If you were to ask me, I would say this is the most important clause within the standard.
If you did everything else, and you didn't complete improvement, or didn't do anything about improvement, I don't believe you're going get the real benefit of your system.
One of the key things for me about a management system, and about the activities that you do, as you would have heard me talking about in terms of risks, lessons learned, weaknesses, errors, all that sort of stuff that I spoke about through all the other sections, really brings you say ‘what you're going to do about all of that activity, all of that information you've got, particular this stuff that you analysed and got data on?
Ultimately what you want to do is improvement,
· you want to try and improve your processes,
· you want to try and improve on non-conformances,
· you want to try and improve on error, cost, wasted time
· you want to try and improve on your health and safety performance.
And it could be that this analysis that you've done has driven you down the route of putting improvements in additional areas, you might bring about investing in something, because it will minimise the impact of errors that you've identified.
There's no right or wrong way on how Improvement is done. It's just good practice to be able to demonstrate as a result of everything you've done up to this point, of the improvements you've put in place.
And of course, as part of that improvement activity, you want to also be able to demonstrate how well it's been, how successful it's been. That Plan, Do, Check, Act, is a cyclic type approach, it's looking for you to evaluate how well your improvements are doing, whether those improvements are on actions to address health and safety or environmental risks, or whether they are actions to improve upon increased error and the business.
Part of your internal audit process is significantly focused here. It's looking at how you can effectively take a contract, a job, a project and follow it through looking at changes, looking at how change management occurred, looking at the monitoring and measuring you do, the analysis of compliance, looking at the data that was gathered, what information that data gave you, and what actions were taken.
When we talk about improvement,
· it can be things referred to as lessons learned,
· it can be business process improvement,
· it can be fundamental production processes improvement,
· it could be the use of software to improve your services,
· it could be the use of software to make you more efficient internally.
As a result of that, you can walk through these as a part of an internal audit process, and see how these processes have linked to each other, and how the of the output of one has fed into the other. Ultimately, that improvement should then be able to result in evidence that things are going in the right direction.
When we talk about improvements, we have to think about what it is we're trying to do.
Often improvements can be associated to a reactive measure, something has gone wrong, and we need to correct it pretty quickly. It could be something that's been identified internally yourself, could be something that's just simply due to human error, or it could be as a result of being informed by a supplier, by a client or whatever that maybe, but it's basically a reactive measure, so something that's put in place pretty quickly.
It's important that when we put an improvement in that a reactive measure, that we recognize that it's ideally not a containment measure, and where it's a reactive improvement that we verify its long-term measure.
We then have to think about gradual improvement. Where these improvements are gradual, it's because they're investing in time to educate the workforce. They're investing in time to work with our supply chain, they’re investing in time to update the documentation to try and show people the benefit of what they've learned. They're not looking for things to improve overnight, what they want to see is a gradual, incremental improvement, a reduction in that scrap level, a reduction in the amount of error that occurs, relative to the investment that they've put in.
Then ultimately, we have creative improvement that can be born out of
· issues that have happened or data that we've analysed,
· information we've been provided from an external source
· internal engineering activity that allows us to be a little bit innovative and
· introduced engineering processes, engineering controls, that can improve upon our health and safety or improve upon our waste management.
It's just been a little bit creative that might drive that improvement.
I'll give you one really simple and quite effective improvement that I see as creative, it doesn't sound very creative, but actually the result of it, I thought, was quite impressive.
A fairly large electrical distribution company, it's part of their creative initiative to drive improvement in their environmental waste management. One of their warehousing guys realized an opportunity that what they were finding was most of their waste was based upon packaging.
They had stocks of large quantities of materials coming in and out of their facilities all the time. They were then downsizing those packages, storing them, repackaging them in smaller quantities and shipping them out.
The result of that was, that at that time, they were destroying the large packages that came in i.e. going through their waste management, paying money, and putting processes in place to control it. They were buying in boxes of the appropriate size for the repackaging, but importantly, they were also buying in foam packaging material, they were investing money in that.
The warehouse guy came up with a great initiative, he got a local small engineering company to create an industrial shredder for them and effectively it allowed them to run all of their cardboard, the material that came through from the supply chain, through this industrial shredder that injected some air into at the same time. Ultimately, it replaced them having to buy any packaging protective material for the cardboard and materials that came into them.
The result was
· they didn't have to pay for any of the cardboard to be handled through the waste control.
· They didn't have to buy the additional packaging material.
· They invested on a shredder and the return on investment happened within four months.
The last one is transformational.
These are where there are significant big improvements. You take over an organisation or organisation takes over you, there's been significant investment and a new board comes in and either invested lots of money or you are opening up another location or you're going into provide a different type of service or different products you're diversifying a little, there’s big change that goes on and big improvement.
But this big improvement can often come with risk, this is why I hark back to taking this back to the risks and opportunities. There could be quite significant opportunities as a result of transformational change, increase in funding and increase in turnover, increase in profit, increase in employee numbers, etc, but it can also have quite significant negative effect if it's not controlled properly.
In terms of non-conformance in corrective action, this also falls into here in the final end of improvement, purely associated to ensuring that where nonconformity and corrective action is required - and it can come from pretty much anywhere within the organisation - it's important to recognize the containment investigation, root cause, corrective action and preventative process. It is very common for organisations to stop at the collective action. It's very common for them not to look at whether it’s been successful.
One of the ways, to capture this is actually as part of your internal audit process.
If you use your internal audit process to look at effectiveness of corrective actions, or effectiveness of improvements, it's a great way of responding to demonstrate whether it's a preventative measure or not. It’s a good way of looking at if your investments in your corrective actions or your improvement activities are successful.
And your internal audit process is a fantastic way of doing that.