by J.P. Russell:
This column is devoted to a review of ISO 19011 topics. In each issue of The Auditor, I’ll discuss a different topic and follow that with a quiz so readers may evaluate their understanding of the information. Readers are encouraged to share this column during short informal meetings with other auditors or interested parties, which I believe will result in more effective audits.
Clause 6—Performing the audit, is a major part of ISO 19011. The clause covers the typical audit activities for preparing, performing, reporting, and following up on an audit.
Before the meeting
An audit closing meeting is held to present the audit findings and conclusions. It may also be called an exit meeting. The time for the closing meeting was either determined at the opening meeting or was in included in the audit plan time schedule. However, it’s not uncommon for the closing meeting starting time to change. The meeting may be delayed to verify additional evidence or it may be moved up due to changes in scope or availability of information.
The team leader or lead auditor is expected to facilitate the meeting. It’s important that the meeting room is large enough to accommodate those attending, that the environment is suitable for the meeting, and that the appropriate equipment and materials are on hand. The lead auditor may want to verify the expected number attending the closing meeting with the auditee representative to avoid last minute delays due to lack of space or seating. For an on-site closing meeting, the audit team leader should arrange for the appropriate equipment such as a data projector or easel and pad. For remote or e-audits, meeting space may or may not be an issue if collaborative software is used. Reliable communication technology is very important for remote audits as well as the readiness of equipment such as a computer, microphones, cameras, and other devices.
The participants in the closing meeting should include members of auditee management and may include the audit client and other parties. Auditee management normally includes the auditee representative who coordinated the audit and may include those responsible for the functions or processes that were audited. Others may include audit team members or observers.
Before and/or during the closing meeting, the audit team leader should advise the auditee of situations encountered during the audit that may decrease the confidence that can be placed in the audit conclusions. This may be appropriate for several reasons, including limited access to areas due to safety or their confidential nature, information not available at the time of the investigation, language or culture issues, and so on.
There is no suggested length of time to allocate for the closing. Basically, allow enough time to present the findings and answer any questions.
The formality of the closing meeting can vary greatly depending on the type of audit, audit objectives, and relationship with the auditee. In general, internal process and system audit meetings can be less formal. Supplier or second-party audit meeting formalities will depend on the relationship (i.e., a partner as opposed to a more distant relationship) and purpose (such as periodic verification versus following up on problems). Third-party audit closing meetings tend to be formal.
The degree of detail of information provided at the closing meeting should be consistent with the familiarity of the auditee with the audit process. More details may include review of the process for collecting evidence, the method for determining findings, how findings are reported, auditee options for responding to findings, and expectations for following up.
For more formal closing meetings, there should be meeting minutes and a record of attendance. For internal audits, the closing meeting can be less formal and may consist solely of communicating the audit findings and audit conclusions.
As appropriate, the following should be explained to the auditee in the closing meeting:
- Advising that the audit evidence collected was based on a sample of the information available to the audit team
- The method of reporting, such as oral report at the closing meeting, draft or preliminary documented report, and the final report
- The process of handling of audit findings by the auditing organization and possible consequences as a result of the audit findings or failure to address findings in a timely fashion
- Presentation of the audit findings and conclusions in such a manner that they are understood and acknowledged by the auditee’s management
- Any related or relevant post-audit activities (e.g., implementation of corrective actions, audit complaint handling, or appeals process)
Presenting audit findings in such a manner that they are understood can be challenging for the audit team leader(s). Quality, safety, and environmental audits all have their technical language that may not be understood by all the participants at the exit meeting. Top management may not be familiar with some of the technical jargon, yet they are the ones who control the resources that will address audit findings. The audit team presenting the results at the closing should be aware of the diversity of the background of the participants.
Post-audit activities normally include action plans to address audit findings. Actions may be correction, remedial, or containment actions. Corrections are rework, re-grade, reject, repair, or release. Additionally, corrective action to prevent recurrence may be required by the auditing organization (third-party audit or supplier audit) or by the auditee organization for internal audits. If defined in the management system or by agreement with the audit client, the participants should agree on the time frame for an action plan to address audit findings.
Managers not familiar with the audit process may attempt to take over the closing meeting. Managers may want to utilize the resources at the meeting to generate solutions and put the audit behind them. A good practice is for auditors not to recommend corrective action solutions, both to avoid conflicts of interest and because they don’t have sufficient knowledge of the auditee processes and context of the organization. The audit team leader should maintain control of the meeting and perhaps suggest that it would be more appropriate for the auditee management personnel to meet after the closing meeting.
In some manner, the auditee management should acknowledge the findings reported. Acknowledgment does not mean agreement. Auditee management may acknowledge findings but reserve the right to disagree or appeal to the auditing organization to amend or rescind a finding.
Any diverging opinions regarding the audit findings or conclusions between the audit team and the auditee should be discussed and, if possible, resolved. The discussion can include review of the observation and the evidence (facts) collected. It may be appropriate for the audit team leader to agree to review additional information that may have been missed or not available. It’s best to not unduly delay the closing meeting. Depending on the amount and nature of any added information, the lead auditor may need to stop the closing meeting or agree to consider the information after the meeting ends. Unresolved issues can be avoided by ensuring the auditee representatives are kept informed of potential issues during the audit. If information to verify conformity to requirements is not available during the audit, the lack of availability issue must also be addressed by the auditee. Even if there is agreement regarding the information or facts collected, there could be disagreement regarding the interpretation of the requirement. If diverging opinions are not resolved, this should be recorded and included in the audit report.
If specified by the audit objectives, recommendations for improvements may be presented. Audit organizations may report possible improvements as opportunities for improvement, observations, suggestions, and other classifications understood by the auditing organization and auditee. It should be emphasized that recommendations are not binding by the auditing organization. For internal audits, it’s common for organizations to require follow-up of recommendations for improvement.
Recommendations for improvement should not be confused with recommendations for taking remedial or corrective action on findings. Most auditing organizations consider it poor practice for the audit team leader or audit team members to recommend corrective action for findings identified and reported. If a member of the audit team recommends a corrective action, auditees may think it is binding or believe it is in their best interests to do what the auditor instructed them to do. It also creates a conflict of interest for the auditor and perhaps the auditing organization.
A closing meeting is where the results—the output of the audit process—are reported. Although a closing meeting is required, the formality of the meeting varies depending on the type of audit and the audit objectives (purpose). The audit team leader should present the results in an effective manner. Audit results are inputs into the process for addressing findings and following up.
Please choose the best answer considering the guidance provided by ISO 19011.
- Who is expected to facilitate the closing meeting?
- audit team leader
- audit team as a group
- auditee management
- What should be the time frame for an action plan to address audit findings?
- mutually agreed
- determined by the auditing organization
- 30 days
- client stipulates
- What should the amount of detailed information provided at the closing meeting be based on?
- audit team leaders knowledge and background
- amount of time allocated for the closing meeting
- nature of the findings
- familiarity of the auditee with the audit process
- For internal audits, the closing meeting is less formal and may consist solely of… (complete the sentence).
- communicating the audit conclusions
- communicating the time frame for follow-up actions
- communicating the audit findings and audit conclusions
- communicating the audit has ended and the report will be provided later.
About the author
J.P. Russell is the founder and managing director of QualityWBT Center for Education. He is also is an ASQ fellow, ASQ-certified quality auditor, voting member of the ANSI/ASQ Z1 committee, member of the ASQ Z1 Auditing Committee, and member of the U.S. technical advisory group for ISO/TC 176. Russell is a recipient of the Paul Gauthier Award from the ASQ Audit Division and author of several ASQ Quality Press books about auditing, standards, and quality improvement.