Bad Auditor Behavior: Overlooking the Obvious, Part 1

Bad auditors goofing off while auditing a certification body (CB).

This is the first of two posts on some of the “bad auditor behaviors” observed by ANAB in the course of performing thousands of witnessed audits.

The witnessed audit of a certification body (CB) is an important part of the ANAB accreditation process. While often viewed as awkward and difficult, the witnessed audit is both necessary and valuable to the CB and ANAB. It allows us to observe to the greatest extent possible the CB’s processes and procedures in action, as well as the CB’s demonstration of its understanding of requirements of the relevant standards and schemes.

In ANAB’s almost 30-year history, we’ve performed thousands of witnessed audits, and the objectives of the witnessed audit have not changed much over the years. Per IAF MD 17, the process is described as:

i. verifying, on site, the effective implementation of the CB’s certification programs and procedures (and especially with regard to their assignment of competent audit teams and determination of audit time) and determine the correct assignment of scope by the CB for the client.

ii. observing the CB’s auditors to evaluate if they:

  1. conform with the CB’s procedures;
  2. adequately address the requirements of:
    • certification requirements;
    • applicable points of ISO/IEC 17021-1;
    • relevant IAF documents; and
    • any relevant sector specific requirements, as applicable.

iii. obtaining a representative sample of the competence of the CB across the accreditation scope.

While the witnessed audit is definitely focused on the technical aspects of the CB’s processes and the ability to field competent audit teams, we really don’t fully assess auditor competence. That’s the responsibility of the CB’s auditor training and evaluation process, which is more thoroughly vetted at the office assessment.

That’s not to say that we don’t observe some “personal traits or characteristics” of individual auditors during the process. While we may or may not comment directly, auditor behavior certainly has an impact on the quality of the audit under observation and may or may not result in a finding against the CB. ANAB is seeing more and more bad auditor behavior during witnessed audits.

What we might call “bad auditor behavior” can include wasting time. We see this a lot, and while it’s not always the fault of the auditor, many times it is. While an audit plan typically is arranged in general blocks of time, normally it’s expected that all of the time from open to close is spent auditing. Time can be wasted in a number of ways including:

  1. The facility tour: “When I was in industry, I worked in a building that housed 70 acres of manufacturing under one roof. We couldn’t wait for an auditor to ask to be taken on a tour. Four hours later, the auditor was behind schedule and scrambling to make up lost time.”
  2. Culinary delights: While many companies don’t have the luxury of a gourmet cafeteria in the building, a lot of time is spent discussing the previous night’s meal with the audit host, scoping out the best places to eat, or even traveling to unique eateries located a fair distance from the audit site for lunch.
  3. Sports mania: While we understand the intent of making polite conversation to put the audit client or auditees at ease during an interview, a complete rehash of the local sports team’s season doesn’t add value to the audit process. To repeat that at each interview of a new auditee is particularly wasteful.
  4. The copier is busy: Waiting for documentation to be delivered or found is a real waste of time. Go to the documents or have the client make sure they are available before the audit. Sitting in conference rooms waiting on something yields very little in the way of following audit trails or obtaining objective evidence, but too many auditors are willing to just sit.
  5. We need to find Joe: Same as item d and holds true with trying to find someone to answer a question. Often, we stand around waiting for someone as much 30 minutes. On a one-day assessment, that’s more than six percent of the available audit day. Time could be better spent moving on and coming back to the question.
  6. My steno pad is full: While note-taking and collecting objective evidence is critical and required during the audit, it should not detract from the time auditing. We’ve observed auditors stopping an interview or data collection to “record a few things” for 20 minutes or so using tablets and such. They’re great tools, but it seems a lot of time is spent in recording things verbatim or maybe even writing the report during the audit. See below.
  7. My CB doesn’t pay overtime: This is probably the worst of all the time-wasting behaviors we see. While some CBs and auditors are specific about scheduling time during or after the audit to write NCRs and the audit report, others do not. And while some schemes (AS specifically) prohibit report writing during the audit, some auditors’ schedules are so overloaded that they do whatever they can to get reports done or largely complete before they leave the clients facility. Some hide the fact that they’re writing the report, saying, “I’m taking extensive notes.” This takes away from time spent auditing and collecting objective evidence of compliance and cheats the client out of the full time allotted for the audit.

This is an important topic, so please read part 2 for more examples of bad auditor behavior.

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