ASQ - Energy and Environmental Division

A management system audit can be a useful, predictive indicator of product performance and potential quality assurance risks. It is important that employees participating in an audit understand its value and are able to provide helpful feedback during the process.

This guide will prepare line and staff employees to respond to audit questions in a consistent and thorough manner and will ensure adequate coverage of the necessary areas. When the response format is applied to the individual audit questions, the response will clearly identify the characteristics of the management system.

This guide can also be effectively used to formulate corrective actions and prevent recurrence, saving time and ensuring that any modifications to the management system will follow the same structure as the existing management system.

Remember, a management system incorporates the vision, mission, plans, policies, procedures, documents, records, and initiatives that ensure customer wishes are converted into reliable and maintainable deliverables. A good audit can be invaluable.

Responding to audit questions

Every participant in the audit should be prepared to respond to any question explicitly stated in the audit protocol. Adequate coverage of the question can be summarized in six steps:

1. Communicate in your own words how …
2. What is the process for …?
3. What are the entry criteria?
4. What are the exit criteria?
5. Can you show or share any written procedures or templates to support this process?
6. Can you show or share any completed records, examples, or artifacts indicating this process was followed?

1. Communicate in your own words …

Purpose of Question Introduce the subject or process to the auditor in plain language.
Recommended Response A clear, specific 50-100 word summary.Ensure consistent companywide response.Use real experience for examples.
Contribution to Audit Tells the story related to that particular area. Demonstrates knowledge and comfort with the process.Establishes framework for more detailed responses.Establishes consistency within your organization.

2. What is the process for …?

Purpose of Question Descriptive response elaborating on how the area is addressed.
Recommended Response

For each process, the following should be stated:

  • Process owners and respective authorities;
  • Roles and responsibilities of participants;
  • Sequence of tasks;
  • Decisions and alternative paths in the process;
  • Documents, templates, and records.
Contribution to Audit This response describes how things "should be done" at your organization and establishes how efforts should be evaluated.

3. What are the entry criteria?

Purpose of Question This establishes the prerequisites that are necessary to begin the process without excessive delays or wasted efforts.
Recommended Response

For each process, the following should be stated

  • Prerequisite information, resources, assumptions, requirements.
  • Valid outcomes from preceding process.
  • Commitment and approval to proceed.
Contribution to Audit This response communicates how the process fits into the overall management system and expands on the internal standards set within your organization.

4. What are the exit criteria?

Purpose of Question This communicates how your organization knows a task or process has been adequately completed and can be passed on to the next functional area.
Recommended Response

For each process, the following should be stated:

  • Outcomes fulfill commitments;
  • Outcomes support inputs for subsequent processes;
  • Validation from internal and external customers proving that the process outcomes were valid and adequate for their purpose.
Contribution to Audit This displays our internal controls and communicates that our deliverables are validated from start to finish. This also ensures that there is a link from the initial requirements to the final deliverables

5. Can you show or share any written procedures or templates to support this process?

Purpose of Question This requires your organization to elaborate on the initiatives (i.e. Best Practices, Rational Processes) intended to produce a consistent result.
Recommended Response

The ideal result would be to present company procedures and templates, which were formally structured, controlled, approved, dated, and linked to the company mission and vision.

If these documents and references are not available, a draft flowchart of the process and a summary of the process steps and deliverables can serve as an interim solution.

Contribution to Audit This demonstrates that the management system addresses these particular areas. Without such references, performance would be random and dependent on the individuals performing the task.

6. Can you show or share any completed records, examples, or artifacts indicating this process was followed?
Purpose of Question This is where "objective evidence" is presented to validate that your organization has a management system and that the management system is implemented.
Recommended Response

This is dependent on the expectations of the auditor. A proper audit will apply any interview comments, observations, records, data, and other signs of progress towards audit conclusions.

Contribution to Audit This portion demonstrates the extent to which your organization fulfills internal and external obligations. It also reveals any shortcomings in process implementation..

There are different styles of audit questions.
Question Type Recommended Response
Checklist question These are binary, yes-no questions. Respond simply and expand the detail as required. Wait for the question.
Open-ended question Before responding, establish the scope and context of the question. Respond with a "communicate in your own words" summary. Get confirmation they understand. Expand detail as needed.
Process question Have a white-board or paper handy. Draw out the process visually to show the workflow. Respond with "what is the process for …" items.
Records question Establish context and confidentiality of information. Show the records, but share the empty template. If a sample is needed, copy a sample portion of the record and remove the confidential areas with a marker.
Difficult question Don't bluff the auditor! Advise the auditor that you are not the right person to ask, and direct them to the most appropriate individual. Also apply the PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT cycle.
Question identifies a deficiency Don't panic! Indicate that the issue will be addressed and resolved as part of the ongoing continuous improvement initiative. Also express that the trained and competent professionals would respond properly to such a deficiency, so the risks to the customer are minimal.

Auditor's obligations

An audit is not an interrogation. The auditor is tasked with obtaining information about your organization's management system. Auditors are required to examine your system without predetermined conclusions or biases.

The auditor has to be courteous and fair and must perform the audit within the agreed scope. When in doubt, ask for the audit reference that the question will address. This helps to clarify the context and improves common understanding. Any conclusions in the audit report have to be agreed to by the entity being reviewed. There should be no surprises. The audit preparations provide a guideline to permit the functional areas to prepare their responses and adequately cover the requirements of the audit.

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