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The F.P. Horak Co.--No Major Announcements

March 1998
Editor's Note: This is the 14th installment in the monthly series on The F.P. Horak Co., a Bay City, MI-based printing firm pursuing ISO 9002 registration.

During an ISO audit, one major non-compliance can mean the difference between success and failure. That doesn't leave much room for mistakes.

Fortunately, The F.P. Horak has remained largely within compliance (knock wood) so far. A recent pre-assessment failed to uncover any serious errors in Horak's quality system.

The company finds comfort in the fact that the registrar representative walked away from the pre-assessment without any worries. Still, Horak remains vigilant against major non-compliances. After all, the pre-assessment was only a precursor to the true test. With the actual audit only weeks away, Horak's employees are not letting their guard down.

The Moment of Truth
Horak has spent more than a year preparing for the ISO 9002 audit. The company has trained workers, invested thousands of dollars and treated a few cases of writer's cramp that employees suffered while filling out records. And Kevin Krzyminski, for one, is not about to allow all of that time, effort and money to go to waste.

As the audit draws closer, Krzyminski will spend his days rallying the troops. He's reminding workers of the policies and procedures they must follow. "I'm trying to force habits," he says.

For Horak's latest newsletter, Krzyminski contributed an article explaining what employees should expect during the certification audit. He provided a list of sample questions that the auditors might ask. He also offered some helpful advice. For example, when asked a question, don't be defensive; the auditors are measuring the quality system, not you. And don't be misleading; be honest and concise.

"Don't offer more than you're asked," Krzyminski warns. "If you don't understand the question, ask them to clarify it. And if you don't know, tell them 'I don't know, but I know to contact my supervisor or the management rep if I have a problem with quality.' "

These replies are safer than guessing. Employees who struggle to answer confusing questions could jeopardize their company's chances.

"The auditors may ask you about something that is not within your responsibility," Krzyminski continues. "So don't try to tell them what you think they want to hear." After all, a wrong answer could result in non-compliance.

A Two-day Stay
Two auditors from Global Registrar (GRI) will be stopping by Horak's facility. They will conduct the audit over the course of two days, visiting the plant periodically throughout its three shifts. At the end of the second day, when the audit is finished, they will decide whether to recommend Horak for ISO 9002 registration.

Even if the auditors discover a major non-compliance, Horak still may receive a recommendation. A company can fix a major non-compliance while the auditors are still at the site. A company can also fix a minor. That's important, since three minor non-compliances within a single element equals a major. Solve one, and you're left with two—and two minors, even within a single element, generally won't cost a company ISO registration.

While a company can patch holes in the quality system during the audit, it must complete all work before the audit ends. If auditors mark up a major non-compliance two hours before they are scheduled to leave, the company could be in trouble. Most majors—such as missing documentation or inadequate training—can't be corrected in a few hours.

Up All Night
Fortunately, if the auditors catch the problem early enough, a company may have enough time to comply. In Horak's case, the auditors will be spending two days at the plant. So if they point out any major non-compliances on the first day, Horak still has a shot at beating the clock.

All-nighters are not uncommon during certification audits. With so much at stake, companies will go to extremes to earn the coveted recommendation. Fix a problem quickly, show the auditors your results, and they will label your company compliant.

"I have heard through my travels of a company that had a major happen, and the auditors found it on the first day," Krzyminski offers. "The president of the company made a mandate, saying, 'Nobody's leaving until we get it corrected.' "

When the auditors returned the next morning, they found that the company's employees were wearing the clothes from the day before. They had worked straight through the night, rewriting procedures and training.

Krzyminski is willing to sacrifice sleep for ISO registration. "I am fully prepared to do whatever it takes to resolve any problems," he says. "I will burn some midnight oil."

—Jerry Janda

Next month: In the final installment, The F.P. Horak Co. undergoes the ISO 9002 audit. Join us as we find out if the company's careful planning and preparation paid off.


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