This month's question

What are the differences between audits and inspections?

Our response

This is a great question. Let’s start with the definitions of "inspection" and "audit" according to ISO 9000:2015.

Inspection is defined as "determination of conformity to specified requirements,"1 and audit is defined as "systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining objective evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which audit criteria are fulfilled."2

Without parsing the words too much, the difference is one of scale: An inspection is most often associated with inspecting a product or a service to make sure it is right, and an audit is most often associated with a higher-level review of the system that is designed to produce and inspect the product or service. An audit of a manufacturing process wouldn’t just inspect the product, it would ensure—at a system level—that required inspections had already been performed on the product.

I have often made the differentiation in the following way: An inspection is down in the grass, but to do an audit, you must climb a tree. This reflects the difference in purpose and perspective for an audit.

Other authors, such as Dennis Arter, Allan Sayle and JP Russell, refer to inspections as backward looking, or what was actually done to provide a product or service, while audits are forward looking. Audits ensure that proper management controls are in place to ensure product quality into the future.

Instead of inspecting quality into a product that was produced in the past, an audit evaluates how well a quality system will predict and prevent quality problems in the future. My three favorite resources on this topic are:

  1. Dennis Arter, Quality Audits for Improved Performance, third edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2002.
  2. Allan J. Sayle, Management Audits: The Assessment of Quality Management Systems, Allan Sayle Associates, 1997.
  3. J.P. Russell, The ASQ Auditing Handbook, fourth edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2012.

Editor’s note

This post originally appeared on the Ask the Standards Experts blog at https://asqasktheexperts.com.


  1. International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ISO 9000:2015—Quality management systems—Fundamentals and vocabulary, subclause 3.11.7.
  2. Ibid, subclause 3.13.1.

This response was written by Denis J. Devos, professional engineer, Devos Associates Inc., Toronto.

Circulated to all quality personnel and internal auditors and asked for the action they intend taking.
--Rajni Desai, 10-06-2019

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