Tips on how to be an effective internal auditor in ISO9001:2008

OK, this is it….this is officially the first time I’ve used the term ISO9001:2008 in a blog post. We all have to get used to it eventually, so I thought I’d try it out. Not so painful after all.

The ISO gods have blessed us with a revised quality standard that’s really not so revised. As of this writing the new standard has not yet been released. From what I’ve heard it may be out in December 2008. I suppose it will be a good idea to purchase the new quality standard, and enrich the coffers of the ISO organization, but I’m not completely sure it’s necessary. This is a decision I can delay for a while.

But I digress…..today’s real topic is to offer tips on how to be an effective internal auditor.

I have the luxury of being a consultant, not an employee, for companies with ISO9001:2000 quality management systems. Its easier for me to conduct internal audits when I don’t have to be at that company 5 days a week. You see, I, like many people, am happier when other people like me. I prefer to be liked, not disliked. And to be an internal auditor is not always the most popular position in a company. But as a consultant, I just show up occasionally, so I don’t really have time to develop friendships with anyone at my client companies.

But whether you’re a consultant, employee, or business owner, there are some things you can do to make your internal audits less painful and more effective.

The most important thing is the right attitude. Do have a positive attitude, and always let people know you’re only interested in solving problems and helping to improve the organization. Never be the guy (or gal) who points fingers and tries to assign blame in order to fix problems. If you’re always trying to throw people under the bus, no one will want to work with you. And while some folks might be stubborn enough to think that employees should follow the rules no matter what, I’m of the opinion that it’s SO much easier, and SO much more effective, to conduct internal audits with a positive attitude. No matter how many problems you find, try to remind people often that we’re all just trying to make the company better. Kill ’em with kindness.

Another tip is to be organized. Be sure to let people know they’ll be involved in an internal audit well in advance. Surprises are to be avoided. Your registration or surveillance audit never comes as a surprise, and neither should an internal audit. It’s just common courtesy, and people respond better when treated with courtesy and respect.

Work off a checklist, and keep it as brief as possible. Most likely your interview subjects have a lot of their own work to do, and consider your internal audit as a necessary evil. Your subjects aren’t thrilled to be there in the first place, so don’t make it any more painful for them than necessary. Work off a checklist so you cover all your bases and don’t forget your questions. And please don’t elaborate or expand on your questions more than what is absolutely necessary to get your point across. Brevity is next to godliness. Ask your questions, take your notes, and let your subject get back to work.

Treat your interview subjects with respect. Even the lowest paid janitor probably can teach you something about the company. You’ll get better information if you treat people with respect rather than foster an adversarial-type relationship between the quality system administration and the rest of the organization.

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