Daniella Picciotti still remembers her first auditing experiences. On a supplier audit with more senior colleagues, it was difficult to determine her role. Her team went to the supplier to verify compliance, and colleagues who had been doing this for twenty years went through the process instinctively. As she shadowed them she wasn’t sure what to do. But she reminded herself that she was a customer: “I do count.” While it was easy to read procedures, it wasn’t clear how to approach employees. She wondered, “Do I need to ask permission? Can I talk to someone?”

After this experience, she learned by going out again and again, and asking questions such as: What kinds of things do you look for in a plant tour? Then she created guidelines so the new next person wouldn’t have to go through this steep learning curve. Since then, she’s tackled a variety of audits, found she enjoyed the process, and began teaching the subject as well.

Joy may sound like a strong word when it comes to auditing, but auditors say that it is rewarding and interesting work, allowing access to all levels of a company and helping the organization improve. Peek behind the curtain and see what’s going on at your company or at many different companies. If you like variety in your work, auditing a different company every day provides this. Meanwhile, internal auditing can allow you to see different sides of your own company.

“I’ve gotten a lot out of auditing over the years,” says Lance Coleman, a long-time auditor. “I’ve traveled to interesting places, met some interesting people. It’s a great skill set. Other than upper management, auditors probably see a broader aspect of the business than any other function.”

The career path leading up to auditing can be varied. If you’re thinking of auditing, almost anywhere in the company is a good place to start. Just as the quality profession has changed, so has the role of an auditor. No longer quite as feared, the auditor’s role should be to help an organization improve—not to hunt down errors, leaving chaos in their wake. In times gone by, after an audit, inspectors may fear for their jobs. A nonconformity could mean a firing.

Today that has changed. “There should be no pain or fear of internal audits,” says Praveen Gupta, director of quality at Stephen Gould Corp. “It should be called review. The goal is to see if there is discrepancies between what has been documented and what has been implemented. If you communicate that way, then people are comfortable. We are not here to punish or blame people, it’s just about improving the process.”

Auditing Since the ‘80s

John Vandenbemden currently sits on the ASQ Standards Committee as the Inspection Division representative. He is a voting member of TC 176 and chair of the SC5, USTAG 69, as well as the past-chair of the ASQ Inspection Division. “For the years I’ve been doing audits, since the ‘80s, if the audit system is good, there’s more payback. If the organization is devoted to it, the audit program can bring a lot of benefits to the organization.”

Risk, of course, is a common theme today. Auditors look at the risk to the business. “Many times it’s not a nonconformance but what we call today an opportunity for improvement. Maybe not a best practice.”

For example, if companies can’t make decisions because each decision requires 12 approvals, perhaps this could be streamlined.

“The thing about auditing or receiving findings is never take it personally. You’re auditing a system not people. People are just a source of information. And sometimes people do make mistakes. Is the system allowing them to make mistakes? Let’s go out and close that gap so we don’t have that problem again.”

If you’re considering becoming an auditor, Vandenbemden offers these suggestions. “Not everybody should be an auditor. There are traits: open-minded, willing to work with people, like people, be a detective, problem solving skills, especially today with risk based management.”

Getting Started
with Internal Auditing

After being on the receiving end of many audits and helping develop supplier audit programs, Picciotti liked the idea of helping companies improve. In teaching for ASQ, she tries to incorporate fun into her classes. She also emphasizes the logistics behind auditing so new auditors will know how to approach it, rather than “just walk up to someone’s desk, ‘Hi, I’m here to audit.’”

It’s also a balance between interviewing staff and examining procedures. “How do you be that social butterfly, that friendly auditor, and still get the job done?” she says.

Today she says clients are interested in feedback, and consider additional types of audits. Companies want to know: “Where can we eliminate or mitigate the risk? In terms of standards, how are we doing? What can we do to be better?”

In order to do better, companies should consider what they want to get out of an internal audit program. The idea is to look for opportunities to improve. For someone assessing compliance, “have them know and appreciate what is a risk, what is an opportunity?”

Auditing your coworkers or auditing your boss can be difficult, and rather than put people on the spot, she suggests looking at the process together. If areas for improvement come up, document that and move on. This allows the audit to actually have a positive impact on the organization.

Auditor training can help with these issues. After going through training, consider other resources available. Perhaps these tools can be used to help plan for the audit and create an agenda for the right time to do an audit. Understanding the scope of the audit will help in planning. Consider the time required. For example, auditing the entire quality management system in one day may be insufficient.

After an audit, companies should know the answers to these questions, she says: “Is the system working? Working well? Are there hiccups in one area? What might we want to do?”

The approach to internal audits varies. She says some companies have the resources and inclination to send people to training and consider the process as an essential part of the system, not just a checklist. Meanwhile some audits will seem like companies just cut and pasted their answers.

Here to Help

Lance B. Coleman is an instructor for the ASQ Certified Quality Auditor Preparatory Course, the editor of the ASQ Audit Division newsletter, and the author of “Advanced Quality Auditing: An Auditor’s Review of Risk Management, Lean Improvement and Data Analysis (Quality Press 2015).”

If you’ve been doing audits long enough, you’ll have some stories. Coleman recalls auditing one company, a long-time supplier with quality levels that no other supplier could match, that had an issue with record-keeping. Specifically, records took up too much space, so they decided to get rid of them.

Most cases aren’t so extreme, but there is often room to improve nonetheless.

If companies are looking to improve their audit programs, Coleman says, “Ensure that you’re doing more than one type of audit. So many of our companies are ISO certified, however, they are missing out on benefits of other audits, such as process and product audits.”

Coleman offers these tips from his auditing experiences: “Always, yes, make sure the supplier is meeting requirements, and doing what they are supposed to, but be open-minded to different ways of doing things. Just because it’s not the way you or your company would do it doesn’t mean it’s not right. Be on the lookout for best practices that you can take back to your organization.”

“Auditing is about relationship building, internally or externally. Transparency is a very important key to relationship building.” The last tip is to ask certain questions. “If it’s a supplier, ask ‘Is there anything else that we could do better, anything to make your life easier?’ Internally, ask, ‘Is there anything the audit function could do for you?’” Q