Revitalize Your Audit Program Part 1

The American Society for Quality Audit Division Conference was held in Orlando October 17-18th, 2019. Professionals from across North America gathered to share and learn best practices in management systems auditing. Our two-part presentation was "Revitalizing Your Audit Program Using Engaging Audit Reporting Practices".

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will cover the content of our conference presentation sessions.

Many audit closing meetings and management reviews are boring. ISO-speak has limited understanding across the workforce. It is no wonder management seems disengaged!

Our presentation showed examples of visual and written summary options for reporting audit results that tell a story and engage leadership. Imagine how powerful the act of looking across quality, environmental and health and safety management systems could be if the views were balanced! Our session also touched on the management of the audit program to ensure auditors acquire reliable data to support the visual report styles.

In order to improve reporting, we will need to address the key components under the iceberg. The questions in the figure below help you assess the components of leadership engagement (do they want candid feedback from audits or only good news?), the audit program (sufficient budget and risk-based focus or bare bones?), and the auditor skills and knowledge (evaluate effectiveness or just following procedures?).

What kind of auditors are available to the audit program manager or ISO Champion? Are they water-skippers who skate through an audit? Do they look for that needle in a haystack? Or do they prepare fully for a dive, bringing breathing air to dive deeply into systems and processes and taking caution to come back to the surface intact? Making sure there is adequate planning and maintenance of relationships along the way provides useful insights for the organization.

Effective auditing requires a base of preferred behaviors (see ISO 19011 for a list and guidance), knowledge of the criteria being assessed, skills of interviewing, listening, communicating, along with curiosity to understand connections, and evaluate effectiveness of processes and systems. Auditing requires thinking! Even with all of this going for you, the organization's leadership still must provide the empowerment to bring back candid feedback. Or the effort is wasted with pencil whipping the audit results.

A common complaint from audit program managers and ISO Champions is that their pool of internal auditors is weak. They need more people with deeper skills and knowledge. However, their requests for auditor resources are often too vague or general, which leaves leadership without a clear path for next steps. The charts below show the auditor pool and the distribution of skills (top row) and knowledge (bottom row). The example is for integrated audits of quality, environmental, and health and safety. Both systems and regulatory knowledge are shown. You can modify to include the key skills and knowledge for your organization, gather a self-assessment of your auditors, and graph away! Contact me if you need some help here.  We have a handy form and spreadsheet. I love spreadsheets!

In our methodology of Commit-Assess-Inspire-Achieve, the next step here is to understand the level of commitment within your leadership team. Do they just want the ISO certificate? Do they want return on investment? Do they want to leave the competition in the dust while building a great culture of seeking improvements with zeal?

The chart below describes 4 levels of commitment. Before we start talking about conformance and nonconformance, we need to understand what ruler we are using. Many 3rd party auditors use Level 1 as their yardstick. This generates the perception that their ISO certification has limited value. 

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Ok, now that you have confirmed the commitment level of your leadership, now we can start to discuss nonconformities.

Nonconformities of INTENT mean we missed something in the criteria. We have a gap to close.

IMPLEMENTATION nonconformities mean we are doing something differently than what we have defined in our procedures. Sometimes that means we need to modify our documentation and sometimes we need to realign our work processes to what we agreed to.

If the auditors have written the facts of the requirement and the evidence, there is little to argue for INTENT and IMPLEMENTATION findings. The gold lies in nonconformities of EFFECTIVENESS. This is where we are faithfully doing what we state in our documentation; however, the process does not work. It is not delivering the results we intend to achieve. 

Many audit programs lack the skills and knowledge in their audit pool to be able to evaluate effectiveness. It is much more interesting to evaluate effectiveness and much more meaningful to your organization. Think improving efficiency, streamlining, reducing rework, etc.  Joy! 

The chart below shows how the content of an audit report can inspire or bore. Our next blog post will explore visual ways to communicate audit results.

We love evaluating audit programs. Contact us to start exploring possible collaborations with us. We can mentor you to become confident that your audit program provides meaningful information for management review, inspires engagement and builds recognition of your leadership skills.

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