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How understanding process interactions improves the AS9100 Rev D-based QMS

Within the requirements of AS9100 Rev D, there is a necessity to not only identify the sequence and interactions of the processes of your aerospace Quality Management System (QMS), but also to maintain this as documented information. While this requirement to understand your QMS processes and their interaction has been part of the AS9100 standard for a while, not everyone appreciates the importance of understanding the interaction between processes. It is in these interactions that savings and efficiencies can be found.

Exactly what is a process?

In the world of AS9100 Rev D, a process is any activity that takes inputs and turns them into outputs within your QMS. As the QMS is your collection of processes that exist to allow you to produce and deliver your products and services to meet your customers’ needs, these processes include everything needed to perform these tasks: order taking, procurement, design, production, delivery services, billing, and so on.

So, in short, a process looks like Input –> Process Activities –> Output. You need to understand these processes in order to control them adequately in your QMS, and most people understand this, but they fail to see what lies in the process linkages that can lead to problems:

What are process linkages?

It is more than just a line on a chart that links one process to another. When you start to lay out all of the processes that you have, you quickly find that the outputs from one process become the inputs to another process. It is these linkages that people often overlook in process control and improvement. As there are two aspects to the linkage of a problem, it is best to look at each separately.

  1. Inputs to the process: How do you know that the process that supplies you with your inputs understands what you need? If you are constantly searching for additional information, or need to reformat and interpret the information given, then this may not be the case. For instance, if the purchasing department receives a list of what needs to be procured from the contracts department, and this list is missing information that needs to be obtained from the contracts department, then this is inefficient in the best case scenario. If this missing information could cause the incorrect products or services to be procured, then its absence could even be an operational risk.
  2. Outputs of the process: Conversely, does your process understand what the next process requires of your output? Do you even know that your output is used by the next process? Unless your output is a record that is being stored to demonstrate the conformity of the process, it should be used somewhere in your QMS; if not, then why create that output in the first place? If you create reports that are never used, or have information that is not relevant, then your process is creating outputs that are not useful, which is a waste of resources.

As has been indicated above, not understanding your process linkages can lead to inefficiencies that can become costly and, as such, these interactions are a good place to find easy-to-fix continual improvement activities. However, when the process linkages are not aligned, so that mistakes could occur that lead to errors, then this is a risk that could affect the delivery of your products and services to customers.

For more on operational risk management in the QMS, see this article on 5 key elements of risk management in AS9100 Rev D.

Process linkages in continual improvement

One of the quality management principles behind the AS9100 QMS is the need for continual improvement, and improving your QMS processes is an important part of this activity. However, when you make changes to improve your processes, it is important to keep in mind how this will change your inputs and outputs. If your process improvement will end up eliminating the need for one of your inputs, make sure that the process that previously delivered this input stops creating it. This is often the source of the problem when a process creates an output that is never used.

Likewise, if your process improvement will end up changing your output, such as eliminating some information that was previously available, then make sure that this will not affect the ability of the next process to function. Remember – if a process change is easy for you, but creates more work in other processes than it saves in your process, then it is not really an improvement in the overall system.

Increasing quality by understanding process linkages

Understand your process linkages, and you can make your overall processes more efficient by improving the effect that one process has on the next process. By improving the process linkages, and ensuring that process linkages are maintained during process improvement, your QMS as a whole will be improved – which can lead to greater efficiency and cost savings. And, by knowing how the processes interact, you can also prevent situations where the improvement of one process negatively affects the processes that receive its inputs. Improvement of the overall QMS process is the main reason for having a Quality Management System, so understand your process linkages to increase the quality that your QMS process creates.

For a better understanding of process requirements, read this free white paper: Clause-by-clause explanation of AS9100 Rev D.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.