“Other people and companies have goals and objectives. We’re on a mission.” – Dana Newton, Quality Manager
It is the objective of most manufacturing operations to deliver a quality product to their customers. However, when your customers are America’s military men and women, “quality” takes on a whole new meaning. There is something different about the attitude towards quality when you know the lives of our soldiers is literally in your hands.
It’s a mission the people of Liteye take very seriously.
A Call to Serve
Liteye was started over twenty years ago by two entrepreneurs, Kenneth Geyer and Tom Scott, to deliver high quality surveillance systems to the market including to the Department of Defense. Then in 2014 an incident halfway around the world forever altered the trajectory of the company.
During routine surveillance in South Korea, an operator adjusted Liteye’s cameras and saw the skies around them were populated with drones. Realizing this could be a problem, the DoD reached out to Liteye for a solution.
Within two years Liteye, with their partners, deployed their Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect critical infrastructure and military men and women from drone attacks.
The system was so successful that following the Battle of Mosul against ISIS terrorists, the Iraqi Army said that the day the systems were deployed is the “day the drones stopped”.
In the eight years since, Liteye continues to supply their C-UAS systems to customers all over the globe, ensuring the safety of America’s war fighters.
The Liteye Way
From the very beginning, Geyer and Scott understood that their mission was building products to save lives and getting it right the first time was critical in fulfilling this mission. The highly skilled and motivated employees of Liteye understand the seriousness of what they do and it drives them to keep improving, keep innovating, and keep pushing Liteye to be the best within their industry.
Vice President of Communications Marya Mista sums up the “Liteye way” as ‘being patient about the right way to do things.’ This means having the integrity to say ‘no’ and turn down opportunities if the technology is not ready, is not up to their standards, or does not exist.
The importance of quality is woven into the daily habits at Liteye resulting in a culture that values innovation, agility, and improvement and the employee’s understanding and belief in quality ensures that these values are carried out in ways that support the company’s mission.
Jamie Rhone, Chief Procurement Officer, says it all starts at the top with Tom Scott, Chief Technology Officer. Scott is the first and last checkpoint when it comes to new product lines and product development. Nothing comes in without his buy-in and nothing leaves without his approval.
What makes Liteye different is what happens in the middle. In other companies, employees are charged with bringing the product to life, period, regardless of if they have concerns about the product, the technology, or even the ability to make it happen. At Liteye, because of the entrepreneurial culture and the focus on building relationships strong enough to have the hard conversations, employees are not only empowered but expected to stand up and speak their mind when they see things that aren’t right, see that a product isn’t going to meet Liteye standards, or see that the direction is straying from the company’s mission.
Relationships, Not Checkboxes
Liteye actively seeks to partner with the ‘best of the best’ in every business and operational area. While there are businesses that look to simply “check the boxes” for their ISO 9001 processes, at Liteye they believe that a successful Quality Management System (QMS) goes far beyond that. Nothing illustrates this more than the relationships Liteye has built with their suppliers.
As entrepreneurs, the co-founders of Liteye understand what it’s like trying to break into an industry. As the new kid on the block, you may not have the reputation or the certifications to be taken seriously by the big players. Instead of looking for the most qualified suppliers who may “check all the boxes”, they look for those who can deliver on time, on cost, and on quality, regardless of certification. And for those suppliers that may not have all their certifications, the team at Liteye will mentor, coach, and lead those businesses just as other businesses did when Liteye was just getting started.
Building these relationships and integrating this philosophy into their Supplier Qualification and Management process allows Liteye to have the difficult conversations with their suppliers without sacrificing the quality of their partnerships. While most businesses would jettison struggling suppliers without hesitation, Liteye understands the importance of building lasting relationships and invests in their suppliers so they both can be successful.
Staying Agile with ISO 9001
“We provide services people need and we’re not afraid to break the rules to make it happen – Dana Newton”
Instead of looking at ISO 9001 as a rigid framework that inhibits innovation and agility, the people of Liteye see it as the framework that keeps them focused and on track. With the team at Cavendish Scott, Liteye has found an expert partner able to help them create and refine their ISO 9001 program, allowing Liteye to remain agile in an ever-changing industry without sacrificing the quality of the products and services they provide.
Newton describes the QMS as the skeleton inside the company’s ‘body’. Take away the body (product and people) and all you have is a skeleton. Take away the skeleton, and all you have is a formless body. The two parts work symbiotically to form a fully functional organization. Staying agile while maintaining their quality standards means that Liteye will not ‘remove a femur’ to meet goals but might ‘sprain an ankle’ from time to time. And if that ankle sprain is documented, it can be evaluated and even possibly integrated into current policies, processes, and procedures as continuous improvement, a point reinforced by the team at Cavendish Scott.
A Fresh Set of Eyes
“Sometimes you don’t know the water is getting murky while you’re swimming in it. Cavendish Scott is like the chlorine that brings us clarity. It burns, but it makes you better.”
Newton’s philosophy about quality is ‘incremental improvement every day.’ When an organization has a laser focus on continuous improvement, finding partners who are willing to not only go along on the journey with you but push you to continuously get better is imperative. When Liteye partnered with Cavendish Scott over a decade ago, they found a partner who fits the profile. There are ISO auditors that will look your business and your QMS over, give you some observations and non-conformances, and then be merrily on their way until next time. Not so with the team at Cavendish Scott. Emily Myers and her team are committed to ensuring their client’s success. The team from Liteye say that Myers and her team are very knowledgeable, experienced, and intentional about helping Liteye improve their QMS from where they are to where they need to be. It’s this level of service that set the team from Cavendish Scott apart and is one reason their relationship with Liteye is so strong.
The challenge with any ISO program is that eventually it can become routine to the point of being ineffective. Rhone compared it to having a sore ankle and how, after time, you may not even notice that you begin to compensate for the pain by developing a limp. Both Rhone and Newton say that having Cavendish Scott perform their Internal Audits is like going to the doctor. The doctor will notice and examine the limp, determine the root cause, and then prescribe a treatment to heal the limp.
With their depth and breadth of experience and knowledge, Newton says that the team at Cavendish Scott have helped Liteye grow and improve their QMS and exposed weaknesses they may not have found on their own.
A big part of ensuring Liteye’s success is helping them understand the importance of ownership of their Quality Management System. In Liteye’s last audit, Emily was asked for a sample policy. She responded with “It does me no good to give you a sample. You need to do it for Liteye. You need to come up with a Liteye standard. It means more if you do it and create it.” Myers and her team’s reinforcement of the importance of ownership has had a significant impact on how the employees think about quality, resulting in the employees of Liteye consistently focusing on ways to increase and improve quality across the company.
When asked if there was a difference between earlier in-person audits and the past 3 years of virtual audits, Newton said that there was none. Even in a virtual environment, Myers and her team audited every part of their management system and were not satisfied until they had ample evidence of their conformance to the standard and policy alignment with Liteye’s company goals and aims.
Part of the Family
A strong relationship between auditor and auditee is vital for a company’s success in managing their ISO program. And when the auditors are so much a part of your ‘family’ that they can speak to you in the language of your company’s culture, so much the better. The relationship between Liteye and Cavendish Scott is an example of that type of relationship.