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Denise Robitaille


Dress Rehearsal


Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - 22:00

I recently had a client who went through a pre-assessment in anticipation of his company’s certification audit. It’s kind of like a dress rehearsal for the real thing. Over the years, I’ve discovered that organizations tend to garner more value from pre-assessments than I had originally thought possible.

I’m often asked about the pros and cons of pre-assessments. My inclination was always to perceive them as superfluous. They cost money, consume precious time, and confirm what you should have already been able to learn from your own internal audits. However, the value that others attach to pre-assessments has required me to rethink my position.

The cost associated with a pre-assessment is an irrefutable fact, as is the time commitment. But, like all other expenditures, it’s worth examining the return on investment. Why would anyone want a dress rehearsal for an audit?

Organizations place a great deal of importance on their ISO 9001 certification. That’s not unreasonable, considering the burgeoning numbers of customers who are using certification as minimum criteria for companies to become qualified suppliers and do business with them. If a giant new contract hangs on the results of the audit, having a glowing audit report isn’t just a feel-good event. It can be a business buster. Management doesn’t want any ugly surprises that could imperil their achievement of the Holy Grail.

So, theoretically, any major nonconformances should become apparent during the pre-assessment, mitigating the risk of a quality management system meltdown and allowing plenty of time to correct the situation before the big show.

Certification audits can be terrifying for some individuals. The inevitable trepidation that often accompanies the audit can cause them to respond in halting sentences with incomplete or poorly worded answers that leave the impression that they don’t know their jobs. They have trouble finding their work instructions, drop their tools, and forget the hallowed quality policy. Having a dry-run gives them a chance to shake out their jitters and improve their performance during the audit.

A set of objective eyes will also catch the nonconformances that have eluded the will intended apprentice internal auditors, again increasing the probability of a successful certification audit. And, there’s the added benefit of the improvement that should come from fixing the problems.

When conducting pre-assessments, auditors also tend to be more aggressive when citing nonconformances. This is particularly useful in those instances when the auditee doesn’t appear to be taking the conformity assessment process seriously. Most organizations do eventually get certified, but not all of them succeed on the first attempt. Major nonconformances do get written up, usually when an organization has been complacent about some requirements and individuals have deluded themselves into thinking they can fast talk their way around them. In some cases a pre-assessment can serve as a needed wake-up call.

So, I suppose pre-assessment do have a place in the conformity assessment business. If you’re contemplating paying for one, consider several factors. If you have a consultant, ask him or her for their opinion. They should give you a balanced response weighing the pros and cons for your particular organization. Read the results of your own internal audits and review the actions that were taken. Talk to folks and get a sense of their confidence level.

If you decide to have a pre-assessment, find out if there’s a local ASQ section, community college or other quality group in your area that has auditors who’ll do the audit for free, to get experience toward achieving lead auditor status. If you have a sister company, affiliate or partner, ask them if they’d like to conduct an audit. Offer to do the same for them.

Your registrar will probably do it for a fee. The benefit that you get from having the registrar do the audit is that you get a sense of their style. While audit principles are universal and the ISO 9001 standard is generic, there are nuances in registrar policies on major and minor findings of nonconformity. The pre-assessment might increase your client’s comfort level.

The question of pre-assessment is ultimately a management decision. The pros and cons should be weighed to ensure that the expenditure actually results in achievement of the goal, without unnecessary cost.


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.