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ISO 9001 – How to prepare for an internal audit

The role of the internal audit in the performance evaluation and upkeep of your Quality Management System (QMS) is highlighted in the ISO 9001:2015 requirements. This is one of the main tools you have in place to verify that your processes are meeting the planned arrangements you set out for them to achieve. Although your key process indicators may be telling you that the outputs of the process are certain, the internal audit is a good opportunity for you, as the process owner, to be reassured that the small details of the process are also happening as planned. The internal audit will also provide some opportunities for improvement of your process, and should you find that something is not happening as planned, you have the opportunity to correct it for the future. The internal audit is good for your process.

However, this does not stop the employees who are going to be audited from worrying about what will be found.

Understanding why people get worried

The employees in your organization want to do a good job, and having someone from outside of their department coming in to look at their work can make some people worry. Unfortunately, even though the purpose of the internal audit is to verify conformity to the requirements, many people think that this is a fault-finding exercise. As a result, they become concerned that a small mistake will be found and lead to serious problems for them in the workplace.

Remember that the internal audit process is a way for the auditor to review the planned arrangements for a process, create an audit checklist for the process, review what is happening in the process to verify that the planned arrangements are being met, and report on their findings when the audit is complete. The internal audit process is intended to help your process, and making sure your employees understand this will be important in helping them to prepare for the internal audit.

If you want to find out more about how the auditors will review the planned arrangements and prepare the questions they will ask during the audit, check out this article on Writing an Audit Checklist for ISO 9001 Processes.

How do you prepare your employees for an internal audit?

There should really be no preparation required for the records of your process – this is, after all, how you perform your process daily, so the records should already be in good shape. Even so, there are a few things that you can remind your employees about to help them prepare for the internal audit:

Remind them how the internal audit works – Even if they have been through an internal audit before, it is helpful to remind employees that the internal audit is there to confirm conformance to the process plans, and even if there is a problem found, this is just a chance to make corrections and ensure that the process is stronger going forward.

Refresh where the planned arrangements are found – Even if you have a documented procedure for your process, it is likely that employees might not use this every day. A quick reminder of what your procedures are, where the information can be found, and where the records are kept can go a long way toward helping an employee to feel more prepared when a question is asked.

Answer to the best of their ability – Auditors know that people can be nervous, and sometimes will forget the answer to a question. It is acceptable to say: “I forget that right now, but here is where I can find that information,” and then to show the auditor the procedure or other information they need. If an employee doesn’t know an answer, it is far worse to make up the answer than to just say, “I don’t know, but I can find out.”

Perfection is not a requirement – When a problem is found during an internal audit, the most effective use for a corrective action is for a systematic problem. This means that if a small mistake was made that is not a recurring problem, then it’s not the end of the world. We can fix the small mistake and go forward – sometimes mistakes happen, and that is OK.

Ensure that corrective actions are not a search for the guilty – People tend to remember what happened before, so make sure that if a problem is found, that it is corrected, and corrective action applied, without laying blame or pointing fingers at anyone. For long-term employees, a negative experience with other managers in the past may be why they are fearful of the internal audit process to begin with, so make sure this does not happen with you as the process owner.

Knowledge is the key to fighting the fear of the internal audit

The only way to fight the concerns of employees is with knowledge. Teach your employees what the internal audit is, how it works, and how any findings are dealt with. Give the employees some advance knowledge so that they know what is expected of them, and that there will be no recriminations against them if a non-conformance is found. The internal audit is not a search for the guilty. It’s a time to verify that things are working as planned, and if they aren’t, then corrections will be made going forward. The more you help your employees to be prepared, the better information you will get from the internal audit in order to find continual improvements within your processes – and continual improvement is one of the biggest benefits you will get from both the internal audit and your QMS.

Use this free online training ISO 9001:2015 Internal Auditor Course to gain in-depth knowledge about the internal audit and prepare thoroughly.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.