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Making audits useful and not just a compliance tool

Maintaining employee involvement in continuous improvement is all about corporate culture. If top management, managers, and supervisors are not routinely involved in addressing audit findings and driving improvement projects, it is all too easy for the QMS to have insufficient support to be more than compliance busy work. ISO 9001:2008 says in the section for internal audits (8.2.2) that “management responsible for the area being audited shall ensure that any necessary corrections and corrective actions are taken without undue delay to eliminate detected nonconformities and their causes”.  This sentence emphasizes several potential weaknesses to the effectiveness of any audit program:

  • Management attention to audit findings  --  see our earlier blog, ”Using external consultants to perform internal audits”

  • The difference between “ Correction”( a quick fix) and “Corrective Action” (a long term solution that addresses the weakness in the quality system, not the product, to prevent similar repeat issues)  -- see earlier blog

  • The speed with which audit findings are addressed --  the fact that ISO included the term “without undue delay” is telling of a trend to ignore/postpone addressing audit findings.

  • The potential for any nonconformity to have more than one contributing cause

So how do you make internal audits useful?  

  • Reward those who find opportunities for improvement – don’t call them nitpicky whiners!

  • Ensure supervisors and department managers are accountable for addressing audit findings

  • Make corrective actions a positive team experience to ensure ownership of the new process  

  • Ensure that findings are addressed in a 2-step  (immediate fix vs long term solution) process

  • Set time limits and accountability for closing audit findings. Certifying bodies have a mandatory reply time to ensure that findings have been addressed and closed – do it for internal findings too!

  • Reassess, reassess, reassess!  If the first corrective action didn’t prevent  recurrence of similar problems, find the second cause, implement a corrective action for that cause, and assess it’s effectiveness.

  • Collect trend data by types of QMS nonconformities,types of product issues,  types of corrective actions, etc., to evaluate the effectiveness of your improvemen activities. If you have no audit findings, encourage auditors to dig deeper (they’re not looking at details!).

At the end of the day, it's all about what you do with what you found. Do nothing and your audits are a waste of time. Use them to help you drive a culture of continuous improvement and they'll be of great value. Have fun making your audits useful :)

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