Interaction With An Auditor

A recent PMPA Listserve thread indirectly referred to the role of the outside auditor. Are such auditors called in to measure you to the standard to which you are trying to be certified or are they there to provide advice and direction? How should your management representative interact with these auditors?

A recent PMPA Listserve thread indirectly referred to the role of the outside auditor. Are such auditors called in to measure you to the standard to which you are trying
to be certified or are they there to provide advice and direction? How should your management representative interact with these auditors?

We all are busy and cannot possibly claim to be experts at everything. So why not concede to the auditors’ expertise and accept everything they have to say as the wisdom that will improve your business? You do not, because in order to be truly expert, one must have precise knowledge of both the auditor’s role and the auditee’s process.

It is rare that someone will have complete understanding of both auditing and your process. In order for an auditor to speak as a true expert, both are needed.

Your auditor might understand the standard “second to none,” but there is no way he or she will understand your business processes better than you.

Think of yourself and your auditor as amateurs in search of expert status. It is a mutual continuous improvement opportunity for both of you. You are working toward further understanding of the quality standard while your auditor continues to develop expertise in your industry. It is a joint educational journey that can be appreciated by both auditor and auditee.

Educate Yourself And Others. Before you move to this mutually beneficial approach, you must understand the quality standard of your organization’s choice. Whether it is an ISO, automotive or laboratory standard, be sure that you understand the requirements. There is no getting around reading the relevant documents, but it will be time well spent.

Educate your top management on the purpose of your audits from your registrar. The auditors are there to confirm that you are compliant with the standard your organization has chosen. Do not get caught up to the t-crossing and i-dotting minutiae that can cause you to miss the big picture. Be the voice to improve your process.

Don’t wait for an outside auditor to provide assistance to make you better. Who knows your processes better than you? You were running your company before ISO became a condition of business. Top management should be concerned if they determine that the best quality improvement opportunities were identified after an 8-hour visit from someone who is not even fully educated to your process.

Challenge Opinions. Respectfully challenge a nonconformance or “opportunity for improvement” when you are not clear on the standard’s basis of the problem or identified improvement. The issue might be very real. However, in order to improve your system with this finding, it must be clear. You have a duty to your organization to ask why. Ask for the chapter and verse of the standard to which the finding applies. You must understand before you can implement effective corrective action. You will have to explain to those who need to abide by those additional helpful steps. “Because the auditor says so,” is an answer that is the equivalent to, “I have no clue.”

Do not concede a position or an idea because you believe an auditor must find something to justify a visit. You have to move beyond the “throw ’em a bone” mentality. Don’t allow your organization to be placed in a position where you are catering more to the desire and needs of an auditor than to the business needs of your company.

The auditor’s need to prove himself with less relevant findings is not more important than a system based on practicality. The good auditors strive to show that a thorough audit does not mean writing numerous nonconformances. The point in engaging
in discussion is not to reduce the number of findings. A lack of nonconformances is not a measure of success. Proudly stating, “We had zero findings from our last audit,” means absolutely nothing to those who don’t know your business, your process or your registrar.

If you measure your visit by the lack of nonconformances, it means you are focused on the wrong thing – numbers, not processes. This is a recipe for stagnation. Saying, “My people were confident, forthright and effective at this audit,” is a much more powerful message to convey regardless of the number of nonconformances.

Improve. Make no mistake, auditors can provide many helpful observations. Their ideas and observations should be viewed as another valuable input to your continuous improvement process. Diligently pursue those suggestions that you deem to be
useful supplements to your vision.

It is easy for an auditor to describe the wonders of, “one place I’ve seen,” to a company looking for its own version of utopia, but it is another thing to implement. Calibrate the good ideas to your firm’s time and manpower constraints. In today’s lean world, an idea that requires an army to manage or a team of inspectors to confirm is not helpful. Remember, if the requirement is not in the standard, then implementation becomes a business choice.

Engaging in thoughtful discussion to establish the standard’s basis for the advice is not to avoid work or to disrespect an auditor. The preparation needed to engage in constructive banter takes more work than blindly responding to each issue addressed by an auditor. No auditor would take offense to someone who wants to make sensible, sustainable changes to the system and decides that, in order to do so, he must understand the standard’s basis for the wisdom being passed along.

Monte Guitar is an ASQ-Certified Quality Auditor. He has planned and executed the implementation strategy of many quality systems including a series of ISO and automotive standards.