Ten Tips for Auditing to ISO 9001:2000

If you are setting up or modifying your internal audit program for ISO 9001:2000, we offer these ten tips for auditing to the new standard. But first, what is an audit?

According to the ISO 9000:2000 Fundamentals and Vocabulary standard, an audit is:

A systematic, independent, and documented process for obtaining audit evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which audit criteria are fulfilled.

So, internal audits are planned, organized, and formal assessments. They are conducted in an impartial and objective manner following a documented procedure. Audits are used to gather facts and determine the degree to which requirements are being met.

Using the tips below should help you achieve these audit objectives.

1. Train your internal auditors on the new standard 

ISO 9000:2000 defines an auditor as a person with the competence to conduct an audit. Competence is further defined as the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills.

New internal auditors should attend a three-day ANSI/RAB-NAP accredited internal auditor class to learn good practices and how to interpret ISO 9001:2000 requirements. See the list of accredited course providers at: http://www.rabnet.com/qc_dir.htm

Previously trained internal auditors should attend a two-day RAB approved auditor transition class to fully understand the new and changed requirements and to adjust their auditing methods. See the list of RAB approved course providers at: http://www.rabnet.com/content/ISO9k2k/ApprovedCourses.htm

The internal auditor and auditor transition courses explain the new concepts and terms associated with the new ISO 9001:2000 standard and ensure consistent interpretations of its requirements. Since you will need evidence your auditors are competent, remember to keep records of their training (along with their required education, skills, and experience).

2. Revise your internal audit procedure

Even if you already have an internal audit procedure, you may need to revise it to address the requirements stated in ISO 9001:2000 clause 8.2.2 for Internal Audit.

Although ISO 9001:1994 required an internal audit procedure, the new standard spells out that the procedure must define responsibilities and requirements for:

  • Planning audits
  • Conducting audits
  • Reporting results
  • Maintaining records

Prior audit results must now be considered when planning the audit program (schedule), in addition to considering the status and importance of the areas to be audited. However, most audit programs were already addressing this as part of the “status” requirement.

The new standard also requires the audit criteria, scope, frequency and methods to be defined. Most auditors know to do this based on their training, but now it is stated as a requirement in clause 8.2.2.

ISO 9001:1994 stated the auditor must be independent of those with direct responsibility for the audited activity. ISO 9001:2000 clarifies that the auditor must be impartial and objective, and that auditors cannot audit their own work. This change may give small organizations more latitude in assigning auditors.

3. Update your internal audit checklists 

Although checklists are not required by ISO 9001, most organizations use them to ensure their internal audits address all the stated requirements. Auditing courses promote the use of checklists and provide practice in creating them.

However, audits to ISO 9001:2000 should cause us to rethink our use of checklists. As interview tools, they should help us audit effectively and provide valuable feedback on the results of the quality management system. If not, why use them?

Well, there are good reasons to use them. Checklists, if developed and used properly:

  • Promote planning for the assigned audit
  • Ensure a consistent audit approach
  • Act as a sampling plan and time manager
  • Serve as a memory aid and confidence builder
  • Provide a repository for noting the evidence

Checklists do have some drawbacks. Relying repeatedly on a canned checklist not tailored for the audit will result in poor coverage. Restricting your interview questions because of the checklist will cause it to be viewed as a limited survey instead of a valuable audit guide. And, if your checklist doesn’t reflect the new requirements and process focus of ISO 9001:2000, it will need to be updated.

You want internal auditors to use common methods, but consistency should not be achieved by restricting interviews to a set of predetermined questions. The audit outcome should not be viewed as simply a completed checklist. Auditors should use it as a planning tool for their assignment and be willing to pursue other areas of investigation.

A checklist for ISO 9001:2000 should guide auditors through the system flow from quality policy, to objectives, to processes, to measurements, to results, to actions, and eventually to continual improvement. In fact, the checklist could identify a simple set of criteria to be covered instead of trying to develop specific, detailed questions.

There are four basic sources of requirements to consider when preparing a checklist:

  1. Standards: (such as ISO 9001:2000 requirements)
  2. Customer: (as expressed in orders and contracts)
  3. Organization: (as expressed by internal documents)
  4. Legal: (such as statutory and regulatory requirements)

Checklists revised for ISO 9001:2000 will focus more on the effectiveness of the system. Internal auditors may spend more time preparing for their audits, but they will gather more valuable information. Hopefully, the areas being audited will recognize that the auditors are looking more for process performance and less at simple compliance.

4. Adjust your audit approach

The intent of ISO 9001:2000 is to encourage the adoption of the process approach to manage an organization. As a result, internal audits of your quality management system need to adopt a similar approach.

An activity that uses resources to transform inputs to outputs can be considered a process. The output from one process may become the input to the next process. To function well, organizations have to identify and manage numerous interacting processes.

The Process Approach involves the systematic identification and management of these process interactions within an organization. For effective audits, you have to understand the process nature of the system and follow the appropriate audit trails.

For example, auditing to the requirements for “quality objectives” requires considering clause 5.4.1, quality objectives, as well as, related clauses that refer to quality objectives (4.2.1.a, 5.1.c, 5.3.c, 5.4.2.a, 5.6.1, 6.2.2.d, 7.1.a, and 8.5.1).

So, an audit to see if “quality objectives” have been planned, implemented, monitored, and improved will consider requirements from multiple clauses. Use of an electronic version of the standard can help these identify important cross-references.

ISO 9001:2000 requires your processes to be identified (4.1.a) and their sequence and interaction to be determined (4.1.b). Clause 4.2.2.c states these process interactions must be described in your quality manual.

Audit planning should identify process linkages and ensure these audit trails are followed for more effective evaluations of your quality management system.

5. Focus on the new and changed requirements

Market research firms often track the use of certain key words in newspapers and trade magazines to determine the general level of interest and acceptance of new topics.

If we look at the word counts in ISO 9001:2000 compared to ISO 9001:1994, we see a dramatic shift in emphasis for some important areas:

  • The word Customer is now used 48 times instead of 18 times
  • Customer Satisfaction appears 8 times compared to only once
  • The words Plan, Planned, and Planning occur 32 times versus 20 times
  • Quality Objective can be found 11 times instead of only twice
  • Improve and Improvement are included 21 times instead of only once

Since the auditors working for Registrars have been through recent transition training on the new standard, they will naturally focus on the new and changed requirements when they assess your system. Therefore, your own internal auditors should also pay special attention to these areas when judging compliance to ISO 9001:2000.

Section 5 of the Transition Planning Guidance document summarizes the key changes between ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 9001:1994. You can view this guidance at: http://www.iso.ch/iso/en/iso9000-14000/iso9000/2000rev4.html

6. Evaluate the effectiveness of the system

Most auditors find it relatively easy to assess the compliance of a defined or documented process to the requirements of the standard. They even find it relatively easy to see if the actual practice matches the defined or documented process. However, auditors often struggle with, or even overlook, assessing how well the practice is actually performed.

Every audit situation should be examined from three perspectives:

  1. Intent: “Have you said what you do?”

Do the defined or documented processes adequately express your approach?

  1. Implementation: “Have you done what you said?”

Do the observed and recorded practices show compliance with the stated intent?

  1. Effectiveness: “Have you done it well?”

Do the results of the process indicate the desired outcomes have been achieved?

ISO 9000:2000 defines “effectiveness” as the extent to which planned activities are realized and planned results are achieved. In other words, to judge effectiveness you look not only at the compliance of a process, but also at its results compared to its objectives.

However, please note that ISO 9001:2000 requires an effective system, not necessarily an efficient one. Efficiency, the relationship between the result achieved and the resources used, is only addressed in the ISO 9004:2000 Guidelines for Performance Improvement.

Speaking of improvement, don’t overlook it. A process may be defined, deployed, and effective, yet still need to be improved for better results and more business success.

7. Remind auditors how to verify conformity

Internal auditors often rely just upon documents and records as evidence of process conformity and don’t adequately interview personnel and observe operations.

After determining the audit criteria (requirements), objective evidence should be gathered in four different ways for more complete and effective audits:

  1. Interview personnel

Based on your audit planning and checklist questions, ask employees about their jobs. Listen to what they tell you. See if their explanations match the defined process. Use open-ended questions to elicit more complete responses.

  1. Observe operations

Aid your own understanding of the process by watching it be performed. See if the observed practices comply with requirements. You will discover the persons being interviewed are more relaxed when you let them demonstrate their jobs. In addition, internal audits will be less disruptive since work is actually being completed.

  1. Review documents

Ask the persons being interviewed what documents are used in their work. You may find documents and forms beyond those identified in your audit planning. See if the documents are adequately controlled and available for use. Refer to the documents to help you follow the work being shown. Verify the records described in the documents are being properly collected and controlled.

  1. Examine records

When you interview people and observe operations, you are determining how the process is currently being performed. However, you also want to verify the process has been compliant since the last audit. The best way to evaluate prior practices is to examine the records from past operations.

The facts uncovered using these methods should be carefully recorded in your audit notes. Analyze this evidence to report the degree of conformity (or nonconformity).

Auditors cannot interview every person, observe every activity, look at every document, and evaluate every record. You should strive for representative samples that allow you to make informed judgments. Since audits are limited due to sampling, nonconformities may continue to exist in the system beyond those identified and reported.

8. Know how to audit an undocumented process

You may have heard that ISO 9001:2000 only specifically requires six procedures. Those required procedures by clause are:

4.2.3 – Control of Documents

4.2.4 – Control of Records

8.2.2 – Internal Audit

8.3 – Control of Nonconforming Product

8.5.2 – Corrective Action

8.5.3 – Preventive Action

ISO 9001:2000 clause 4.2.1.d states that other documents needed for effective process planning, operation, and control must also be included. Therefore, organizations should only develop the level of documentation they need based on the process complexity, personnel competence, and organization size.

This means some processes may be defined and not documented. Auditors accustomed to relying upon a written procedure to use as the audit criteria may feel lost without them. However, ISO 9001 has never required every task to be documented. There have always been cases where an organization could depend on the training, skills, and experience of the persons carrying out a defined process instead of having it written in a document.

With the requirement for fewer documented procedures, auditors will have to improve upon their interviewing techniques to understand and take notes on the defined process. Ask the manager of the area if any documents exist to guide the people in their assigned activities. If not, ask the manager to explain the process. Confirm your understanding and use the manager’s defined process as the audit criteria.

Auditors should always substantiate the evidence before making conformity judgements. This is especially important with an undocumented process. Review how the process is planned, people are trained, practices are deployed, conditions are controlled, results are achieved, records are maintained, and the process is improved.

9. Improve your current internal audit practices

Organizations with an existing internal audit program should review their results to ensure audit objectives are being met and to identify opportunities for improvement.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are our internal audit plans and schedules being met?
  • How well are departments meeting their requirements?
  • Are our internal auditors writing good audit reports?
  • How long is it taking to close audit corrective actions?
  • What feedback are we receiving about our audits?

Use the update of your internal audit process as an opportunity to take corrective and preventive actions. Look at past audit reports and see if you are satisfied with current practices and auditor consistency.

Have training sessions with your auditors to go over previously written nonconformity statements and identify what clause references would have been used for ISO 9001:2000. Suggest to your auditors that they follow these 6 C’s for well-written statements:

  • Complete – include the specified requirement and objective evidence
  • Correct – take care to accurately and correctly convey the information
  • Concise – express the statement as briefly and succinctly as possible
  • Clear – use easy to understand and familiar words and terminology
  • Categorized – if used, identify its severity (major, minor, or concern)
  • Confirmed – verify the information needed for corrective action is stated

Of course, internal auditors must prepare audit forms and reports as prescribed by their own audit procedure. Remind them to audit for conformity (not nonconformity) and to share some positive comments in their reports to encourage improved compliance.

10. Schedule your internal audits differently

The purpose of an internal audit program (schedule) is to plan the type and number of audits, as well as, to identify and provide the necessary resources to conduct them.

The Plan-Do-Check-Act model can be applied to the management of internal audits:

Plan:   Define the audit program

Do:   Implement the audit program

Check:  Review the audit program

Act:   Improve the audit program

The auditors need to understand how the new clause structure and requirements will affect their audit plans. Instead of auditing by clause, the organization may decide to audit by functional area.

An earlier tip described the need to look at requirements from multiple clauses to fully assess a particular activity. Organizing audits by clause may limit the evaluation to just a subset of the planning, doing, checking, and acting requirements for a process.

Scheduling audits by functional area will promote an examination of all the applicable requirements (clauses) for the specific process scope. If audit results indicate problems with a particular clause across multiple areas, a supplemental audit can be scheduled.

Another method of auditing is to trace customer orders downstream (or shipping notices upstream) through the flow to assess department interfaces and process handoffs. Audits can also be scheduled for a specific contract or project to only assess the involved areas.

Remember that ISO 9001:2000 requires audits to be planned based on the status and importance of the areas being audited, as well as, the results of prior audits. Internal audits of critical areas or poorly performing ones must be scheduled more frequently.

If the scope of your system has changed based on permissible exclusions (see clause 1.2) or outsourcing (see clause 4.1), make sure your internal audits are scheduled and planned to provide full coverage of the system.

For information on permissible exclusions and outsourcing, refer to Guidance on Clause 1.2 Application at: http://www.iso.ch/iso/en/iso9000-14000/iso9000/2000rev6.html

Tips and Guidance

We hope you find these tips useful in setting up or revising your internal audit program for ISO 9001:2000.

Although registrars cannot consult on possible audit practices, you can ask them for their interpretation of the ISO 9001:2000 requirements.  Best wishes for efficient and effective internal auditing!