Brace Yourself…the Internal Audit Is ComingBlog
When we brace ourselves for a winter storm, we get ready physically and mentally to endure what could be a long treacherous journey to our destination and usually just hope to get through it without falling and breaking something important. The worst internal audits can evoke a similar feeling among everyone involved, which should not be the case. Internal audits should allow us to investigate issues more thoroughly and make improvements in the process and, therefore, should be embraced as a tool to allow for overall continuous improvement in quality and consistency.
Let’s take a look at what makes a really good internal audit
- Prepare a plan
- Assemble a team
- Audit effectively and efficiently
- Fix the issues
- Trend the results
- Wrap up and prepare for next time
Prepare a plan
It is vital to prepare a robust plan for the internal audit. It is important to note that even a large internal audit cannot catch everything. It is still a sampling process, and therefore the internal auditor can only get a representative sampling of everything. There may be requirements for internal audits that include the necessary items that need to be covered, such as critical to food safety and quality requirements. That is merely the starting point. After planning the required audit, estimate where the most likely compliance issues are going to turn up and focus additional attention and resources there. Establish timelines and due dates with the audit and keep a progress chart of all activities.
Assemble a team
Once the plan is prepared by the lead internal auditor, assemble a robust team to look at different sections. The team should have the most varied background possible, with team members from Quality, Operations, Management, line workers, Maintenance, Sanitation, and Legal, if possible. Ensure proper training and understanding of the goals of the internal audit plan.
Audit effectively and efficiently
After the team members have been briefed on the plan, conduct the audit. Move quickly through areas that have a low impact or low likelihood of finding issues and focus on areas that are likely to lead to problems. Interview team members who actually conduct the work and watch them go through their process. Verify they are referencing the correct and most current standard operating procedures. Cross-check all areas and have multiple internal audit team members verify findings if possible.
Fix the issues
It is not just important to identify the issues, but to address them and fix not only the issue at hand but also the root causes. Internal audits with cross-functional teams have a better ability to identify not only the issues within an organization, but also identify ways to correct and prevent the issues and present solutions to management to get the approved funding if needed. Bring the individuals who are central to the process in for the fixes to help get buy-in from team members.
Trend the results
Over many years of good internal audits, there will be a series of findings from across the organization over time. Review findings from previous audits to help identify any lingering trends that may be under the surface but not obvious in any particular area. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but the only way to identify it is to look at the larger picture over audits from the past few years. Reviewing the findings, corrective actions, and preventive measures from any external audits as well can help give an even wider picture and inform on areas for improvement.
Wrap up and prepare for next time
Once the audit is complete, prepare a final report. This can be a good conclusion step in the process to mark a breaking point between audits. The report should include an executive summary, a summary of the findings, and recommendations for the next internal audit.
It is important for everyone involved in internal auditing to remember that the number of findings is not necessarily important. If anything, the internal audit should be far more robust than any external audit conducted. What is important is to ensure issues are discovered and addressed appropriately. Internal auditing never ends. We are constantly in a cycle of preparing, auditing or concluding. It is important to recognize the importance of robust internal auditing to foster an environment of compliance and continuous improvement.
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By Tom Spoden, Global Auditing Certification Manager