This is what you’ve been preparing for. It’s finally time to put all your hard work to the test and earn that valuable certification designation. Many people get nervous or anxious about the idea of an audit. However, it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience, especially if you’ve put in the preparation.
In the previous parts of this series, we talked about all the preparation necessary to be ready for this moment. In Part 1, we discussed on-site training, which is the best first step on the road to certification. In Part 2, we talked about documentation, which is at the core of the certification process. Part 3 was about the pre-assessment audit, which is like a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
You can also get all of these sections plus more useful certification information in our new report, The ISO Certification Playbook. It’s a complete guide on everything you need to know to get certified, operate more efficiently, and provide better quality to your customers.
Remember, you’re the one who chose to get certified. You’re the one who hired the certification company. You’re the customer in the situation. They’re not looking to trip you up or somehow find fault where there is none. They simply want to make sure that you meet with the standard.
The auditor and your team
The audit can last anywhere from two to five days, depending on how big your company is. The auditor will review your documents and talk to many of your employees. He or she will also observe your employees as they perform their designated tasks.
Your team will have gotten a taste of what the audit’s like during the pre-assessment audit, so they should have some level of expectation. Still, it’s worthwhile to spend some time preparing. Let them know that they don’t need to change who they are. They simply need to follow the documented standards that have been set forth for their role.
They also may need to answer some questions from the auditor. Here are a few of the most common questions an auditor may ask:
- What’s your quality policy?
- What are your quality objectives?
- What do you do in the event of a nonconforming or defective procedure?
- Which process maps relate to your job and how do you follow them?
- How do you record or document your work?
Again, the answers to all of these questions should be in the documentation that you’ve created. It’s okay if your employees answer these questions with the word-for-word answers from the documentation. Or they can put the answers into their own words. Either way is fine, as long as they can show the auditor that they understand the concepts.
It’s perfectly normal to be nervous or anxious during the audit. The best way to manage nerves is to remember that you’re the one who chose to get certified. You’re the one who hired the certification company. You’re the customer in the situation. They’re not looking to trip you up or somehow find fault where there is none. They simply want to make sure that you meet with the standard.
The auditor’s findings
While it’s easy to think of the audit as a pass/fail exercise, it’s not quite that simple. The auditor will come back with a handful of findings that can be broken down into three categories:
Opportunities for improvements. Think of these as suggestions. They’re tips from the auditor on how you could improve your quality process. They don’t impact your certification and you don’t even necessarily have to implement them. Rather, they’re tips and notes that you can choose to do what you like with.
Minor findings. These are non-systematic failures of your quality process. These are things that you do need to resolve. However, they don’t necessarily warrant a follow-up audit. The auditor will make you aware of the minor findings and will likely assume that you will implement solutions after the audit is complete.
You should expect to receive some minor findings. Nearly everyone does. Again, don’t stress out over them. They’re not going to prevent you from getting certified. Simply work hard to resolve them and make sure they don’t come up in future audits.
Major findings. These are systematic failures in your process. This usually includes things like missing required documentation or having employees who aren’t following the written processes. These are the types of findings that can prevent you from getting certified.
If the auditor has major findings, that doesn’t mean that you fail. It simply means that you have to correct the finding before the auditor will recommend you for certification. You’ll need to work to resolve the issue and then schedule a follow-up audit at a later date. Again, it’s not ideal, but it’s also not the end of the world.
Assuming you don’t have any major findings or that you resolve your major findings, your auditor will recommend you for certification.
With certification in hand, you may think the journey’s over. Not so fast. This isn’t just about getting your certification. It’s also about keeping it. In Part 5, we’ll talk about the steps you need to take on an annual basis to make sure that you keep your certification in good standing.