3 Simple Improvements for Your Internal Audit Process

ISO 9001:2015, clause 4.4.1(h), requires an organization to improve their processes. This blog shares some simple, proven, economical (yes, mostly free) changes that can improve your internal audit process.

1. Let your internal auditors prepare the audit plan.

I recommend using 50% of allotted audit time for preparation. (And 25% to performing the audit and 25% to writing the reports, if you are curious.) It is during this preparation that the audit team learns about the process they are going to audit. This is where they verify the process inputs, outputs, (possibly internal) suppliers and customers, steps, controls, measures, performance indicators, resources, and responsibilities and authorities.

When auditors use standardized checklists, there is no need to prepare. Anyone with a pen and checklist can simply go “audit.” In my experience, the results will look like the last time that process was audited. Exactly like last time. A good process audit will address each requirement in ISO 9001, clause 4.4.1, but several can probably be addressed during audit preparation. Then the actual audit can focus on risks, opportunities, process measures and evaluations, and improvement. And isn’t that why we audit?

2. Bring in outsiders.

In small companies, everyone wears many hats. It can be very difficult to ensure the independence of an internal auditor from activity he is auditing. Conflicts of interest also arise frequently in small organizations. And, most internal auditors I’ve met do not like to audit the leadership requirements of ISO 9001. Assessing your senior leaders can put you in an awkward position. These are, after all, the same people who employ you.

Bringing in an outsider can solve the independence and conflict of interest situations. I recommend it for internal audits on leadership as well as the internal audit and corrective action processes. Plus, witnessing an outside auditor can double as on-the-job training for internal auditors. An objective set of eyes operating without fear brings value to any assessment. Outsiders can be:

  • a consultant or subcontractor,
  • someone who is earning their Lead Auditor credentials,
  • an internal auditor from another division within your organization,
  • a class of students going through internal auditor training, or
  • internal auditors from other companies willing to trade auditor resources.

Make sure any outsider auditor meets your internal auditor qualifications.

Don’t know how to find these people? Reach out to your lead auditor. See if your registrar maintains a list of independent consultants. Contact your local ASQ section for potential leads. Call the places that offer internal auditor training. Or contact me.

3. Gather feedback from your internal auditors and address their concerns.

I've seen companies where auditors were miserable; they wanted to quit auditing. When interviewed individually, they said:

  • "Auditing is stressful."
  • "My supervisor never allows me the time to perform the audit."
  • "I don’t always understand ISO 9001."
  • "I don’t have time to prepare, audit, or report."
  • "No one ever fixes anything, so why bother?"
  • "No one appreciates the effort it takes, so it can’t be that important."

Talk to your internal auditors. Learn from their perspective. Maybe they need time set aside for the preparation and reporting as well as the auditing. Maybe they need extra training. Maybe they are not made aware of improvements that were initiated as a result of auditing. Maybe they don’t feel appreciated. Pareto their concerns and begin to address them. And communicate as you make improvements.