Internal auditing is, in my opinion, the best tool in the quality toolbox for getting to know how businesses run and where we need to make improvements. If you start performing your own quality audits and get in the habit of auditing regularly, you will help ensure your organization’s continuing success.
Where to start, though. Here’s an excellent idea. Identify your enterprise’s key goals and objectives. Identify the key processes in your organization. Determine if the goals for each of those processes are consistent (don’t say “aligned”) with the goals you’ve set for the enterprise.
Now — how do you know where you are in relation to the goals for each process? Are you measuring your progress? Are you measuring the correct events? Are you keeping timely, accurate, and complete records? Your internal audit will help you find out.
Back to your business processes. If they’re important (and every process is), they should be documented. Such a document is called a procedure.
Procedures are important for several reasons, but most of all because they are your training aids. When people have to learn for the first time how a process works, they need to be trained. You need procedures to ensure that everyone receives clear, consistent instruction.
An enterprise is made up of dozens, even hundreds of processes. These processes, while separate, are intertwined. The output of one process is the input of another – there is no such thing as a stand-alone process. Some processes may seem more important to the business than others but every process is important – even those ancillary, back-office, or whatever-you-call-them processes.
So, it isn’t easy to figure out where you start auditing. Which process do you audit first?
Start with a process that has an apparent flaw, or noncompliance. If it’s a key process (and complex, at that), it should take longer to audit than one that’s relatively minor.
On the other hand, a process you consider less than critical can, because of its limited scope, provide you with quicker results that you can act on readily. It’s up to you…it’s your internal audit.
Is the process, as it is documented, being followed consistently? Is the process producing the results it should in the way that it should? How do you know that?
Are process records being kept? Records are your evidence – they tell you how well a given process is working.
“What time does your watch say?”
“It doesn’t say anything. You have to look at it.”
(An ancient vaudeville routine)
The records you keep don’t say anything, either. You have to look at them. One thing you really want to get out of your internal audit is: Are the people involved in the process using the records they keep to (a) identify anomalies (outliers, or hiccups) or (b) spot trends?
To sum it up, here’s how to audit a process in four steps:
- Is the process documented?
- Is the process being performed as it’s been documented or are there inconsistencies in the way the procedure is implemented?
- Are process records being kept? and
- Are the records being used to improve the process?
One final note – your audit results are non-binding. If your internal audit turns up a major nonconformance, some minor nonconformances, or just a few observations (aka, “opportunities for improvement”), you aren’t obliged to take action. You can ignore them and move on…
…unless you really want to improve your business.