by Denise Robitaille
Maybe I’m becoming an old fart. You know, one of those tiresome wags who want to relive the glory days when everything was so much better. We worked harder, had more integrity, climbed the tallest mountains without use of oxygen canisters, blah, blah, blah.
I’ve recently made the mistake of following a couple of blogs related to quality auditing. This, I’ve discovered, is not healthy for my blood pressure or overall stress level. There is so much misinformation swirling around in the cyber ether that it’s astounding we’ve been able to maintain any semblance of credibility for the audit profession.
With the revitalization of the economy, and, as people get rehired into quality roles, there’s a new wave of auditors being trained. These trainees and newly anointed assessors are genuinely looking to some of these bloggers for guidance. I welcome their questions. We want them to understand what auditing is all about. There’s still a lot of negative baggage surrounding auditing. It would be nice if this new crop of auditors were to get off on the right foot—without baggage and with a clear understanding of auditing fundamentals.
There are scores of pundits who are desperately anxious to fill the knowledge void. Unfortunately, not all of them have the best answers. There are some seizing the opportunity to advance their personal agendas through the introduction of their concepts and models for auditing. They use all the current buzz terms like “value added” and “lean.” They aren’t always forthcoming about the fact that the theories they’re spouting aren’t grounded in accepted audit practice or philosophy.
Then there are the folks who’ve never understood auditing and perpetuate the practice of using audits as thinly veiled witch hunts. They personify the fearmongers who have held sway over the profession for years.
Finally, there are the auditors who are very good at what they do but aren’t particularly good teachers or writers. They create additional confusion because they can’t explain the fundamentals of auditing very clearly. However, they have been lulled into thinking that a presence in the blogosphere is considered to be forward thinking—even if they have nothing of value to say or aren’t very good at written expression.
The result is that instead of grabbing this opportunity to teach the next generation of auditors—hopefully ushering in an era in which audits will be valued and utilized as the organizational assets that they are—we will end up with the same old stuff. We’ll have weak auditors who fall back on the blame game, individuals who think that auditing is the testing ground for untried ideas, and wannabe consultants.
So, let’s reiterate some of the auditing basics.
Quality auditing is a process for assessing conformance to defined requirements found in standards, organizational procedures, and customer specifications. An audit is not an investigation. A well-trained auditor should be able to amass adequate objective evidence to reasonably and confidently conclude that processes and/or the quality management system conform to requirements and are effective in fulfillment of defined requirements and goals. That’s not the same as saying they’re flawless.
There is no consulting in auditing. Top management may ask internal auditors to participate in corrective actions after the conclusion of the audit. Especially in small companies, it’s often difficult and counter-productive to exclude people. However, it’s important to remember that the audit function is not (and should not be) responsible for root cause analysis or suggesting solutions to nonconformances.
The word “should” shouldn’t appear in an audit report. Example: “The auditee should consider adding a column to the record retention matrix to indicate method of retrieval.” Either it’s a finding because the requirement hasn’t been addressed or it’s an opportunity for improvement because the company has addressed it, but it’s kind of confusing or difficult to find. In either case it’s outside of the auditor’s purview to suggest how to solve the issue.
There is also no negotiating in an audit. Something is either a nonconformance or it’s not. Dozens of individuals have tried to come up with ideas to enhance the quality of audits. What actions should be taken to improve auditing? Go back to the auditing basics:
- Make sure auditors are properly trained.
- Ensure that auditors maintain objectivity.
- Plan your audits.
- Give auditors the time they need to prepare, conduct the audits, and write a comprehensive report.
Finally, stop trying to morph an internal audit into something it was never intended to be.
About the author
Denise Robitaille is the author of 10 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 The Corrective Action Handbook, The Management Review Handbook, The Preventive Action Handbook, Root Cause Analysis, Managing Supplier-Related Processes, and Document Control, all published by Paton Professional. She also co-authored The Insiders’ Guide to ISO 9001:2008.