How to ace an audit: 5 things every quality manager needs to know
Nov. 13 2019
An experienced auditor from Bureau Veritas, the leading independent certification body, gives his tips on preparing for your audit.
You’ve decided to certify your quality or environmental management and contacted an external body to carry out an independent audit. What can you now do to maximize your chances of success?
1. ONLY ORGANIZE AN EXTERNAL AUDIT ONCE YOUR MANAGEMENT SYSTEM IS FIRMLY IN PLACE
The first thing an external auditor seeks to confirm is that a management system is fully implemented – not just a theoretical plan. To be considered “fully implemented”, a management plan needs to have been in place long enough for employees and managers to understand their roles and responsibilities, and to incorporate these into their day-to-day work. This period can range from just a couple of weeks for small companies where employees are actively engaged in the running of the business, to six months for very large companies. Once the management plan becomes part of your company’s daily life, it’s time to call in the auditors. They will then carry out an assessment and indicate areas for improvement as part of the certification process.
2. UNDERSTAND THE AUDIT PROCESS AND GET YOUR DOCUMENTATION READY.
At Bureau Veritas we take a two-step approach to a company’s first audit. The first phase is a visit to check that the company is ready for audit: that the management system is fully implemented and that the company has the necessary documentation to enable our auditors to carry out their work. Assuming the company passes this first phase, the second phase comprises a detailed review of documentation, a site visit and interviews with managers and employees. This means that your documentation needs to be in order for our first visit: the Quality Manual (or Environmental Management System Manual for ISO 14001 certification); company policies, objectives, and any systems in place to detect non-conformities and manage quality complaints.
3. MAKE SURE YOUR COMPANY DIRECTORS ARE ON BOARD…
A key concept in the new ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 is leadership: the senior management team must be committed to quality and lead its delivery. This is why an important part of our audit is interviews with senior managers. We check that company directors are familiar with the quality management system and their role in delivering it. A key way you can prepare for your audit, then, is to provide the right information to your senior managers; make sure they are on board; and ensure they are available to answer the auditor’s questions.
4. …AND YOUR EMPLOYEES UNDERSTAND THEIR ROLE
Your senior management “own” your quality management system but your employees each play a role in delivering it. The biggest indication to an auditor that a company has a highly effective quality management system is when its most junior employee is aware of the policy and the procedures that apply to his or her job. This cannot be achieved overnight – it requires months of communication and training. Auditors say they can see the benefits immediately of this type of employee engagement when they conduct their interviews with staff.
5. RELAX! CERTIFICATION IS NOT AN END IN ITSELF: IT EXISTS TO HELP YOU IMPROVE
Auditors are not looking for perfection. They are verifying that you have a system in place to manage quality or environmental matters that is relevant to your organization, that you follow this system and that you use it to continually improve. Rather than worry about what your auditor will find, take advantage of his or her expert advice on non-conformities and ways to improve. It will boost your company’s performance - and underline to your senior management the benefits of your proactive approach to quality and environmental management!