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Quality Management8 QM Principles
Quality - what it means
Setting Quality Goals
Achieving quality
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Quality System Auditing
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Related PublicationsQuality System Handbook
Auditor Questions
Integrated Management
Process based QMS

Quality System Auditing

Auditing is a means to establish the extent to which performance meets the objectives for that performance. Over the last 25 years however, it has been focussed simply on verifying that procedures were being followed or standards complied with. If you are running a business it is not helpful if an auditor tells you that you have not complied with certain requirements unless he can also tell you what effect such non-compliance will have on your business. Clearly audits focussed on legislation and regulations where failure to comply may lead to prosecution under the laws of the land may reveal non-compliance where your choice of action is limited. You either comply or face the prospect of prosecution. With quality system audits the situation is quite different. Correcting many non-compliances that in the past, ISO 9000 auditors have revealed will not necessarily add value to your organization. There is often such an oblique link with performance that any added value is impossible to imagine. 

With the emergence of ISO 9000:2000 the style and approach to quality system auditing should change. The new standard focuses on performance rather than conformity for the sake of it. A quality management system is deemed effective if it enables your organization to achieve the results you and your stakeholders expect. The auditors should therefore be addressing performance issues.

Roger Brockway of UKAS in his paper published in Quality World in May 2000 stated that "...there has been disenchantment with ISO 9000 in the UK. It is seen as bureaucratic, procedures-based and non-compliance focused. UKAS sees the new standard as an opportunity to change this image - to show that ISO 9000 is a dynamic tool which can help organizations achieve their objectives."

This clear message sends a signal to all auditors to change their approach. If ISO 9000 is to be a tool which can help organizations achieve their objectives it follows that the measure of its success is the extent to which it does enable organizations to achieve their objectives. The first place for the auditor to start is therefore to ascertain what the organization's objectives are and whether they are relevant to the needs and expectations their stakeholders. Secondly before moving on the auditor would be very wise to ascertain what results the organization is currently achieving and whether there is a match with the objectives. If the results are not being achieved, the auditor can then ascertain whether there is an improvement process in place that will drive the organization towards it goals. The auditor's next task is to establish how the organization achieves these results (the effect). As results are achieved through processes (the cause), it follows that the auditor should proceed to examine the key processes and establish that these are being managed effectively.  

This is a new approach. It is not based on deriving questions from a standard and pursuing an audit trail until evidence of compliance or non-compliance is discovered. The auditor is not trying to put a tick in every box on a check list. What the auditor should be trying to do is quite simple. Establish that the organization is managing its processes effectively. If it is not, then requirements may be found in ISO 9001:2008 to demonstrate what is causing the gap in performance.


If you would like to learn more about this approach to auditing, what we call the process approach to auditing, ISO 9000:2000 Auditor Questions explains how it works. This book has been translated into Japanese, Italian and Spanish by the respective National Standards Organizations and both DNV Certification UK and ABS Europe liked it so much they bought one for each of their auditors. 

If you continue with the conformity approach to auditing you may find yourself with fewer and fewer clients or getting fewer and fewer assignments. In addition UKAS will be looking very closely at your training and recommending further professional development.

ISO 9000:2000 Auditor Questions

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