The Lean Six Sigma (LSS) system audit (SA) has become popular due to its ability to identify issues across both internal company functions and external customer experiences. It does so by ensuring every part of the system works perfectly together without causing disruptions. As business processes become more complex, it becomes even more important to have a system audit in place as part of your LSS toolkit.

Overview: What is a Lean Six Sigma system audit?

A system audit is an examination of a system to understand how it works in order to identify areas for improving processes. It uses objective evidence rather than subjective opinions to prevent business leaders from having to guess at where there might be room for improvements — instead they can see exactly how systems are running by using the data from their employees’ day-to-day work experiences.

3 benefits of a system audit

An SA is such an integral part of the LSS methodology because of what it is designed to accomplish; thusly, the potential for benefits is high. Those benefits include the following.

1. Increased efficiency

When a system is audited, it allows those within the system to see where improvements can be made, resulting in more efficient productivity.

2. Improved quality

An SA also allows for an examination of quality control processes. If any issues are found, they can be addressed and corrected quickly, before they have a negative impact on the product or service being offered.

3. Enhanced customer experiences

When improvements are implemented, customers benefit from faster turnaround times, improved product quality, and greater satisfaction.

It is worth cautioning that SAs can be costly and time-consuming if not done properly. It is important that those who conduct the audits understand the principles behind LSS so that they can make the most effective use of this tool.

Why are system audits important to understand?

SAs are designed to accomplish several important goals. It is important to understand how they work and how to utilize them so that those goals can be reached.

1. Removal of ambiguity or confusion

When everyone understands their role and what is expected of them, they can be more productive; having an SA in place makes it much easier to not only see where improvements can be made, but also what changes need to be implemented. Most importantly, there is better communication between different teams and different departments that are working toward the same goal.

2. Error reduction or eradication

The chances of errors happening are reduced or removed altogether. In the event they do happen, the system is in place to help correct them quickly and effectively. This saves time and money — two things that are extremely valuable to any business.

3. Current and accurate data

When done right, SAs are a living document that teams will use for years to come. These audits are not something that can be set up and forgotten; they need to be monitored, updated when necessary, and used as a resource for teams to reference when they need it. This means they are always current, and the resulting data is always accurate.

The ability to operate at this level — with these goals having been achieved and then continuing to drive processes — is directly responsible for the level of success the business will see. This is why SAs are critically important.

An industry example of system audit practices

AbbVie is a global biopharmaceutical company that separated from Abbott Labs back in 2013. The nature of its industry is such that system audits are required and heavily regulated, and AbbVie has not only embraced these requirements, it has also used its company philosophy to expand on them, ensuring compliance in a way that truly sets the company apart from its competition.

The company has implemented two key business practices, both of which contribute to why it is a leader in its industry.

First, it maintains a constant and current awareness of the external industry environment. A dedicated team stays focused on external projects and facilitates communications with peers and networks outside of the company. Keeping abreast of what is happening outside allows AbbVie to adjust and adapt how it audits its own internal systems. As risk assessment evolves, its systems evolve with it.

Second, the company eschews common practice and involves its internal auditing team — along with all other departments — in projects and initiatives from the onset. AbbVie has set up this team to function from a place of collaboration and relationship-building, allowing it to audit its systems in real time and catch mistakes before they happen.

3 best practices when thinking about the system audit

1. Establish an SA team

The SA team should be composed of individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to conduct audits of this nature. This group should be trained on LSS audit best practices and methodologies in order to ensure that they are conducting them in a consistent and accurate manner.

2. Define the SA scope

The scope should be clearly defined and agreed upon by the SA team prior to beginning the audit. This will help ensure that it is conducted in a comprehensive manner.

3. Hold SAs in a consistent manner, at least once per year

SAs should be conducted on an annual basis, at least, in order to ensure that the system is functioning as intended and identify any potential improvements that can be made. By conducting audits in a consistent manner, they can become more effective and efficient over time.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about system audits

1. What is the purpose of an SA?
SAs provide a comprehensive view of all systems and processes within an organization. They help to identify areas where improvements can be made, and help to ensure that all systems are working together effectively.

2. What is the difference between an SA and a process audit?
SAs focus on the system as a whole, while process audits focus on specific processes within the system. Process audits are typically used to identify and correct specific problems, while SAs are used to improve the overall system.

3. What is the difference between an SA and system optimization?
SAs are typically used to identify potential system problems, while system optimization is the process of making changes to the system in order to improve performance. System optimization is typically used to correct problems that have already been identified by SAs.

Increasing need for the system audit

As business processes become more complex, SAs are becoming increasingly important to ensure everything is running smoothly across all teams involved in executing a given system. They are an effective solution to address communication issues or inefficiencies across teams or processes because they are always relevant. Designed to adapt to the changing landscape, a properly executed audit will always help identify where problems exist and how to fix them.

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