Quintessential Quality

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Performing audits is pretty common in any quality professional’s life.  Most of the time my audits will be pretty straight forward and routine since I’m usually looking at my own functional area or other groups I’m  comfortable with.  Occasionally though, I’m asked to audit a department, system or company that I’m totally unfamiliar with.  So how do I prepare for and perform an audit when I don’t have a clue at what I’m going to be looking at?  Here’s some tips:

Do Your Homework

This one’s pretty obvious. Do some research on the auditee.  Do they work in a regulated industry?  If so, there should be plenty of rules, laws, and regulations for you to audit against.  Reading through the regulations will help you define your audit plan and will give you a good idea of what to look for on audit day.  If the auditee is not regulated, do they claim to hold any certifications or accreditation like ISO or VAWD?  Again, the certifying authority should publish a set of standards that are fair game for the audit.  No regulation or certification?  No problem!  Just ask the auditee for a list of their internal policies and procedures.  Most of the time you can obtain a document index or specific procedures that you can review and better prepare yourself for the audit.

Play Dumb

This doesn’t take too much acting for me.  The auditor is not supposed to be the expert.  It is the responsibility of the auditee to make the auditor understand the processes and systems.  Be a good listener, and ask a lot of questions.  I find that people love to talk about themselves and their jobs, especially if they know something you don’t know.  Let them talk, take lots of notes, and ask them to show you evidence to prove their words are true.

Walk It Through or Back It Up

I love to have the auditee walk me through their process from start to finish.  This is a great way to see a process in its entirety and get some detail on the specific steps and handoffs that occur.  An alternative way to view the process is to start with the end product and work your way back to the very start.  The reverse method is especially useful because the processing steps have already occurred, and there should be an obvious audit trail follow and review.

Hope these basic strategies will help you the next time you are asked to do an unfamiliar audit.  If you have more audit tips and advice, please let me know in the comments!

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