savings and cost avoidance,” stated Karen Vander, Safety, Quality and Management Systems division lead. “We don’t want to compromise safety or quality at any level. We still are meeting requirements and being proactive about resolving indicators before they turn into real issues.”