The key to a successful quality audit is selecting a highly qualified auditor. Since the quality of your organizational processes directly depends on the audit's effectiveness, it's imperative to choose the right professionals for the job.
Selecting an auditor requires a comprehensive approach. Knowing how to do it right is an invaluable ability. Auditor evaluations depend on the needs and objectives of the audit program. An expert who is qualified for one audit may not be the ideal choice for the next one. That's why new auditor evaluations may be required regularly.
ISO 19011 - Guidelines For Auditing Management Systems lays out the groundwork for how to become adept at evaluating and selecting auditors. This information is very useful when designing and conducting an effective evaluation process.
What is the evaluation process?
The evaluation process consists of four steps:
- Determining competence — determine the auditor's competence by considering personal behavior, accreditation, demonstrated expertise, ability to apply appropriate knowledge and skills to achieve audit efficiency, and other factors listed below.
- Establishing evaluation criteria — a number of factors against which you can evaluate the auditor according to the audit program's current objectives and requirements.
- Selecting an appropriate evaluation method — the evaluation should be conducted using two or more of the following evaluation methods: a review of records, feedback, interview, observation, testing, post-audit review.
- Conducting the evaluation — comparing the information collected about the candidate against the evaluation criteria.
After conducting the evaluation, you may find that the auditors you selected require additional knowledge, experience, and training to become fully qualified for the specific focus of the audit. When a potential auditor completes the training or gains more experience, they can be re-evaluated.
What criteria should be used to evaluate auditor competence?
The following criteria should be used when evaluating auditor competence.
To evaluate if the potential auditor is fit for the current audit program, consider the following factors:
- Size, nature, and complexity of the organization to be audited
- Objectives and requirements of the audit program
- Role of the auditing process in the organization's management system
- The complexity of the management system
- Management system's disciplines to be audited
- Requirements imposed by external bodies, where appropriate.
This information can help you understand the suitability of each member of the auditing team when evaluating their experience, education, and training.
One of the pillars of a successful audit is the auditor's attentiveness and objectivity. A qualified auditor should be:
You may need to evaluate the auditor's behavior over time to ensure their ability to conduct an effective audit.
General Knowledge and Skills
Besides having sector-specific knowledge skills necessary to conduct an audit, auditors should possess general knowledge and skills related to planning and executing an audit.
- Applying audit principles, procedures, and methods — general knowledge and skills in this area allow experts to conduct consistent and effective audits.
- Understanding the management system and reference documents — general knowledge and skills in this sector allow auditors to evaluate the extent of the audit and apply appropriate audit criteria in different audit situations.
- Organizational context — general knowledge and skills in this area empower the expert to understand the organization's structure, terminology and practices and use them to adjust the auditing process and communication.
- Applicable legal and contractual requirements — general knowledge and skills of the organization's legal and contractual requirements allow the auditor to stay within them during the audit.
This knowledge and skills can be gained through education, training, and experience in various industries and sectors.
Discipline and Sector-Specific Knowledge and Skills
To conduct a successful audit for your organization, an auditor should have knowledge and skills related to a particular management sector. While it's not required for each auditor to have such specific knowledge, the auditing team must have sufficient training and experience regarding sector and discipline-specific:
- Management system requirements
- Legal requirements
- Risk management principles, methods, and techniques
- Requirements of interested parties
- Nature of operations or workplace being audited
For example, in quality management, these skills and knowledge include:
- Terminology related to quality, management, organization, products, documentation
- Customer focus, customer-related processes, customer satisfaction measurement, code of conduct.
- Human factors, competence, training, and awareness
- Process approach and analysis
- Characteristics of processes and products
- System approach to management (rationale of QMS, QMS documentation, etc.)
- Particular QMS requirements in various sectors
Meanwhile, in environmental management, these skills and knowledge include:
- Environmental terminology, metrics, statistics
- Interactions of ecosystems and biodiversity
- Risk determination techniques (e.g. environment impact evaluation)
- Life cycle assessment
- Greenhouse gas emissions accounting
- Environmental reporting
Depending on your sector and discipline, you can create a list of knowledge and skills to determine the potential auditor's competence.
Qualitative vs Quantitative
When selecting the criteria for your auditor evaluation, it's important to keep in mind that they should be qualitative and quantitative.
- Qualitative — personal behavior, knowledge and skills, type of training.
- Quantitative — years of experience, number of conducted audits, hours of training.
Considering quality without quantity and vice versa may not give you a full understanding of the auditor's qualifications.
What evaluation methods are useful for determining competence?
To determine an auditor's competence, you should use two or more of the following evaluation methods:
- Review of records — verify the auditor's background (education, training, experience, credentials).
- Feedback — learn how the auditor's performance is rated by others (surveys, questionnaires, interviews, peer reviews, testimonials/references)
- Interview — conduct personal interviews to evaluate the auditor's knowledge, communication skills, and behavior.
- Observation — observe audits or on-the-job performance to evaluate knowledge, skills, and behavior in a work setting.
- Testing — conduct exams to evaluate knowledge, skills, and behavior and their application.
- Post-audit review — gather information about the auditor based on their performance during the audit by interviewing audit team leaders and members, reviewing the audit report, and gathering feedback from the audited organization.
These methods have a different degree of reliability. Some of them may not be applicable in all situations.
How is the evaluation conducted?
Once you gather all the necessary information about the auditor and list competencies required to complete the audit, you can compare them against each other. Then you can select an auditor who is the most qualified to achieve audit objectives.
If the most qualified candidate still lacks some necessary skills, knowledge, or experience, you could give them time to undergo training. However, besides being costly, such a solution could force you to postpone the audit.
Keep in mind that to conduct an effective audit, you may need several qualified auditors. If you find it hard to find a sufficient number of qualified candidates within the organization, you can consider evaluating third-party auditors and hiring an external team.
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