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Audits are a planned, independent (internal/external) and documented assessment to determine the conformance to the agreed objectives.

So what is the GOAL of these audits?

The goal is to collect OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE to permit an INFORMED JUDGEMENT about the status of the Systems/Products being audited, in line with the agreed requirements.
There are two types of audits – Internal and External. There are also audit sub-types which are Compliance, System, Process and Product Audits. I would not go into the details of these as this can be discovered on the internet by doing a simple search in Google.
However, audits are very very important from the perspective of the CHECK process in PDCA. Apart from Reviews and Testing, an Audit would give the project an external insight into the health of the project. Though most of the concepts and terminologies remain the same during an audit, what would change is the way in which an organization defines the objective, scope and requirements of the audit.
This definition is very important as this is the standard within which all the projects/systems/departments within the organization would be measured against.

Though these things are defined, the challenge is to ensure that it is done effectively.

I want to bring out two views of this. One is from the auditor’s perspective and the other is from the auditee’s perspective.

From the auditor’s perspective:

  1. If there is a previous history of good/bad performance of the project
    1. Look at the previous audit reports
    2. Look at the scope of the audit (CM/RM/PM etc) and stick to it. I believe that even if one process area fails, it is a good indicator about the failure in other areas as well.
    3. Though just looking at metrics would be more than enough to determine the status of the project, it does not always help (from my experience) as issues like people, customer etc cannot be always quantified in a Quality Plan.
    4. The purpose of the audit should be very clear - to identify the process that is responsible for the failure and not the person, so the audit should result in adding value to the process, each time there is an audit.
    5. There are also other subtle observations that needs to be done while doing an audit: How confident is the auditee, is he/she able to produce the documents/evidences as soon as it is asked or is the person searching for the same, if the auditee is answering the questions with the ‘global view’ in mind. Is the auditee talking about making the existing team redundant, etc. These non verbal and generic answers could be transformed into a quantifiable suggestion for the improvement in the project/process.
  2. If there is no previous history available
    1. Request the auditee to send across the Statement of Work/Project Plan at least a week before the audit is to start so that as an auditor one can understand the project and its scope etc very clearly. This would also help in being prepared for the audit.
    2. Stick to the scope of the audit and tie the importance of the scope to the other areas and bring out the importance of the scope (to give a big picture or a global view)
    3. Bring out the important points in terms of what has been defined in the Project Plan and the Quality Plan and track that to appropriate evidences
    4. Ensure that the auditee is assured that this is to help the project and not to find faults with the individual.
  3. Other important things
    1. Never look at one data in isolation
    2. Always give the feedback and get a confirmation from the auditee before the end of the audit about the identified Non-Conformance (NC) and observations. This would greatly help in future debate on the appropriateness of the NC/Observations raised. Doing this can also buy you time in case you are unable to publish the report immediately as the auditee would be aware of what areas will have to be worked on.
    3. The auditor should  be able to tailor the approach of the audit to fit the need of the project - for this it is important to understand the project and its business/other dynamics first.
    4. The other factors affecting these would be the availability of auditors and what to audit etc.

From the auditee’s perspective:

  1. This is a very good opportunity to understand the lacuna in the project/system/department. So make full use of it.
  2. Ensure that you are aware and have followed what the QMS/department defined processes etc asks for.
  3. Keep evidences ready for each defined activity.
  4. Ensure that you are aware of the path/availability of these evidences.
  5. Always be aware of the Numbers. Quantitative Management is applicable everywhere. This is a very good means to give better insights into how things are working.
  6. Ensure that the auditor gives a briefing of the findings to you before the end of the audit. Sometimes the findings can vary, depending on afterthoughts by the auditor. Ensure that any variation is validated by proper reasons.
  7. Remember that audit is NOT a fault finding exercise but a way to find out which process needs improvement.
  8. Ensure that you mention the truth and nothing but the truth to the auditors on the performance and issues of the projects.
  9. Ensure that you seek any clarification that you might not understand. It is the auditor’s responsibility to give the clarification.
  10. Ensure that if you are not happy with the auditor in terms of the questions asked, behaviour, explanations give, you give appropriate feedback to the concerned function after the audit.
Overall, Audits have specific intent and goals. It is the responsibility of both the auditee and the auditor to ensure that they make use of this wonderful method to enhance the processes that is being followed and implemented in the company.

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