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Denise Robitaille


Realizing Value From Audit Findings

Approach audit findings with a good attitude and you’ll improve the bottom line.

Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2005 - 23:00

It’s been my experience as an auditor and as a consultant that the overwhelming majority of corrective actions originate from customer returns. The good news is that the corrective action request (CAR) process is being utilized to address the cause of these problems. Unfortunately, CARs that arise from audit findings still don’t get the attention they deserve, and which would make them an effective element of a quality management system.Findings resulting from audits conducted by your own internal auditors, regulatory agencies, customers or registrars should all be viewed as opportunities to address the causes of problems and to experience improvement. Because the focus of these audits is to assess conformance to an imposed requirement, the findings are often perceived as intrusions on the real business of the organization, handed down by entities serving their own best interests. Sadly, in some organizations, this perception extends to internal auditors whose work is still viewed strictly as “ISO stuff.” Instead of giving thoughtful consideration to the evidence that has prompted the finding, many companies focus on just putting together a quick plan of action to make the nonconformance disappear from the auditors’ radar. The goal is to “close them out.” Often times, the corrective actions that ensue are little more than lukewarm responses devised to appease the auditor.

It’s neither possible nor practical to fix all the causes of all the problems at once. Besides, things change. An activity or feature that had previously seemed benign may become a potential risk due to unforeseen changes or other revisions and enhancements that have been implemented. For example, a company may have expanded their dock-to-stock program to decrease incoming inspection costs. If there is a well-developed program for supplier qualifying and monitoring, this may be an appropriate tactic for containing costs. However, it’s not uncommon for multiple variables to change quickly in fast-paced industries. If several new suppliers are brought on board during the development of a new product line, straining the resources for on-site qualification visits, and if, at the same time, the company begins to experience problems with one or two established vendors, the streamlined receiving program may become the source of nonconformances overnight. A lapse in one process may have detrimental consequences for another activity later on.

That’s where the benefit of the audits comes into play. The reason auditing is identified as an indispensable element of a quality management system is because it provides an opportunity—through a disciplined process—to periodically assess the system’s ability to maintain existing processes and accommodate changes. During an audit, it’s possible to observe the consequences of change and the effect of failing to respond to change. Similarly, external audits give companies one of the best chances to have fresh, if not always completely objective, eyes to look at their system.

There’s a financial aspect to this approach. Customer audits avail you an additional perspective into their requirements, allowing you to make modifications to better serve them. You can use this information to enhance customer satisfaction throughout your market. In the same vein, it’s important to remember that registrar surveillance audits are a service you pay for. A good audit report should provide you with observations that will help you increase the effectiveness of your system. You should experience more benefit from the audit than a nod, confirming your continued compliance with ISO 9001 or whatever quality management system standard you utilize. Dismissing the requests for corrective action in the report as unavoidable nuisances prevents your getting the full value of the service for which you have paid.

If you have to do corrective action, get the most benefit from it. Make it an activity that creates value for your organization. Corrective actions should exceed the scope of the original problem and allow the organization to experience profound and far-reaching benefits that extend into other processes and functions. A corrective action program should make it possible for an organization to detect nonconformances and problems further upstream, minimizing the instances of customers receiving bad product. This should also decrease the cost associated with errors and defects since, in many industries, the cost of an undetected problem is compounded as the product moves through multiple value-adding processes on its journey to final inspection or release.

For example, the discovery of a process breakdown during a surveillance audit should result in an action plan that would prevent the effects of the problem from ever reaching the customer. If you put together a sketchy plan to (let’s be blunt) shut the auditor up, you miss a great chance to improve efficiency and keep your customer happy.

Approach corrective actions arising from audits with the attitude that this is a great event—an unexpected occasion to increase customer satisfaction and improve the bottom line.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.