‘So how did we do?’ or ‘Did we pass?’ – this is the typical question asked of auditor immediately after an audit. The reality is that both of these questions should be redundant as, in most cases, the auditee’s representative has participated in the audit and has witnessed interviews and sighted evidence produced during the audit.
What auditees are probably questioning is how the auditor interpreted the audit findings and whether these met the audit criteria, and, for certification audits, has the organisation met the requirements of the relevant standard and will the auditor be recommending certification?
For most audits, a great deal of work goes into preparing for the audit, including ensuring that evidence and records are readily accessible, auditees are coached in interview techniques, and work areas are tidied. This often results in the organisation being fatigued post-audit with very little energy left to implement meaningful corrective actions.
In most cases audit recommendations or ‘opportunities for improvement’ are offered in response to the Non Conformances or Partial Conformances. All too often in the wake of a lengthy audit the focus is solely on correcting or closing out the Non Conformances with any other findings relegated to the audit archive, never to be spoken of again. But while a legislative compliance approach may result in a single-minded focus on non conformances, an audit should really be about value adding; a learning exercise that pays attention to the positive areas as well as those with non compliances or non conformances.
After the audit is where the real work should start, with mature organisations taking an audit report and developing a corrective action plan that is able to transfer the learnings from the audit across the organisation. An effective corrective action plan should:
Identify the positive issues emanating from the audit
- Don’t only focus on what went wrong, highlight the positive aspects and ensure these are communicated in order that they are repeated and improved.
List the findings (non conformances, partial conformances, recommendations and opportunities for improvement)
- Ensure findings are clearly understood and articulated within the context of the organisation in order that people not directly involved in the audit may comprehend the full implications.
- ‘Play the ball and not the man’ – it is vital that post-audit briefings focus on systemic issues and do not try to lay blame on individuals or departments.
Prioritise the corrective actions
- Whether it be Health and Safety, Environment or Quality, always prioritise corrective actions based on the risk to the organisation to ensure that what is important is not sacrificed over more trivial issues.
Document specific and measurable actions to resolve findings
- Be specific in developing corrective actions that not only address the finding directly but also the root cause and lateral implications. For example, where it was found that inspections were not recorded, a ‘quick fix’ would be to complete, and provide as evidence, a single inspection checklist. A more appropriate corrective action would be to review the inspection checklist, establish why inspections were not being completed, train staff in undertaking inspections, develop an inspection schedule and then undertake the inspections.
Allocate responsibilities and timeframes
- Ensure specific responsibilities for each action are allocated to staff who have the training, skills, experience and authority to develop and implement the corrective action.
Review the corrective action plan
- Set a review period for actions to ensure that they are implemented effectively and that they have addressed the initial finding. Where possible capture findings into a software application so as to be able to track them to completion.
- Ensure the start of every audit reviews all the findings from the previous audit.
If audits are approached in a mature manner, they can be value-adding and can truly become part of the continual improvement processes of an organisation.
Please contact QRMC for more information.