A Day in the Life of an External Auditor
It’s that time of year again! Your external audit is due and your assessor will arrive on site soon. But what will their time with you look like and what can you expect?
For a lot of people receiving an external audit can be a stressful experience. After all the assessor is the font of all knowledge. They are wise & learned beyond measure, and terrible things will befall anyone that displeases them. This really isn’t the case! None of us are all seeing, all knowing, & we certainly shouldn’t know more about your organisation than you do!
Also, the external assessor is a service provider. Their company has been contracted by yours to provide a service. So, they work for you! Always remember that you are the client and they have to do a good job. But what does that mean? ‘A good job’.
Firstly, you want certificates, and hopefully to improve as an organisation. This means you must complete the audit, and that means spending time in the presence of the assessor, or assessors.
You also want the assessor to be a nice, supportive, person, that understands your organisation and the industries in which you operate. You want the assessor to add value to your organisation. This means identifying weaknesses.
These may come in form of Opportunities for Improvement, or even the dreaded Non-Conformances. You also want the assessor to fully audit your organisation, across the audit cycle. Finally, you want the assessor to give you a nice audit report, that sums up everything that was seen & found during the audit.
As I’ve already said, remember that the external assessor works for you. If they aren’t meeting your requirements you can tell them. They should then either adjust how they are working or explain why what they’re doing is important for the audit. If you ever find yourself confronted with an assessor that isn’t adding value, then it’s time to get a new assessor.
So in order to dispel some of the mystique surrounding external assessors let me explain the process we go through to deliver your audits
Step 1 >>> We receive notification about an audit that we’ve been assigned to. At NQA this comes from our Scheduling department. They have used our internal systems to match an appropriate assessor to a client. The assessor will have lead assessor qualifications and be considered competent to audit your organisation, for all applicable standards. Our Schedulers will then agree a date for the audit with you and your audit confirmation will come through. This will confirm the name of the assessor, the scope of the audit & when it will be delivered.
Step 2 >>> The assessor will then contact you to introduce themselves and confirm the arrangements for your audit. Once confirmed the assessor will then prepare an Audit Plan for your visit which you will have the opportunity to review and agree before they arrive.
Step 3 >>> The assessor will make any necessary arrangements for the delivery of your audit. This will include things like travelling to and from your premises, parking arrangements, lunch arrangements, PPE requirements and contact details for when they arrive. At the moment any applicable Covid arrangements for visiting site will also be considered and planned accordingly.
Step 4 >>> Your assessor arrives on site for the first day of the audit (or joins you online, thanks to Covid). Firstly, there will typically be an Opening Meeting. During this meeting introductions will be made, the Scope of Certification will be reviewed, the Audit Plan will be reviewed again (although this may change as the audit progresses). Confidentiality will be assured and the process for identifying and communicating findings will be relayed.
Step 5 >>> The audit will proceed according to the Audit Plan. At the end of each day and as part of the Closing Meeting, the assessor will feed back any findings they have identified. Typically, these are communicated at the time they are identified. This means there shouldn’t be any surprises at the end of each day, and certainly no surprises at the Closing Meeting.
Step 6 >>> The assessor will prepare the Audit Report. This may not be completely finished by the Closing Meeting. If it isn’t then the assessor will give you the outcome of the audit and confirm their recommendation, e.g., Certification, Continued Certification, Recertification, etc. If the final Audit Report is not left with you at the end of the audit, then it will be provided very soon after.
Step 7 >>> The Closing Meeting. At this meeting the assessor will confirm the outcome of the audit & communicate any findings. Often arrangements for the next scheduled audit and any training requirements are agreed at this time. The assessor will answer any questions you may have and thank everyone for their help and support during the audit.
Step 8 >>> End of audit & leave site.
Hopefully along the way you can get to know your assessor as a person. Please know that we are absolutely NOT coming in to try and catch you out, trip you up or desperately try to find ways to fail you. We want you to pass your audit just as much as you do, we know how much hard work, time and effort you put into it!
Feel free to bounce any queries you may have off of them. But it's also important to remember that we can’t provide specific solutions to your queries, as that would affect our impartiality towards your management system.
Remember there is nothing in any ISO standard that says an audit can’t be fun. So have a few laughs, drink some coffee & relax. This isn’t a life-or-death process and should ultimately lead to improvements for your business.
Every external audit is a controlled exercise. You’ve contracted an organisation to assess your performance and compliance, to a give set of requirements, in that moment in time. Should any weaknesses be identified then this is the perfect way for that to happen. This means that the weaknesses are known and can be addressed without any adverse effect to your organisation. This is by far the best option, as opposed to someone being hurt, or your working relationship with a customer being harmed, etc.
So, sit back and enjoy your audit.
Author - Alan Michael Gould, Regional Assessor