by Denise Robitaille
Several issues back I did a piece on tips I’d gathered after observing a new group of trainees go through their initial internal audits. Since then, I’ve conducted several other trainings and have amassed another list of helpful hints prompted by my students. Some of them are good points that bear reminding for all of us.
Here they are in no particular order:
- Some people have a dread of any and all interviewers. They get nervous no matter how mild mannered and nonconfrontational you attempt to be. If there are several individuals in the area who perform the same function, select another person to interview. However, if this is the only person who can answer your questions, you have no choice but to conduct the interview. Stay the course, ask your questions, be thorough, and leave as quickly as you can.
- If the company runs multiple shifts, it’s appropriate to find out if there are activities that occur on the other shifts that affect the auditee’s process. If this is the case, the records of the hand-off from the previous shift can be critical, especially if the authorizing signatories are off-site and not available—like in the middle of the night. Example: “What happens if you go to run a job at midnight and you realize that some of the required sign-offs from the previous shift are missing?”
- Auditors don’t have too much difficulty observing when steps that are documented in a procedure have been missed. However, they’re less likely to pick up on important activities that have not been properly documented. Tribal knowledge is often lost when members leave or are reassigned. It’s appropriate to ask a) whether everyone is implementing the undocumented process in the same way, and b) in the absence of documentation, if there’s a risk that someone could make a mistake or miss an important step because it’s not documented.
- Try not to sit opposite the auditees if you’re planning on reviewing a document with them. One of you will end up trying to read upside-down. It may sound trivial, but avoiding even small awkward moments facilitates the audit process.
- If they say: “We don’t use that form anymore,” ask them what form they are currently using, how if differs from the old form, and what prompted the changes. If you have the opportunity, get samples of both, compare them, and determine if the process continues to be controlled—or, if it’s actually improved.
- If you’d like to watch a process or activity that’s not currently being done, it’s not unreasonable to ask if they could possibly perform the activity now. Examples: “Can you show me how you would test the sample?” or “Are there any unopened packages so that I can observe the receiving process?” If it’s an activity that is rarely performed or takes more than 15 minutes, then asking them to interrupt their schedule is burdensome and inappropriate. But if it can be done quickly without adversely affecting their workflow, then it’s a reasonable request.
- Avoid the Columbo moments: “Oh, just one more thing…” Once you’ve concluded the audit, said thank you, and started to walk away, the audit is over.
About the author
Denise E. Robitaille is an active member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She is also principal of Robitaille Associates, committed to making your quality system meaningful. Through training, Robitaille helps you turn audits, corrective actions, management reviews, and processes of implementing ISO 9001 into value-added features of your company. She’s an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor, ASQ-certified quality auditor, and ASQ Fellow. She’s the author of numerous articles and many books, including The Corrective Action Handbook and The Preventive Action Handbook, and a co-author of The Insider’s Guide to ISO 9001:2008, all published by Paton Professional.