Do you remember when you first got involved in quality management system auditing? Maybe your organization was getting ready for its first certification audit, or maybe you were sent to training to become an internal auditor while still fairly new to the company. Your business may have been heavily invested in making sure the quality management system was in top shape, and it was easy to get attention for changes that needed to be made.
Unfortunately, interest in internal audits often wanes as the quality system matures. Stable, well performing processes may only need the minor course corrections that are uncovered during routine audits, but most businesses find that the cumulative changes of new products, people, suppliers, equipment, and so on result in deviations in practices, some of which can lead to problems. An effective internal audit program can be an important tool for the management team to use in finding and resolving the sources of wasted efforts.
When internal audits become routine, it’s especially important to take steps to ensure that your audit program remains effective and relevant even as your management system matures. Here are six tips to keep in mind.
1. Clarify Purpose
Most internal audit programs seem to have one driving purpose: “Make sure we are in shape for certification and customer audits.” That is, auditors check the boxes of each clause in ISO 9001, TL 9000, or any other standard and make sure that internal procedures are being followed in each department.
But external audit readiness is only part of what an internal audit program should deliver. The bigger purpose of internal audits should be to verify the effectiveness of processes in working together to achieve business objectives. Following procedures and keeping records may keep the outside auditors from writing non-conformity statements, but they’re only one part of making sure your business is successful.
The purpose of the audit program should be to verify compliance with standard(s) and your internal requirements while also evaluating the results of processes in terms of measurements related to quality, cost, and speed. The next five tips will enable you to achieve that purpose.
2. Maintain Resources
Just like maintaining equipment and infrastructure is an ongoing responsibility of management, so is maintaining audit program resources. It won’t happen unless the person in charge makes a point of getting buy-in from management, allocating the budget and time, and demonstrating the value of the resources applied.
Audit program managers’ first decision on resources is to decide how many auditors will be needed to audit broadly and deeply enough to have confidence that the business meets all quality system requirements. Recruiting and retaining enough skilled auditors can be challenging when volunteers from across the business are used. Program managers should therefore:
Make sure auditors and their managers understand the time commitment, and don’t exceed the agreement
Clarify the benefits of auditing for the business, focusing especially on the impact of identifying risks to productivity and customer satisfaction
Communicate the benefits of professional development and networking for the auditors and how that can translate to on-the-job value to their departments
Help top management see the value of having auditors from multiple levels and departments
If you are an audit program manager, plan for maintenance and continual improvement of the program. Consider needs such as:
IT support for new or upgraded software to support collaboration among auditors
Corrective action system development or upgrade; mature programs may be relying on older systems that are not integrated with current technology and therefore go unused Management dashboards that provide visibility to audit plans and results
Adequate travel budgets to support cross-site collaboration, where an outside perspective could greatly impact the value of audits; you’ll have an easier time getting volunteers to support other sites if the audit program covers the travel expenses. Schedule time well in advance for subject matter experts to participate in audit planning and execution to support audit teams; they’ll be less likely to back out a the last minute if their commitment has been visibly planned
You’ve just learned two tips for effectively managing your internal audit program. Stay tuned for next week’s article in which I’ll provide you with two more helpful tips. [Read Part 2 of 3 here.]
If this is something you’re looking to implement but are struggling to find the time, drop me a note or simply go old school and give me a call – (631) 909-3570 – to learn how The DESARA Group help!