What is “value-added auditing”?

We hear so much about the importance of “adding value” during quality management systems (QMS) audits, but what does this really mean? Is it possible to add value without compromising the integrity of the audit or providing consultancy? In principle, all audits should add value, but this is not always the case.

It is a question of approach:

  • A non-value-added approach asks “What procedures do we have to write to get the ISO 9001 certification?”
  • A “value-added” approach asks the question “How can we use our ISO 9001:2015-based quality management system to help us to improve our business?”

Which brings us to the question of “value-added auditing”

How can we ensure that the audit that is useful to the organization in maintaining and improving its QMS?

We should recognize, however, that there may be other perspectives that need to be taken into consideration. A “value-added third-party audit” should be useful:

  • to the certified organization by providing information to top management regarding the organization’s ability to meet strategic objectives
  • to the certified organization by identifying problems which, if resolved, will enhance the organization’s performance
  • to the certified organization by identifying improvement opportunities and possible areas of risk
  • to the organization’s customers by enhancing the organization’s ability to provide conforming product
  • to the certification body, by improving the credibility of the third party certification process

The approach to “adding value” is likely to be a function of the level of maturity of the organization’s quality culture, and the maturity of its QMS with respect to the requirements of ISO 9001:2015.

By referring to this image below, we can conceptually separate organizations into four different zones, as follows:

  • Zone 1: (Low maturity of “quality culture”; immature QMS, not conforming to ISO 9001)
  • Zone 2: (Mature “quality culture”; immature QMS, not conforming to ISO 9001)
  • Zone 3: (Low maturity of “quality culture”; mature QMS, conforming to ISO 9001)
  • Zone 4: (Mature “quality culture”; mature QMS, conforming to ISO 9001)

 It is important to note that in this context:

  • Quality culture refers to the degree of awreness, commitment, collective attitude and behaviour of the organization with regard to quality.
  • “Conformity to ISO 9001” relates to the maturity of the organization’s QMS, and the extent to which it meets the requirements of ISO 9001. It is recognized that specific minor nonconformities might be detected even in organizations that show an overall high degree of maturity and conformity to ISO 9001.

(Low maturity of “quality culture”; immature QMS, not conforming to ISO 9001)

For an organization that has little or no “quality culture” and a QMS that does not conform to ISO 9001, the expectation of a “value-added audit” could mean that the organization would like to receive advice on “how to” implement the quality management system and/or resolve any non-conformities raised. Here the auditor has to take great care, because in a third party audit such advice would certainly generate a conflict of interest, and would contravene the ISO 17021-1 requirements for the accreditation of certification bodies. What the auditor can do, however, is ensure that whenever non-conformities are encountered,   the auditee has a clear understanding of what the standard requires, and why the non-conformity is being raised. If the organization can recognize that resolving these nonconformities, will lead to improved performance, then it is more likely to believe in and commit to the the certification process. It is important, however, that all identified non-conformities are reported, so that the organization clearly understands what needs to be done in order to meet the requirements of ISO 9001.

While some organizations might not be totally satisfied with an audit outcome that does not result in certification, the organization’s customers (who receive the organization’s products) will certainly consider this to have been a “value-added” audit from their perspective. From the perspective of the certification body, failing to report all detected nonconformities and/or providing guidance on how to implement the quality management system, adds no value to the credibility of the auditing profession or the certification process.

We must recognize that the above discussion relates mainly to third party (certification) audits. There is no reason why a second party (supplier evaluation) audit should not “add value” by providing guidance to the organization on how to implement its quality management system. Indeed, under these circumstances, such guidance (if it is well-founded), would undoubtedly be useful for both the organization and its customer.

(Mature “quality culture”; immature QMS, not conforming to ISO 9001)

For an organization that has a mature “quality culture”, but an immature QMS that does not conform to ISO 9001 requirements, the basic expectation of a “value-added audit” will probably be similar to that of Zone 1. In addition, however, the organization is likely to have a much higher expectation of the auditor. In order to be able to add value, the auditor has to understand the way in which the organization’s existing practices meet the requirements of ISO 9001. In other words, understand the organization’s processes in the context of ISO 9001, and not, for example, insist that the organization redefine its processes and documentation to align to the clause structure of the standard.

The organization might, for example, base its management system on business excellence models, or total quality management tools such as Hoshin Kanri (Management by Policy), Quality Function Deployment, Failure Mode and Effect Analysis, “Six-sigma” methodology, 5S programmes, Systematic Problem Solving, Quality Circles and others. The “value-added” auditor should, at a minimum, be aware of the organization’s methodologies, and be able to see to what extent they are effective in meeting the requirements of ISO 9001 for that particular organization.

It is also important that the auditor not be “intimidated” by the organization’s apparent high degree of sophistication. While the organization may be using these tools as part of an overall total quality philosophy, there might still be gaps in the way the tools are being employed. Therefore the auditor must be able to identify any systematic problems and raise the appropriate non-conformities. In these situations, the auditor might be accused of being pedantic or even bureaucratic, so it is important to be able to demonstrate the relevance of the non-conformities that are being raised.

(Low maturity of “quality culture”; mature QMS, conforming to ISO 9001)

An organization that has been certified to one of the ISO 9000 series of standards for a significant period of time might be able to demonstrate a high level of conformity to ISO 9001, but at the same time not have truly implemented a “quality culture” throughout the organization. Typically, the QMS might have been implemented under pressure from customers, and built around the requirements of the standard, rather than on the organization’s own needs and expectations. As a result, the QMS, may be operating in parallel with the way the organization carries out its routine operations, generating redundancy and inefficiency.

The primary objective of a “value-added auditor” in these cases should be to act as a catalyst for the organization to build on its ISO 9000-based quality management system, and to integrate the system into its day-to-day operations. While the third party certification auditor cannot provide recommendations on how to meet the requirements of ISO 9001, it is acceptable and indeed good practice to encourage and stimulate (but not require!) the organization to go beyond the requirements of the standard. The questions the auditor asks (and the way he or she asks those questions) can provide valuable insights for the organization into how the QMS could become more efficient and useful. Identification of “Opportunities for Improvement” by the auditor should include ways in which the effectiveness of the QMS might be enhanced, but could also address opportunities for improved efficiency.

(Mature “quality culture”; mature QMS, conforming to ISO 9001)

For an organization that has a mature “quality culture”, and has been certified to ISO 9001 for a significant period of time the expectation of a “value-added audit” will be the most challenging for an auditor. A common complaint among this kind of organization is that the “routine surveillance visit” by the auditor may be superfluous, and do little to add value in the organization’s eyes.

In these cases, top management becomes an important customer of the certification process. It is therefore important for the auditor to have a clear understanding of the organization’s strategic objectives, and to be able to put the QMS audit within that context. The auditor needs to dedicate time for detailed discussions with top management, to define their expectations for the QMS, and to incorporate these expectations into the audit criteria. In this case non-conformities may be identified during the audit that relate to the organization not having implemented top management’s overall policy and objectives, thereby providing valuable information to top management.

The idea for this news article was from an old article written and posted on the IAF website. If you wish to discuss these great ideas in detail please feel free to contact you local office.

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