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Internal Process Audits – summary of Feb 14 meeting

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Published Date Written by Christen Currie

 Internal Process Audits – An Alternative Approach

Presentation by Elizabeth Burns at the Feb 14th meeting.

Elizabeth BurnsMany organizations have challenges with implementing meaningful internal process audits.  A growing trend is developing – using external employees to perform internal process audits.  This might include employees from outside your organization, from sister organizations or contract employees.  Using external employees is also a great method for training internal employees to become practiced auditors – as part of the training program, internal employees shadow the external process auditor for multiple audits, thus gaining hands on practical experience and much needed confidence.

Feb 14 MeetingElizabeth Burns, C.Q.E., has been an ASQ Fellow since 2009 and an ASQ Certified Quality Engineer since 1988.  Elizabeth has been active in the Kitchener Section and with ASQ Headquarters since 1990.  Elizabeth has held the positions of ASQ Certification Board Chair and ASQ Technical Program Committee Chair.  Elizabeth has been successfully assisting manufacturing companies and service industries in implementing ISO 9000, TS 16949, AS 9100 and ISO 14001 management systems since 1990.  In this role, she has extensive experience in performing internal process audits and training employees to become internal auditors
Elizabeth noted what many of us feel that internal auditing can be a frustrating experience for both the auditors and the company.  A combination of inexperienced auditors and ineffective management of the audit process including corrective actions and follow-up can make for an ineffective audit process.
Elizabeth suggests using an external auditor to help the audit process mature quicker.  This would be most useful in the first year or 2 after becoming certified.   During this time newly trained auditors tend to lack practical experience.  This would be an opportune time to allow further training and experience for the internal audit team.  Benchmarking and experience from other similar organizations can be very useful.  A new set of eyes can identify gaps and help ensure the attention of the Management Team.  An external auditor will perform more of a process based audit which will identify more system based issues rather than just isolated problems.
Elizabeth noted the importance of the contract when using an external auditor.  The contract should clearly state who is responsible for all aspects of the audit, the scope and time frame and dictate what forms and report formats are to be used.
Process audits should determine 5 things.

Elizabeth went over the internal audit section of ISO 9001:2008.  Note that since auditors must not audit their own work, someone internally has to audit the internal audit system if an external auditor is used.
Process audits should cover all aspects of a process.  They should also provide performance measures versus customer requirements.  The challenge is to determine whether current processes still add value to your company and your customers.  Processes should be audited against either process flows or procedures. 
Elizabeth gave her 5 keys to a successful internal audit program.

Checklists ensure documentation covers all aspects of the management system.  This should include:

When auditing the Management Review, the reviews should go beyond a checklist for all the items required by ISO 9001:2008.  Does the review delve into the issues?  How does the rest of the organization learn of the actions and decisions that are determined during the reviews?  Are actions acted upon in a timely manner?
Audit reports should contain all the regular information as well as rank the audit findings and indicate the risk related to the findings.  Follow up audits are needed to ensure effectiveness of corrective actions.  The effectiveness of the process / system should be stated.
When reviewing the audit results, the Management Team needs to take the results seriously and look at the issues as real problems within the system.  They need to look at the potential consequences of ignoring the true cause of the issue.  Forget the simple audit finding responses and dig down to find the real source of the problem and fix it.
Closing meetings are important to ensure that the manager of the processes understand the action required (including the risk).  Managers need to hear the issues first hand.
Elizabeth gave some good cautions regarding using external auditors to conduct internal audits.

Unless the company wishes an external auditor to continue to audit over the long term, using an external auditor for 1 – 2 years can allow conformance to audit requirements.  It can also allow internal persons to gain the training and experience needed to take over the function.  The management system can be matured more quickly and personnel will start to drop their defences as they see a stronger process.
Questions / Comments about this alternative approach
Elizabeth Burns, ASQ CQE, Fellow
E. Burns Consulting
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