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According to Plan
Don’t overlook the importance of planning before auditing
by Jonathan Port
Audits are conducted for many reasons. Sometimes, they’re conducted at the request of customers to ensure compliance to requirements. Other times, they’re an instrument organizations can use to assess the health of its processes.
Regardless of the purpose, audits must be properly planned so they’re successful and valuable. Often, this crucial step receives scant attention. The audit process should be divided into three equal parts: planning, execution and follow-up.
During the planning phase, develop the audit’s purpose, goal, objectives, scope and deployment plan. The first step is to determine the audit’s purpose. Because an audit essentially provides an answer to a question, a good way to begin is to form a question. It may be, "Should we qualify potential ‘supplier X’?" Then, craft a corresponding purpose statement such as, "Determine whether potential supplier X has a stable quality system that consistently delivers conforming material at a good price."
Expand on the original question and ask, "What must be determined to achieve that goal?" The answers become the audit’s objectives. Next, establish the audit’s focus areas (for example, nonconforming material processes, corrective action, document control and the measurement system).Corresponding objectives for focus areas may include:
- Determine the nonconforming material process is documented and effective to prevent nonconforming material from escaping the supplier.
- Determine appropriate documentation is controlled and available at points of use.
- Determine whether the supplier has a process for handling corrective action requests from customers and that the system is effectively resolving root causes.
- Determine that critical-to-quality features of the product are defined with a corresponding measurement plan, and that the measurement system is capable of such measures.
After objectives are established, the team can form an overall goal statement and the scope. What are the boundaries of the audit? Does it include a product, a site, a division, a supplier or a specific timeframe? Specify the scope in the audit request.
The team should create an audit plan and a corresponding checklist to achieve the audit’s objectives and fulfill its purpose. It should define the audit methods, the interviewees, examples the auditors want to review and the records sampling plan.
Consult with available process matrixes or turtle diagrams that depict process sequences, interactions, process owners, paperwork, metrics, inputs and outputs, customers and objectives.
Results of the team’s preparatory efforts—the audit’s scope, purpose and objectives—should be delivered to the lead auditor for communication at the opening meeting or to the process owner.
The team will execute the audit plan and collect evidence for compliance and noncompliance to achieve objectives. When the objectives are satisfied, the execution phase is finished, and the team will have the information it needs for the audit report.
Wrapping up the audit is the reverse of the planning process. Audit evidence is compiled and used to respond to each objective. Findings are stated in the audit report, and the results of objectives are included in the executive summary.
When sharing results, highlight strengths and exemplary efforts as well as nonconformances. If corrective or preventive action is needed, it is the process owner’s responsibility to address issues and submit results to the auditor.
Remember it is the auditor’s job to determine whether audit criteria are being met, not to be a consultant. Many auditors have a difficult time detaching from their pet peeves and insert their opinions or provide solutions. Auditors should refrain from these behaviors and just cite the criteria and findings.
A well planned, goal and objective-driven audit will add value by answering the questions fundamentally posed to the organization. When audit planning is deficient, the value of the whole audit is at risk. To avoid blunders, organizations should ensure training stresses the importance of planning and that procedures for conducting audits are clear and comprehensive to help get the job done well.
- Russell, J.P., ed, The ASQ Auditing Handbook, third edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2005.
Jonathan Port is an owner of Beacon Quality Services LLC in Fort Collins, CO. Port earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering management from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. He is a senior member of ASQ and an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality engineer, quality auditor and manager of quality/organizational excellence.