Achieving a successful audit is easier than you think

Successful audits are about common sense and courtesy.

Imagine…successful audits

You are starting work at a new company, you don’t know anyone and you’ve never been to the building.  When you arrive on your first day, they forgot you were coming and you have to sit in reception until they find a space for you. 

Finally you get a desk (near a store room) but there’s no computer for you.  You get handed the company manuals and are told that your supervisor is away for a week and someone will be back for you later, no-one has told you where the lunchroom or amenities are or what time to expect to see another human being. 

No matter what outlook you arrived with, with this kind of treatment it is probably safe to say that you no longer have a favourable impression of this organisation.

 Auditors are often faced with similar situations, you can imagine how well your audit will progress if the first thing you do is offend them.

Auditors deserve to be treated with the same respect that you would give to a trusted colleague or long time collaborator.  Assuming you have prepared well for the technical aspects of the audit, here are some tips to make the process easier on all parties so that you can have a successful audit.

 

Our Top 5 Logical Tips

 

1. Location, Location, Location

No, your business doesn’t have to be located on a tropical island but you need to ensure you’ve arranged a suitable, secure room for the auditor/s to conduct interviews, have discussions and write up their findings.  Keeping safety in mind, the area should be comfortable and quiet but should be as close as possible to the key people that they need to talk to and any physical areas that they may need to inspect.  The area should have ample desk space, have access to electrical and data outlets and a telephone if possible.  Make sure the room is an appropriate size for the number of auditors.  If this is not possible at your facility make your best effort to make the auditors comfortable.

 

2. Hospitality

In most circumstances the auditors will be at the facility for at least two thirds (2/3) of a day and sometimes up to 3 days or more.  Make them feel comfortable during their stay.  A designated audit liaison should be selected.  It is this person’s responsibility to ensure that the auditors are familiar with the facilities, have access to personnel and records and are supported throughout the process.  To ensure a successful audit:

  • Ensure they are given a thorough tour of the facilities (including any WHS and fire plans) at a minimum so that they can find their way to the facilities and are aware of procedures in case of an emergency.
  • Ensure visitor passes are available and explain any secure area restrictions and protocols.
  •  Introduce them to key personnel, this usually happens during the entrance interview (a standard part of all audits).
  •  Provide the liaison’s phone extension so that they are available when required
  • Provide them with a list of all personnel and their titles or areas of responsibility so that the auditors can choose who they will interview (if appropriate)
  • Place a water jug and glasses in the room (ensure these are cleaned at the end of each day) and offer tea and coffee
  •  Offer a simple morning tea, afternoon tea and lunch (NB Some auditors view the provision of food as an attempt to bribe.  To ensure that you do not offend, call the certification, accrediting or regulatory body before the audit to discuss what they feel is appropriate and discuss any dietary requirements.  In my experience sandwiches and juice or tea/coffee are generally received well for lunch).
  •  Work in with the auditor.  Some auditors like to take a break and leave the building etc, others like to have chat over lunch.  This is very much an individual preference.

 

3. Accessibility

If the auditors cannot access the appropriate personnel or records how do you expect them to produce findings that reflect your actual processes?  For a successful audit:

  • Ensure key personnel will be available on the days of the audit.  It isn’t a good look if most of your management team are on leave.
  • Ensure all records are available.  Choose 5 products, tests or cases at random and locate the information that the auditors would require.  This will give you a good preview of how retrievable your records really are.   Auditors generally review the findings of a previous audit, so ensure that the records relating to the previous audit will be readily retrievable.
  • Ensure the auditor/s have access to your information management systems (quality management system data, product data, testing data).  Make sure that the audit liaison has the appropriate passwords and knowledge of the systems to ensure the auditors can access the information they require or that a system specialist is available to assist.  I have known some organisations to provide auditors with a guest log-on to their systems with read-only access so that after an initial introduction session the auditors can largely navigate the systems themselves.
  • Ensure the auditors are escorted during inspections of laboratory or warehouse areas, in addition to workplace health and safety considerations this will ensure they get to see the people and processes that they need to see in a timely fashion.
  • Consider physical limitations, I once had an auditor who had just broken her leg skiing.  We had a lot of stairs in our building so we had to adapt and work within her abilities.

 

4. Honesty

Most auditors love their jobs.  Many see auditing as a great opportunity to help other businesses.  Yes there are exceptions but most want to see you do well.  In order for them to help you:

  • Be honest, if asked a question directly answer truthfully, if you don’t know – say that you don’t know.
  • If you are unsure of what the auditor wants, ask for examples, that way you can answer appropriately

 

5. Feedback

During the closing meeting or at any time where the auditor is summing up their findings listen carefully.  If there is a finding that you don’t agree with that could be addressed with further evidence (rather than because you don’t like it) ask them if you could provide the supporting information.  It is better to discuss inconsistencies while the auditors are present than after you receive the official report.  The auditors might have completed several other audits by then and may not be able to recall specifics outside what is detailed in their notes.

Conclusion

With appropriate preparation any business can achieve a successful audit.  If you have your technical requirements covered then consider adopting these suggestions for an even more successful audit.

Do you have any suggestions for a successful audit?