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Management of the Audit Function

The following is an excerpt from The Complete Guide to the CQA by Steve Baysinger, © QA Publishing, LLC.

An effective audit function should provide all levels of management an independent appraisal of their operations and assist them in achieving maximum efficiency while achieving overall organizational goals (Institute of Internal Auditors, “Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing”). However, before the manager of the audit function can begin to promote their positive contributions to the organization, improve upon the products generated by auditing (i.e., audit reports, analysis), or contribute to the overall continuous improvement of the organization in general, the leadership of the audit department must seek feedback on its own performance. There are many sources of feedback; both internal and external to the audit department.

Feedback from Management

Certainly one of the most important sources of feedback is from senior management. It is critical the audits scheduled to be performed by the audit department closely match the interests of the senior leadership. The audit department mission statement must be in line with organizational policies, special interests, and short-term and long-term goals.

Feedback from the Auditee

You might think it unusual for the auditor to ask for feedback from the auditee, however, it is important that his or her voice be heard. There is nothing quite so difficult as requesting an assessment of your performance by those whose management and leadership abilities have been reviewed and critiqued. Nevertheless, it is important to know how you and your work were perceived by the auditee. From the initial contact, to the audit entrance conference, through to the exit briefing, you need feedback regarding the perception of you (and the team). Without this feedback, you will not have the information you need to improve your future performance.

Feedback from Audit Team Members

Almost as difficult as asking for performance feedback from the auditee is requesting it from your own audit team members. No one is as tough on rating the performance of a quality auditor than a fellow auditor. Obtaining feedback, and evaluating team effectiveness, is usually best achieved in the Process Review and Action Team (PRAT) setting. The PRAT is one avenue that may be used to determine not just whether the performance (or audit function, for that matter) can be improved upon, but how it can be improved upon. Methods such as brainstorming; nominal group technique; cause and effect analysis; and so on, work well in this forum.

Customer Feedback Regarding Product and Service Quality

Customer feedback in the form of survey data, interviews, complaint rate, etc., is a vital source of feedback. This information is critical to the audit function in that the quality system elements designed to assure product quality (e.g., process control, corrective and preventive action) were probably assessed by the internal audit department at one time or another and found to be acceptable. Negative customer feedback may be indicative of:

·      One or more quality system elements having gone awry since the last assessment.

·      The quality system element(s) previously assessed may have been done so incorrectly.

·      Management “pencil whipping” of corrective and preventive actions to earlier audit findings.

·      A lack of, or insufficient follow-up action in response to audit findings by the quality audit function.

Audit Function Effectiveness Rating

The overall effectiveness rating of the audit team usually comes from one or both of the following sources:

1.   External customers-the suppliers, distributors, manufacturers, etc., whose quality system, process, and/or product you have assessed, and/or;

2.   Internal “customers”-your supervisor, his or her supervisor, and those responsible for managing and maintaining the daily internal processes and products within the company.

Quality auditors are judged on their performance. Specifically, their appearance, their conduct, their approach to the audit. Within this sphere of professionalism, “customers” of the audit department generally judge auditors using one particular type of criteria: the “quality” of audit findings and observations to include the soundness of the logic supporting the recommendations to correct those findings and observations. Nothing is more frustrating to an auditee than to be the recipient of an audit write-up that has no apparent impact upon the quality system, process, or product.

Setting Management Goals for Continuous Improvement

Setting organizational goals for continuous improvement is a necessity. Continuous improvement certainly applies to quality auditing as well. As technology and the way in which it is managed and manipulated advances, quality auditors need to become experts not only in their area of expertise, but also in the latest management theories and practices, as well as in state-of-the-art technology. Continuous improvement involves knowing what type of management your company (or the audited organization) is practicing (i.e., integrated process teaming, concurrent engineering, etc.), as well as the hardware and software in use, especially as it applies to automated procedures, work instructions, engineering drawings, and revisions. As a minimum, quality auditors need to educate themselves on the latest in:

·      Quality auditing philosophy, techniques and practices;

·      Management philosophy, techniques and practices, as well as:

·      Computer hardware and software.

To add maximum value to the organization, the audit function must ensure its auditors are proficient in all three areas.

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Unless otherwise attributed, material contained in the Knowledge Center was written by Paul Keller. All material contained herein is copyright QualityAmerica.com All rights reserved. No material may be used in whole or in part without written consent from Quality America.