For many years, Jeff who is a registered lead auditor working for major certification bodies, has been training people to do internal audits that seek much more than conformance to the standard.
“Auditors are in a unique position to see what others usually don’t see. I teach auditors to audit processes, which means they have to cross departmental boundaries. People working in the departments don’t usually look deeply into the workings of other departments. It would probably be met with resistance and suspicion. Internal auditors on the other hand can do this with impunity and will often uncover problems at the departmental interfaces which everyone knows about but do nothing, other than moan about, because it’s not their job.”
When the improvement approach is taken to the next level it can yield significant results, not the least of which is cost savings. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Jeff explains his approach to training auditors.
Approach to Auditing
“We start by giving them a good understanding of the standard on which their organisation’s management system is based”. This may seem unnecessary. Surely if a company is registered against, for example, ISO 9001 then everyone will know the standard? “Wrong. Chances are that only the Quality Manager may have a working knowledge of it and sometimes that can be a bit sketchy.”
Systems grow like Christmas trees and sometimes the changes made over time reduce the degree of conformance with the standard without anyone noticing. An extreme example of this is the Herald of Free Enterprise, a North Sea ferry that sank because the bow doors were left open. Many people died. The written procedure at the time probably said leave the doors open (they were having problems with clearing exhaust fumes), but the “standard” would require the doors closed before sailing.
“Auditors armed with a good knowledge of the standard can see if there are any serious holes developing in the system. This will keep the system watertight, but it won’t do anything to improve the performance of the processes.”
Jeff’s approach is to teach the auditors to look for opportunities for improvements (OFI). “They often start to find these during the audit planning stage. Working in small teams with a maximum of three members per team they map the process from available information. This is when they often ask the question “why do we do it like that?” The common answer is “we’ve always done it that way”. Another common problem discovered at this stage is the written procedure is out of date - the practice has change but the procedure has not. The written procedures are the first beneficiary of this approach” says Jeff.
He then gets them to create comprehensive checklists with cross references to the standard and the organisations own procedures. “Checklists are like Marmite; you either love them or hate them. There are many reasons for getting the auditors to create and use checklists. Checklists have to be thought through. This often involves discussion with the managers of the processes to be audited (the auditees), which means there are no surprises and the checklists reflect the process.
People can be sceptical about this approach. “If you tell them what you are going to check then surely they can hide things!” Not with the techniques we teach them. They learn to ask open ended questions, follow this up with observation of the actual work taking place and then check the procedures and records created. There is little room with this approach for things being swept under the carpet for long. Finally checklists record what was found. This can have a psychological benefit because the auditees can see the conforming as well as the nonconforming features. They also show the external auditors what was checked. ”
Police or Doctor?
Auditors traditionally have been seen as policemen which to Jeff is wrong. “I like my internal auditors to be seen as doctors. They find the malady but are then available to implement the cure. Often the people who are selected for internal auditor training progress to become part of improvement teams. They are seen as friends of the auditees.”
“We give them lots of audit practice during the training to develop their confidence in asking questions and obtaining information. On our public course we use case study material based on real situations. The tutor(s) play the part(s) of the auditees. When we run the training in client’s premises they do actual live audits under the tutor's supervision. The findings can be quite significant both in terms of the system gaps uncovered and the improvement opportunities found. We ask the managers to attend and receive the findings and to bring the point home that there are cost implications we get the auditors to present their findings on a business impact matrix showing the estimated cost of implementing the action against the benefit to the business.”
If you would like to know more, or talk to Jeff please contact us on phone +44 (0) 1249 447544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.