the past several months, registrar auditors strongly recommended to three former
or current clients that they develop and install turtle diagrams for each of their
processes. Two auditors from one registrar actually taught a former client how
to develop a turtle diagram during a surveillance audit.
In the stand-up quality comedy routine that I perform for ASQ’s section
meetings, conferences and corporate events, I reveal my sarcastic list of “seven
basic habits of highly effective registrar auditors.” Habit no.2 is, “Inform
the auditee that you aren’t allowed to give advice, and then give advice.”
I then reveal a double-billed cap, and say that, in the spirit of ISO 9001 clause
7.5.3, “Identification and traceability,” registrar auditors should
be required to identify their service at the time of provision.
So, when auditors are auditing, they should show the “auditor” side
of the cap. As soon as they start giving advice, they should flip the cap around
and show the word “consultant.” Registrar auditors must not give
advice, because by doing so, they lose their objectivity.
What is a turtle diagram?
Two registrar auditors suggested the turtle diagram format below. The typical
turtle diagram has inputs and outputs surrounding the process in question. How
does this diagram do what the procedure or agenda forms don’t? Such diagrams
defeat their own purpose—they aren’t written in process format.
For example, how do the three “support processes” and the two “linkages”
fit in, and when do they fit in? Furthermore, the document is written in batch
form rather than process flow.
Two registrar auditors developed this turtle
diagram during a surveillance audit for their clients. It is easy to see
how it would be helpful for the auditor and his report, but it isn’t
easy to see how this adds value to the company’s quality system.
Following is a more typical turtle diagram, containing the following sections
Each section contains a list of internal
information under that heading, listed in batches and in no particular process
Of the three companies that developed the turtle diagrams for their auditors, none of them have found any value in them. The diagrams aren’t
used to train employees or in any other capacity within the company. In some
case, they have even confused employees. They serve no value, except to the
Don’t change your quality management system (QMS) for your auditors. Change your QMS only to make your system more effective and then ensure
that it meets your standard requirement goals, not some auditor’s interpretation
Why do auditors suggest turtle diagrams
Because it makes their job easier. As part of the process auditing approach,they
need to show proof in their records that you have identified the inputs, outputs
and objectives of each process. If they can just copy your turtle diagram, their
job is lot easier and there is more time to talk about the weather.
If registrar auditors ask you to develop turtle diagrams or any other document:
1) Ask them to show where in the standard it says that you need such
2) Ask them to show you their own turtle diagrams, as examples, of the contract
review process used in your company, the auditing process currently being used,
the customer complaint process you might use and the issuance of the registration
process you expect to be used in the near future.
Does ISO 9001 require turtle diagrams?
No, it doesn’t. If you read the standard, you will find no reference
to a turtle diagram anywhere. In fact, the closest the standard comes to anything
that might be interpreted as a turtle diagram is in section 0.2, of the process
approach section: “An activity using resources, and managed
in order to enable the transformation of inputs into outputs, is considered
as a process. Often the output from one process directly forms the input into
the next.” This is a great definition, and it doesn’t state that
a turtle diagram must be drawn to demonstrate these processes.
Clause 4.1 of the general requirements section of ISO 9001 states, “The
organization shall a) identify the processes needed for the QMS and their application
throughout the organization b) determine the sequence and interaction of these
processes.” This can be done thousands of ways. There is no requirement
for a turtle diagram.
What is a procedure?
We all know the classical definition. It’s a document that explains who
does what, when and where. It’s a document that defines a process and
cuts across functional or departmental lines (whereas, a work instruction can
be done by one person or one department).
A well-written procedure will have most of the requirements of a turtle diagram
in the body of the document.
Below, is an excerpt out of a company’s process control procedure. Compare
the colored words in this procedure excerpt to the parts of the turtle diagrams
The “process name” is the title of the document, the “inputs”
and “outputs” are obvious when reading how the document flows from
one step to the next, and the “performance indicators” can be located
in the “purpose” section of this procedure, in a single objectives
and goals form, or in a balanced score card organized by process.
So what’s wrong with turtle diagrams?
They’re slow and wasteful, because they’re redundant. They are antilean.
The information in a turtle diagram should already be in your procedures. You
don’t need them, and they probably won’t be used. They only help
auditors to do their job, while adding complexity to your QMS.
Most QMSs are way too big and they’re growing larger, more complex and
nonuser-friendly. When entropy,the law of disorder, sets in and you have no
way to control it, and your auditor strongly suggests more documents, it further
complicates your QMS. If the QMS becomes too complex, it won’t be put
One of my clients, after reading my article on the “Two-Page Quality
Manual” hired me to reduce his corporate quality manual. His quality manual
was 75 pages in length. He had added a 20-page Six Sigma policy manual and,
at the Registrar’s suggestion, added 27 pages of turtle diagrams. When
I told the corporate management representative that his 27 turtle diagrams served
no value and they were probably not used at all within the company, he admitted
that this was correct. He had added them into the system primarily because of
the auditor. I eventually showed him how to reduce these referenced documents
from 122 pages to 5 pages, eliminating redundancy, not important content. By
simply getting rid of waste, his document is now user-friendly and meets all
the requirements of the standard.
Turtles move slow, and turtle diagrams make your system slower, because they
add waste to your QMS.
Lean quality systems
You need to ensure your QMS becomes lean. This doesn’t mean vague. It
means getting rid of the redundancy, of which you probably have a lot. No requirement,
specification, instruction or procedure should ever be repeated in another document.
Turtle diagrams are redundant. I’ve seen some companies repeat a specification
in five or six different places (e.g. print, work order, inspection sheet, control
plan and work instruction). In this chaotic system, anytime a change is made, some
documents don’t get changed as they should.
Your obligation as a quality manager is to do your job to ensure your QMS is
lean, useful and user-friendly.
Registrar auditors need to do their job
Regarding the client that received training on how to draw turtle diagrams from
two auditors I found out about this only after recently providing
them with internal auditor training. Five years ago, I consulted with them until
they got their registration. Since then this company hadn’t written a
single preventive action, had only two internal audit findings and they were
Registrars need to do their job by putting companies on probation or decertifying
them if they have major nonconformities. This is their job and they must uphold
the spirit of the standard, their true customer. They must stop consulting and
advising, and start auditing correctly to ensure that companies are truly qualified
to claim registration to a standard.
Use lean principles in your documentation system
In effect, some auditors’ advice encourages excessive nonvalue-added
documentation. Most auditors have had little or no training in lean and elimination
of waste. Anything or anyone encouraging waste (e.g. turtle diagrams or a 50-page
quality manual) is only encouraging ineffectiveness.
Many of you have allowed entropy into your QMS by blindly accepting whatever
auditors suggest. Remember that for any nonconformity written or advice given,
auditors have to quote a requirement that isn’t being met Simply ask them
to show you in the standard where turtle diagrams or a lengthy quality manual
It’s your responsibility to ensure an effective system. Effectiveness
is only possible when the system is easy to use. Look for the waste. Look for
the inefficiencies and the ineffectiveness within your system. Teach your internal
auditors about lean, value-added actions, value stream management, waste elimination,
5S, and quick changeover, so that they can help you achieve your goals.
About the author Mike Micklewright is president of QualityQuest Inc., a Chicago-based consulting, training and facilitation company specializing in lean, ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949, Six Sigma, and their integration. Micklewright is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, and quality manager. He holds a degree in general engineering from the University of Illinois and has worked in design, manufacturing, and quality engineering for the Saturn Corp. of General Motors and SeaquistPerfect Dispensing. Micklewright is a sought-after speaker and has had many articles published. He performs stand-up comedy in which he makes fun of the world of continual improvement and has developed, produced, acted in, and sells video training programs. As an actor, Mike has created a DVD tribute to W. Edwards Deming—The Deming Evangelist, which is available by clickinghere.