In this blog, you will learn our top 5 tips for conducting a valuable internal audit of your management system(s). We draw on our 25 years’ experience conducting audits, and you will be able to use these tips to improve your audit processes.
Tip number 1 is we need to plan and prepare for our audits. By that I mean, if I go out an audit an operational area, and I’m not sure what that team does or what the requirements of that operational process are - then it’s clearly not going to be an effective audit.
By planning and preparing, you need to get an understanding of that process and what the team do. I might even go out and do a walkthrough of that site, speak to some of the team prior to the audit. What we want to achieve is the moment I step out and undertake that audit, I’m ready to start auditing. I’m not looking around trying to answer those questions in my head of, well “what the hell does this team do and how do they do it?” So planning and preparation are absolutely critical. If it’s an operational activity that I’m not that familiar with I might need to spend almost as much time planning and preparing for the audit as I do actually conducting the audit.
Tips number 2 and number 3 I will cover together - people skills, communication skills are absolutely fundamental to an effective audit. People skills because, yes, we’re dealing with people at all steps of the audit: when we get first get in contact with the auditees, plan the audit, commence the audit, report on the audit. Auditors with good people skills can build rapport, make auditees feel comfortable, have them understand the objective of the audit and what we need to see. That works well for everyone. The auditor but obviously, the auditees. They’re understanding what you’re looking for and why and they’re feeling comfortable because they can start to provide that for you.
Communication skills are also critical for some the reasons I’ve just mentioned. Lets use the example of a poor communicator, and it’s the opposite of what I’ve just said - auditees are confused as to what our objective is, why we’re there, what we’re covering or what evidence they need to provide - which can really throw auditees and make them very uncomfortable with the process. Effective auditors need to clearly communicate the findings of the audit. Advise auditees very clearly where further action might be required .
Tip 4 is to be risk focussed. Across our whole audit schedule, or even an individual audit, should be risk focussed. I’ve got a later blog on looking at how to put together an audit schedule and risk is the key consideration to get the best return on investment.
Even for an audit of one of our service, delivery or production activities - ISO management systems standards encourage a risk focus. During an audit we often need to take a sampling approach - we don’t always get to look at all of the records or interview all of the people, or observe the task happening 24/7.
Good auditors understand that for really critical points, or in very high-risk areas we need to spend more time looking at a bigger sample size of records, observations and interviews. Because if it’s a critical control point in a food manufacturing facility for example - the bigger the sample size we look at, the more chance we actually detect that something is not happening as planned.
Tip 5 - a good auditor needs to develop the skills to switch between detail and and the bigger picture. If you are auditing an operational procedure - for example chemical storage - how its stored, interviewing people, making observations, looking at records - we need to be be able to get into the detail and assess what is that telling you. Additionally, we need to reverse that. At times we’ve got to switch between the detail and I’ve now got this evidence, need to be able to see the bigger picture. What is it telling me? How does that relate to how well we’re managing our risk? Or how does that relate to conformance with this particular requirement we’re auditing?
In our next blog we look at the 7 key principles of internal auditing.