Are You Asking the Right Questions with Your Quality Audits?

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by | Jun 21, 2023

When it’s time to perform internal quality audits for our manufacturing businesses, we know there’s more work than just a document review – we must ask questions of our employees to be sure that we’re doing what we say we do.

Photo of Albert Einstein with text quote - determine the proper questions to askWhat does that conversation look like? Should it be formal/informal? Lengthy/short? Announced/unannounced?

A good place to start is with the ISO 9001:2015 standard itself. Clause 7.3 tells us:

The organization shall ensure that persons doing work under the organization’s control are aware of:

a) the quality policy;

b) relevant quality objectives;

c) their contribution to the effectiveness of the quality management system, including the benefits of improved performance;

d) the implications of not conforming with the quality management system requirements.

If you’ve ever been part of a registrar audit, it’s true almost all auditors will ask these questions of your employees (to verify that you’ve implemented clause 7.3). How can we take this one step further to maximize our confidence in the QMS?

5 Ways To Leverage Quality Audit Questions

gray circle with number 1Announce your intentions ahead of time so the employee understands what is happening, why it’s important and most importantly, that it’s a check of the system and not of them. If you do not know the person, take time to introduce yourself.

Put the employee at ease. Before asking questions, start with something to help break the ice; it could be a simple remark about the weather. Everyone is nervous when being interviewed about their job, this is your opportunity to make the process easier.

light blue circle with number 3Go through the standard questions in section 7.3 noted above. Do not expect word-for-word recital. Ask people to tell you in their own words or if anything else, ask if they can show you where the information is located. You’re only verifying that they are familiar with it, not that they have it memorized.

bright gold yellow circle with number 4Go through their process with them. What do they do? How do they know how to do it? How do they know if something is wrong? What do they do in that case? Remember – show me, don’t tell me. Ask them to walk you through an iteration of what they do if possible.

Don’t forget to thank them for their time.

How Long Should Internal Audit Conversations Last?

Ideally, as long as it takes for you to verify the effectiveness of the system, generally you’ll want to base your time on the following:

  • The complexity of the process
  • The competence of the person
  • The size of the organization

One last note, when verifying a system, the way you ask a question is just as important as the question itself.

Stay away from “closed’ questions, that is, yes/no questions. For instance, if you ask, “Do you take a measurement every 30 minutes”? The employee has a 50/50 chance of answering correctly. If you ask, “Can you tell me how often you take a measurement”? You have a more accurate chance of assessing their knowledge.

Never ask “leading” questions. Leading questions occur when we build the answer we want into the question. “So, you measure the part and upon passing, you move it to the next step, is this correct”?

Avoid asking “why” questions. Asking why can cause people to become defensive. For example, instead of asking “why did you do this”? Try asking, “what did you expect to happen when you tried this”?

The Takeaway on Questioning & Quality Audits

Introduce yourself, let people know in advance what you plan to do and why it’s important and most importantly, thank them for their time.

A little preparation goes a long way when conducting employee interviews for quality audits.

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