Assessment and audit performance techniques include, but are not limited to, interviewing, audit sampling, communicating orally and in writing, and collecting objective evidence, all while maintaining confidentiality and security of the information gathered. Understanding how and when to use each technique will allow for assessors and auditors to ensure the assessments and audits are effective in meeting the stated objectives.
Interviewing requires effective communication. There are 3 steps to effective communication: what is said, what is heard, and what is understood. Failure in communication occurs when there is a breakdown between any of those steps. Interviews are a great way to gather information from individuals responsible for management and technical systems and activities performed within the laboratory. Effective listening is also a key component of interviewing to ensure that what was said is what was heard and understood.
Assessors and auditors must be able to conduct interviews effectively through use of the five basic types of questions. The five basic types of questions are open, closed, clarifying, leading, and antagonistic. Open questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no response, while closed questions can be. Clarifying questions are asked to seek further understanding of the responses provided, while leading questions are biased by leading the interviewee to the desired answer. Finally, antagonistic questions can feel like an interrogation, and, while they have their place in an assessment or audit, they should be used sparingly.
It is impossible to look at every document and every record on an assessment or audit. Assessors and auditors must determine the samples that will be reviewed during the audit. This includes documents and records from an appropriate timeframe in a quantity that allows for sufficient review to determine and document conformity.
The judgement and experience of the assessor or auditor will help guide them in determining the appropriate sample to select. Additionally, consideration should be taken for the inputs and outputs of the process being assessed or audited. Oftentimes, the linkages in processes and requirements lead to unexpected issues that require additional samples to be reviewed.
Communicating Orally and in Writing
Communication occurs in many ways. Assessors and auditors use verbal and non-verbal communication to achieve the assessment or audit objectives. Verbal communication includes being assertive yet using diplomacy, conveying feedback in a constructive manner, showing an interest in others, speaking calmly, and giving credit for great work. Non-verbal communication, on the other hand, includes having a dynamic presence, maintaining open arms, avoiding slouching or looking at the clock or phone, observing the reactions of others, and nodding to demonstrate understanding.
Communication is key to a successful assessment or audit. Assessors and auditors must be effective communicators at all levels. Individuals will be more open to communicate when they feel respected and appreciated. Both verbal and non-verbal communication is important to achieving assessment and audit objectives.
Collecting Objective Evidence
Objective evidence is based on fact. It is proof that requirements are or are not met. It provides evidence of conformity to requirements or nonconformity if requirements are not met. ISO 19011, Guidelines for Auditing Management Systems defines objective evidence as “data to support the existence or verity of something.” Objective evidence generally consists of records, statements of fact, or other information relevant to the assessment or audit. It is verifiable.
Types of objective evidence include, but are not limited to, answers to questions, documents, observations, and positive and negative findings. When documenting objective evidence, ensure that all relevant information is recorded through effective notetaking.
There are many different techniques that can be used when performing an assessment or audit. Some techniques may be appropriate for one assessment or audit while others work better for another. Ultimately, the techniques used should provide enough information to draw appropriate conclusions, support statements of conformity and nonconformity, and provide value to the assessment or audit process.
For additional information on conducting management system assessments and audits, ANAB provides training for internal auditing and lead assessing for several different standards, including ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO/IEC 17020.