Audit Responses- Just the Facts Please

Jerry thought that the audit had gone pretty good.  Ralph had called several weeks before and setup the on-site audit.  Ralph is a Quality Engineer for one of Jerry’s largest customers, a privately owned company with an eccentric and visionary CEO.  Let’s call this company “CT”. Making a good impression could mean developing a good customer relationship and future business.

The Audit – The introductory meeting is well stocked with a continental breakfast and plenty of coffee.  As Quality Manager for Acme Corporation, Jerry begins the meeting by introducing the Management Team:  Amy, the Operations Director and her team- Jason, Production Manager, Amanda, Purchasing Manager, followed by the staff supporting CT’s product line- Josh, Process Engineer, and Ashley, Buyer/Planner.  The introductions go well, and shortly thereafter the management team exits cordially.  Ralph goes through the audit checklist and all the questions are pretty standard- so Ashley excuses herself since PO’s don’t place themselves and there doesn’t seem to be any questions related to on time delivery and there’ve been no requests to lower prices (which is astonishing by itself, but maybe this is going to be a good week after all, Ashley thinks to herself).

Ralph continues talking about how he used to be a Quality Manager at Satellites R Us (SRU) and how he used to manage the entire Southwest territory.  Satellites R Us had a really good Quality Management System, Acme’s was alright.  But nobody could really compare to SRU.  Jerry can tell that Ralph is more interested in talking about the “Good Old Days”, so he quietly excuses Josh.

Lunch is brought in to the conference room, Ralph insists that going out to lunch simply wastes precious audit time, and the Management Team comes in as the food arrives.  Lunch goes well, there’s some chit chat and pleasantries.  People quietly leave as Ralph goes back to his audit checklist.

“The paperwork review is almost done,” Ralph says, “however, I really like to see the production line when I visit a supplier.”  Jerry hastily calls Josh back in, Josh thought he was off the hook this time!, and Jerry and Josh escort Ralph out to the production line.

“We all wear safety glasses and shop coats when we enter the production area,” Jerry explains.  Everyone puts on the safety glasses, which are like clear sunglasses and light blue shop coats.  Ralph makes some random comments and asks to see some shop floor travelers.  The shop floor travelers have all the job order information, which steps have been completed, each step signed off, they even remembered the in-process quality check this time! (Will miracles never cease?)  After the successful spot check, Jerry hurries Ralph on to the next production area (no need to stay too long and give Ralph an opportunity to look at more shop travelers.)

“This is Shipping and Receiving,” Jerry introduces the next area. “Please stay within the lines marked on the floor, anyone entering the warehouse needs to wear steel-toed shoes and there’s a lot of forklift traffic in the pallet rack aisles”.

“This all looks pretty standard,” Ralph intones. “I certainly am glad to see so many Lean practices in place.  Visual management practices are one of the things that CT uses when evaluating supplier maturity.  It’s not as good as SRU was, but it’s better than many suppliers I’ve seen.”

Jerry, Josh, and Ralph head back to the conference room.  Ralph needs a few minutes to summarize his audit notes, and the Management Team comes back in to the conference room.  Ralph thanks everyone for how they’ve supported the audit and that he’ll be sending an audit report in a couple weeks (he would have provided it sooner, but Acme isn’t the only supplier Ralph is auditing and he has to confirm some supplier corrective action effectiveness checks at the next supplier…)

The Audit Report – that’s why Jerry was so surprised at the audit report.  It didn’t seem to have any relationship to what Ralph was saying during the audit or at the Closing Meeting.  Everyone (including Jerry) thought that things had gone pretty well.  Jerry has a sinking feeling in his stomach- humph. What happened? What to do next?

The Audit Response – Remember that the audit response is an interaction with the customer.  Treat it like you would any communication with the customer.  Keep things positive and solution oriented.  The customer is always right, but they may not really understand what they are asking for and whether it will really get them what they need.  Keeping an open dialogue whenever possible is key- this allows misunderstandings to be cleared up for both the customer and the supplier (the auditor and the auditee).  Gently remind the Auditor about the audit scope, and try to combine corrective actions when it makes sense to do so.  Jerry makes some notes to himself for the next customer audit- which is next month!-

  1. Always escort the Auditor when they leave the conference room.
  2. Make sure that everyone at Acme knows that there will be an audit.
  3. Sensitive materials are removed from conference room white boards, hallways, any area that the Auditor may have access to (and even areas that they may not have access to!)
  4. Continually ask the Auditor- “Do you have any concerns”, “Is there anything that we can follow up on for you”, “I’ll need to provide an update to the Operations Director tonight, what things stand out for you?”

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Acme Organizational Chart

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