by Denise Robitaille
We spend a lot of time talking about individual auditors’ roles, responsibilities, and activities, etc. But we don’t devote sufficient time to discussing the performance of the audit team.
It’s indisputable that auditor competence is essential to the outcome of the audit process, and we can readily concede that a significant portion of audits are performed by a solo lead auditor. However, where there’s a need for multiple auditors, challenges must be addressed to ensure an effective audit.
The concept of teamwork is more than just a euphemistic nicety. Interactions between auditors, sharing of tasks and information, and decisions about what will go into the final report all contribute to ensuring a balanced audit that will achieve its two-fold purpose: to ensure conformance to an identified standard and to provide opportunities to correct the cause of problems and experience improvement.
Audit team performance: Plan and execute
What factors go into a successful audit team performance? Development of the audit plan is markedly different for an audit team as opposed to when there’s only one auditor. The plan must ensure that the workload is evenly assigned and that each auditor’s allotted time allows for adequate assessment. Care must be taken to ensure that two auditors aren’t scheduled to interview someone at the same time. For example, in smaller companies some people wear multiple hats. If the president of the company is also the purchasing agent, there’s no way that management review and purchasing can be audited at the same time.
Developing the audit plan isn’t terribly difficult, but it can be time consuming and laborious. Despite that fact, it’s a rudimentary and indispensable factor in ensuring teamwork.
There are some other important considerations that rarely get articulated. For example, as self-evident as it might seem, auditors need to be reminded that their notes must be legible. When there’s only one auditor, it’s not as critical. Generally, most of us can read our own handwriting. But, if you’re the lead assessor in an audit team of five, you need to be able to read everyone’s notes to generate the audit report.
Lunch breaks and end-of-day recaps should be used to compare notes and to review how the audit as a whole is going. Concerns should be aired—even minor ones. Sometimes, minor glitches that would normally receive a passing note in a report could be presumed to be isolated anomalies. During the audit team meeting, it might be discovered that comparable glitches have been observed in various areas. Processes that permeate the entire organization, such as document control and record retention, are two likely candidates for observing systemwide issues. In the absence of an end-of-day recap, the audit team might miss the fact that scattered anomalies reveal a systemic breakdown in the organization’s document control processes.
Conversely, discussions may reveal that the auditee has a untraditional method of controlling a certain process. The information gathered from one auditor may answer the concern raised by another team member, preventing the erroneous citing of a nonconformance.
This leads me to my next point. Auditors have got to communicate effectively with one another. One of the quality management principles relates to a systems approach to managing a quality management system. Everything is connected. What has been observed by one auditor may create an audit trail that needs to be picked up by another member of the team. If, for example, traceability of materials in the stock room relies on information requested during purchasing, the members of the team looking at these two processes have to compare the results of their unique assessments.
Finally, the team should speak with one voice to the auditee. The lead auditor should be the only one to tell the organization that the team has uncovered a major nonconformance. Individual members of the audit team should not presume to know what will be disclosed during the exit meeting or be included in the audit report. The integrity of the entire audit is undermined if the report conflicts with information that an individual auditor has prematurely communicated to the auditee.
When it comes to auditing, teamwork isn’t just a matter of making sure everything gets covered. The team’s expertise, judgment, and audit skills are pooled as a shared asset to ensure that the auditee gets the most benefit from the team’s shared effort.
About the author
Denise Robitaille is the author of several books on various quality topics. She’s an internationally recognized speaker who brings years of experience in business and industry to her work in the quality profession. As the principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped numerous companies in diverse fields to achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. Robitaille is vice chair of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She’s also a RABQSA-certified lead assessor, an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor, and a fellow of ASQ.
Her books include Root Cause Analysis, Document Control, The Management Review Handbook, The Preventive Action Handbook, and Managing Supplier-Related Processes, all published by Paton Professional. She also co-authored The Insiders’ Guide to ISO 9001:2008.
Her newest book, 9 Keys to Successful Audits, is available now.
Tags: audit team.