Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Performing Quality Audits

Quality audits are controlled reviews of quality management activities for a project. They are useful for establishing any inconsistencies between actual performances and preferred standards. You can use them to examine a small portion of a process or look at a complete organization. As a general rule, there are four forms of quality audits.
  • Product audit. Product audits reexamine a finished product. This process is usually performed before the purchaser accepts the finished product. These inspections involve verifying that physical attributes conform with standards.
  • Process audit. Process audits generally take a short period of time to perform, as they examine only a selected portion of the total process. They verify that processes, operators, and equipment conform to distinct requirements. They prove that a process is being used.
  • System audit. System audits examine the overall organization. When they are completed internally, they examine the management practices within a company. This type of audit evaluates a system to prove that a company is following it properly.
  • Vendor survey. Vendor surveys are often part of an external system audit. They involve looking at a vendor's management of quality efforts in relation to the expected contractual requirements.
Quality audits verify conformance to specifications and procedures. They provide necessary information about performance, products, and areas for improvement. They also help companies to survive, help companies conform to regulations, and help counteract the actions of others.

Quality is a vital factor for surviving in a competitive market. Companies that provide products or services more efficiently will usually win business over their competitors. It is imperative that you know how well, or how poorly, your company is performing. Quality audits offer this much-needed information.

Another reason to perform quality audits is to implement and maintain the regulations that are necessary for you to operate a business. Many of these regulations are in the form of licenses or certifications for meeting quality standards and maintenance of preferred supplier status with customers.

Quality audits also are helpful for counteracting the organizations that are looking for your mistakes. Audits show that you are monitoring your company's performance. The purpose of a quality audit is to discover problems when they are relatively small. When outside organizations can see that you have a sound quality system, they are more likely to leave your company alone.

When should audits be scheduled? Most times, they are part of a contract agreement with a customer or initiated from government regulations. Sometimes quality audits are scheduled and other times they are performed randomly. When audits are scheduled, they should be at times when activities can actually be observed, rather than times when only the documentation on those activities can be examined.

It's important that audits be unbiased and objective. The audit team can consist of members of the quality assurance department, the management team, or outside organizations. Audits should never be carried out by the performer of the audited activity.

Audit teams should be comprised of two to six individuals. The ideal quality audit team is comprised of members of all departments within an organization.

Audit teams should be polite and professional. They should ensure projects meet their quality requirements and follow quality procedures and policies. An effective audit team will perform the audit process in four sequential phases, which are described below.
  • Preparation. In the preparation phase, the audit team is selected. Auditors define the purpose and scope of the audit and pinpoint the performance standards and resources. They contact the auditee and develop checklists. They also become familiar with the control systems.
  • Performance. In the performance phase, the auditors meet with the auditee. They gather and analyze information by conducting interviews and examining records. They verify the control system in this phase.
  • Reporting. In the reporting phase of an audit, an exit meeting is held with the auditee. Also, the formal audit report, containing the conclusions of the audit, is written at this time.
  • Closure. The closure phase is sometimes referred to as corrective action. This phase is characterized by actions resulting from the audit observations. Follow-up actions are monitored and evaluated at this time.
Remember, scheduling quality audits can help you learn important information about your organization. It will also help your company stand the test of time.

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