by Denise Robitaille
Whenever I conduct an in-house internal auditor training, I incorporate several practicums into the course. The students get to use the tools and lessons in real-time. Unlike exercises that teach skills and increase understanding, these practicums serve to immerse the students in the audit experience. It also nets the organization a thorough internal audit conducted by a fresh set of eyes.
Every organization is different. Although there’s a standard curriculum, it’s inevitable that some aspects of the course will be tailored to the internal culture of the organization. There are also time constraints, making it possible—even necessary—to abridge some modules or inadvertently miss an important point. There’s a lot to auditing—more than many people realize.
To address these potential lapses and omissions, I’ve developed the practice of taking notes as I observe the auditors on their fledgling foray into the audit world. I note what they’ve done well, where they could have probed more deeply, how they might have rephrased a question, and how they might have followed an audit trail. Then, after they’ve completed their practicums, we have a debrief session.
This session allows me to reiterate important points, impart insight into the nuances of some audit techniques, and fill in the gaps for things that may have been omitted during the training. It also gives the students an opportunity to ask questions that couldn’t have possibly occurred to them until after they’d conducted a real audit.
Over the course of multiple trainings I’ve amassed a list of some of the points that seem to come up more frequently.
- Don’t assume you know what the auditee will say. Due to the intimacy inherent in small organizations, there’s a tendency to presume to know the answer to a question before it is asked. Resist the urge to complete the auditee’s sentence or to omit questions because you already expect the answers to be OK. Ask the question, wait for the answer, and request to look at any documents and records that provide evidence substantiating what was said. You don’t know everything. Things may have changed that you’re not aware of. Many lapses and errors get discovered using this approach.
- If you have information about an impending change, this is not the time to share it with the auditee. You are auditing the process as it is implemented on the day of the audit. Saying, “Don’t worry about the way you’re doing this because we’re rolling out new software next month” is inappropriate. If there’s a problem with the way the process is currently being conducted, including this information in the audit report may actually allow the organization to anticipate problems with the changeover or indicate a need for more training than had originally been expected. There is also the possibility that the planned upgrade may be delayed and you are disseminating incorrect information.
- Don’t be afraid to ask additional questions if you don’t understand the response you’ve received. The purpose of the audit is to arrive at an objective conclusion as to the level of conformance and effectiveness of processes. You can’t achieve that goal if you don’t have a clear picture of how the process is implemented and controlled. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that the auditees are co-workers. Let them know that you are simply following standard auditing practices, hopefully to improve the organization.
- Use the “show me” approach. Ask them to demonstrate a process and the corresponding documentation. This sometimes takes the edge off an audit that may otherwise feel like an interrogation.
- Finally, relax. No one does a great job with a first audit. It takes practice to hone your audit skills. Eventually, you’ll be able to pass some of these tips off to new auditors.
About the author
Denise Robitaille is a member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She is 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 several books, including The Corrective Action Handbook, The Preventive Action Handbook, and her latest book, 9 Keys to Successful Audits, all published by Paton Professional.