From the Head of Contractor Assurance: Understanding SLAC’s Contractor Assurance System

March 26, 2015

Last August, I joined SLAC as the laboratory’s contractor assurance manager. This is my first column since I was introduced to you all last year, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to provide an overview of what SLAC’s Contractor Assurance System (CAS) is all about.

Those of you who have read SLAC’s strategic plan have seen the logo that appears on page 5, which shows three linked circles symbolizing CAS at SLAC. The logo illustrates the integrated approach used by SLAC management, Stanford University and the Department of Energy to assure that the laboratory is performing and enabling its mission. In practical terms, this translates to all of us at SLAC, in that our CAS provides the framework and processes for how we manage everything at the laboratory. More formally, our CAS is the integrated suite of systems, processes and tools that allows us to make risk-informed decisions; know and demonstrate where we are and where we are going; actively look for, find and correct problems; and monitor and improve all aspects of laboratory performance.

In my introductory article last year, I likened CAS to driving a car on a road trip. Let me expand on that analogy to illustrate how CAS works. There are myriad things you need to do for a road trip to be successful. From a CAS perspective, you need to know your destination, the route you will follow and if there are any known or possible obstacles along the way. Then, while you are driving, you have to watch your gauges and your speed, signal your turns and avoid accidents. Although ideally you have been maintaining your car before the trip, you might have to stop along the way to check under the hood. If all goes reasonably well, eventually you arrive at your destination. For anything that didn’t turn out as planned along the way, you will apply what you learned from the experience and adjust for the return trip.

At SLAC, our “destination” is the sustainable achievement of our mission objectives, and CAS uses a continuous cycle, similar to the trip analogy I described above, to make sure the journey is a success. The cycle involves setting goals and evaluating risks, measuring progress, assessing our performance, taking actions to improve it, obtaining feedback, making adjustments and then repeating the cycle.

We use a variety of CAS-related processes and tools throughout this cycle. They include establishing goals in the Laboratory Agenda and cascading them into individual performance plans; managing risks via the Director’s Assurance Council; monitoring metrics with various dashboards; planning assessments in the Integrated Assessment Schedule; tracking improvements with the Action Tracking System; and making adjustments based on lessons we have learned along the way. To use another familiar analogy, our CAS cycle is similar to painting the Golden Gate Bridge; you never finish, but all the while you are painting, you are continuously enabling progress. In our case we are continually enabling SLAC to achieve its mission.

Now that I have described SLAC’s CAS, let me catch you up on a couple of things we are doing to help improve CAS across the laboratory. First, we have formed a small organization in the Director’s Office to manage our CAS core processes; it’s called the Contractor and Quality Assurance (CQA) Office. This office will collaborate with the CAS points of contact (POCs) within each directorate and in the Director’s Office. The CAS core staff and POCs will help facilitate the practical use of CAS tools and processes and can assist staff with CAS-related questions or issues.

Second, we have made it a priority to improve the usability and efficiency of the Action Tracking System (ATS) we use to track progress on managing issues. In the last few months, we have posted easy-to-follow instructions on the ATS home screen and taken other steps to substantially reduce the amount of time it takes to access and navigate the system. We will continue to make improvements to ATS and other CAS tools and processes throughout the year.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about SLAC’s assurance system. The CQA staff, CAS POCs and I all look forward to working with you as we strive to improve all aspects of the laboratory and deliver on our mission objectives