How to Audit Continual Improvement

How do you audit the conformity of an organization to the continual improvement requirements of ISO 9001:2000? First, lets review the definition of continual improvement,”The recurring activity to increase the ability to fulfill requirements.”

Clause 8.5.3 requires continual improvement of a quality management system through the use of:

  • Quality PolicyQuality ObjectivesAudit ResultsData AnalysisCorrective ActionPreventive Action
  • Management Review

In addition, clause 5.3 requires the Quality Policy to include a commitment to the continual improvement of the effectiveness of the quality management system.

Both these clauses refer to continually improving the “effectivessness” of the system. To fully understand continual improvement, we need to know that the term effectiveness means, “the extent to which planned activities are realized and planned results are achieved.”

Continual improvement is more than just corrective action (based on a detected nonconformity) or preventive action (based on a potential nonconformity). An organization may identify a unique improvement activity based on their desire to become better and faster at what they do, instead of just reacting to actual or future nonconformities.

See if they are identifying specific improvement activities, especially at Management Review. And, how were the target rates of improvement determined? Are the plans being approved, resources being allocated, and progress being tracked?

Are the improvement projects keyed to increasing the level of conformity to requirements and better satisfying customers? See if performance trends indicate a continual improvement in results.

Remember, if they aren’t meeting an improvement target, that doesn’t make it a nonconformity … they may have set an aggressive objective. However, if not met, they should be understanding why not and revising their plan.