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Denise Robitaille

Standards

Auditing as an Integral Part of the Business

Misconceptions about this quality system must abound.

Published: Tuesday, February 8, 2005 - 22:00

Occasionally, when I’m waiting for a flight, the small talk with fellow travelers will meander into discussions about the purpose of our respective trips. When I tell them that I’m on my way to conduct an audit, they immediately jump to the conclusion that I’m a certified public accountant (CPA) and that I’m going to be doing a financial audit.Despite the reality that more than 40,000 companies in North America hold certificates for ISO 9001 or a comparable quality management system standard, the quality auditing has still not made it into the mainstream of everyday business parlance. It doesn’t resonate as an integral component of good business practices. People in general—and managers in particular—still don’t comprehend the function of quality system auditors.

Persistent misconceptions include:

  • Auditing has to do with financial records.
  • An audit is an unpleasant but necessary event.
  • The role of an auditor is to uncover wrongdoing.

People’s first impulse when they hear the word audit is to think “IRS” or “CPA.” This is a significant indicator, especially because most of these individuals probably work in companies that have quality management systems. They have undoubtedly experienced internal audits or been interviewed by registrars. You would think that there would be a 50/50 shot that folks would say “quality system” rather than “financial” when the subject is broached. But, in their minds, auditing is still first and foremost an accounting function. Periodic internal audits are viewed as unimportant quality department mandates and are totally disassociated from the real business.

Because the word “audit” continues to be associated with the IRS, people have an almost visceral reaction to the entire concept. It’s filled with negative connotations ranging from waste of time to invasion of privacy to threat of penalty. Announcements of impending audits don’t bring glad tidings, only anticipations of dread. Internal auditors aren’t welcomed in many departments.

The other prevailing misconception is that auditors are investigators whose purpose it is to find problems and rout out troublemakers. More than once, I’ve had people express their disparaging opinion that an auditor will never conclude an audit without finding at least one nonconformance. It’s considered part of the job. In the minds of many, auditors are still perceived as the quality geeks who disrupt their work, imperil their jobs and make trouble.

Faced with such a staggering mountain of misunderstanding and loathing, is it any wonder that few managers can appreciate the value inherent in the audit process, or that they rarely champion the audit program among their peers?

Kevin Foley, in his soon-to-be released book, Meta Management, attributes part of this problem to the disparity between the educational levels for financial and QMS auditors and the subsequent lack of integrity associated with quality auditing. ISO 9001:2000 doesn’t mandate any particular level of training for internal auditors. As with all other functions, the requirements relative to training are left to the discretion of each organization.

It isn’t uncommon to find organizations whose internal auditors have had minimal training, often from another internal auditor. They learn the mechanics but rarely get additional instruction on theory, interviewing techniques, process approach, evaluation of findings, following audit trails or generating reports. Some never participate in post-audit activities such as verifications of corrective actions. Because of differences in training criteria and methodologies, the results of audits are predictably inconsistent.

Auditors are often full-time employees who have to squeeze the occasional audit into their already over-extended schedules. Some conduct audits so infrequently that they never truly develop the skills that only come with regular practice. Although some internal audit reports are detailed and informative, others are merely a grocery list of checked yes or no boxes. These disparities de-value the entire process in the eyes of those who should reap the most benefit: those in top management.

A factual approach to decision-making is one of the quality management principles underpinning the ISO 9000 family of standards. Managers need objective information to make decisions relative to planning and allocation of resources. Internal auditors can provide this information. Good audit reports will show what improvement initiatives have been successful and can be benchmarked in other areas. They will show what processes aren’t effective, where breakdowns occur and if there are risks of potential problems. They let top management know how well the system is doing in fulfilling the organizational goal of satisfying the customer.

Managers have to make a greater commitment to the effective implementation of the internal auditing process in order for audits to create value. They need to be visibly and vocally supportive of the audit program. They are responsible for ensuring that:

  • There are enough auditors.
  • Auditors receive adequate training.
  • Supervisors allocate time in their schedules so that internal auditors drawn from their departments can perform thorough and effective audits.
  • Audit reports receive appropriate consideration during management reviews.

Like any other facet of the organization, those in top management need to invest adequate time and money to ensure they get the best return on this investment.

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About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.