by Larry Whittington
Auditors are trained on how to ask interview questions but they may not be as well trained on how tell someone about a nonconforming situation. Let’s look at some examples of audit nonconformances:
- “You’re nonconforming. I’m going to have to write you up.” Well, the person isn’t nonconforming. This statement sounds like the person is defective and may need to be scrapped. It’s the process that’s nonconforming, not the person. Don’t make it personal by saying you will write the person up. You are fact-finding, not fault-finding. A better statement might have been, “Records show the process is not being performed according to the planned arrangements. Because the process requirements aren’t being met, this is a nonconformity.
- “You really screwed up this time. Better update your resume.” Again, don’t make it personal and especially don’t make it sound career-ending. An audit should be a penalty-free learning opportunity and a catalyst for improvement. A better statement might have been, “This activity is being performed differently than the applicable procedure. Unless there is an authorized reason for the difference, this is a nonconformity.”
- “This is a BIG problem. How do you spell your name?” Nonconformity statements should be written with reference to job titles, not individual names. Keep the focus on the process, not the
person. A better statement might have been: “This product is stored in a different location than called for by the work instruction. Unless this change has been approved, storing the product in the wrong location is a nonconformity.”
- “Why did you do it that way? Were you trained to cause problems?” Nonconformities are rarely caused on purpose. Don’t make things worse with attempts at sarcastic humor. You want the person to understand the problem, not become defensive. A better statement might have been: “The document is obsolete and not suitably marked to prevent its use as the current version. This is a nonconformity because the document control procedure is not being followed.”
- “What were you thinking? This is a serious violation.” A violation does sound serious, like a legal infraction. Will jail time be involved? Our choice of words can cause a person to react in a
negative manner. Don’t overstate the situation. A better statement might have been: “The procedure calls for a final product check before shipment. There are no records indicating this required activity was performed; therefore, it is a nonconformity.” Although these verbal restatements may be acceptable, the written versions would be reported with more details. The nonconformity report should state the specific requirement that’s not being met, as well as provide objective evidence that it is a nonconformity.
About the author
Larry Whittington is president of Whittington & Associates, a training, consulting, and auditing company founded in 1993 and located in Woodstock, Georgia. He is an Exemplar Global and IRCA-certified Lead Auditor and an ASQ-certified Quality Auditor and Software Quality Engineer.
Larry has developed requirements, implementation, documentation, and auditing courses used by multiple training firms and has taught hundreds of classes to thousands of students. His free monthly e-newsletter on quality and auditing topics has been published for more than ten years and is read by thousands of subscribers.