While he is aware of their, sometimes negative, reputation, Quality Manager Paul Vaughan wants to reassure everyone that internal quality auditors “don’t bite”. That is, of course, providing they’ve had their breakfast…

In over 30 years’ experience of working in numerous quality-related roles across a number of industries, including over 500 audits, Paul has heard most of the negative comments thrown at internal auditing. To counter these perceptions, he has responded to them in the form of a 10-point ‘Audit Myth Buster’.

The focus of audit has shifted from procedural compliance to process effectiveness since the transition to ISO 9001:2000. Dispelling negative myths can be achieved by raising awareness about why we audit and what is gained by carrying them out, he says.

Myth 1. Auditors find a problem, report it and then walk away.

Admittedly, this could have been true in the past as the earlier audit trainers taught us not to offer any solutions through fear of being blamed if these didn’t work. Thankfully, however, this is now no longer the case. Having a reasonable wealth of experience across a number of industries presents me with an ideal opportunity to share best practices that I have seen through previous audits. Particularly in projects, I see myself as part of the team and as long as I retain my independence, I find it very satisfying if I can help in any way to improve the project performance.

Myth 2. Audits don’t add value to the bottom line, and they are just a means of keeping an ISO certificate on the reception wall.

Definitely not. Sometimes a manager and auditee can be too close to see the wood from the trees or in our case opportunities of improvement or process failings. Audits provide an ‘outside looking in’ or ’fresh eyes’ opportunity for a process to be impartially and independently reviewed. Also, the changes to the ISO 9001:2015 quality systems standard have steered the focus from procedural compliance to process based effectiveness. So, this shift has meant that the auditor will provide feedback on the effectiveness of the process, as opposed to a case in the past where a compliant but ineffective process would get a ‘tick in the box’.

Myth 3. Audits impact on project/programme schedules

I understand that there will be times when an audit is carried out during a busy period. But I would argue that this is exactly the right time for audit, as rather than just auditing to ensure that arrangements are in place, this is an opportunity to look at the activities in real time and review how effectively the process operates at ‘full tilt’

Myth 4. The auditors love to ‘stick their noses’ in sensitive and personal areas.

Even if auditors like to gossip, we are bound by the Auditors (informal) equivalent of the Hippocratic oath i.e. as auditors we will handle any such information in a professional and sensitive manner. Realistically, there are few areas of sensitivity (e.g. Training records, personal objectives), where our audits will take us and where we do end up going there; we will take great care as to how this is reported.

Myth 5. Auditors are held in the same light as teachers, i.e. those that can, do. And those that can’t, audit.

After serving a fabricator welder and mechanical apprenticeship, with a number of years working on the shop floor, I prefer to see myself as someone who can ‘walk the talk’ and use this ‘getting hands dirty’ experience as a means to truly relate to and empathise with what the auditees are going through.

Myth 6. Auditors have pre-conceived ideas on how a process should work and won’t listen to any alternatives.

Arguably, the ‘pre-conceived idea’ ought to be the documented process. But our focus is on process effectiveness, and if the audited process is more effective than the documented process, then this is an ideal opportunity to get the latter process changed through the audit. My ethos to most things in life is that I have two ears and one mouth, and on that rationale, I try to listen twice as much as I speak.

Myth 7. A bad audit outcome will mean that the auditee will get the ‘hairdryer treatment’ from his or her line manager.

As auditors, we always point out to the auditees and managers that we are auditing the process and not the individual. It is also worth noting that there is no such thing as a bad audit, as any issues picked up during an audit mean that they will be addressed through effective corrective action and hopefully will not re-occur in other projects. I would be very disappointed if there are cases of an individual being berated by the manager for a ‘poor audit’ and I would like to hear about them so that I can discuss this with their manager.

Myth 8. Auditors are like traffic wardens, i.e. they have to raise a number of non-conformances to maintain their targets.

Sometimes I do feel like we are held in the same esteem as the traffic wardens. But I can assure you that there are no such targets.

Myth 9. Audits cost money at a time when we are trying to save money

Yes, there is a cost, of the time of the auditor and auditee. But this should have been included in the tendered project cost as our clients expect some form of control within the project. The other cost associated with audits is the time to resolve any non-compliance found during the audit, including any delay in clearing the corrective action. 

Myth 10. Auditors revel in a false sense of power and love to intimidate their auditees.

I think it is more the case of fearing the unknown, especially for a first-time auditee – though I am sure that after the audit, the auditee will realise that such concerns were unfounded. At the start of any audit we will always begin by saying that we are auditing the process and not the individual and will flex my style to wherever possible, put the auditee(s) at ease. 

About the author: Paul Vaughan, Lead Quality Manager in Projects at Siemens Rail Automation