Quality audits are an important part of helping small businesses grow and prosper because they provide a way to assess the business's efficiency and cost-management strategies. Whether the audit focuses on products or processes, the results helps managers determine how well strategies are working, identify the underlying cause of problems and, if necessary, take corrective action. Knowing how to conduct an internal quality audit is an important step in ensuring the success of your business.

Preliminary Quality Audit Steps

The steps you take before conducting an on-site quality review can determine the audit's effectiveness. The process starts by formulating a detailed audit plan that functions as a road map for conducting an on-site review. Specify the timeline, scope of the audit and audit location. Collect and review written documentation, including the quality management policy for the product or process, standard operating procedures and manuals.

Decide on and develop a preliminary list of personal interviews to conduct during the on-site review. Keep in mind that a preliminary list, which typically includes the department manager or supervisor and key employees, may expand during the active audit phase.

Assemble Audit Documents

Each audit team member should have an audit checklist as well as forms, or a tape recorder, for recording information during personal interviews. Each member should also have reference documents such as copies of standard operating procedures. A checklist is critical for recording information and observations, as well as for making sure you don’t forget anything.

While specific checklist items will vary depending on the department, product or process being audited, the checklist typically consists of sections, evaluation items within each section, a rating system and a space for comments. Common sections include department organization, the physical work environment, quality system components such as SOPs, and performance testing.

Conducting the On-site Quality Audit Processes

The on-site review focuses on gathering the information you’ll need to determine whether the department in question is adhering to quality control standards and following established quality control procedures. This phase consists of action steps, including observation, testing and conducting personal interviews.

Most often, the audit team completes certain tasks, such as performance or quality testing and personal interviews, behind the scenes. This helps the team avoid interrupting daily operations as much as possible. It’s important to understand that just as with personal interviews, both an audit plan and checklist may expand in scope and depth of evaluation, depending on what you discover during the active audit phase.

Finish and Follow-Up Activities

The “real” work starts once the active phase of the audit is complete. The final phase of a quality audit starts with a meeting to review, address and determine the steps needed to correct quality issues and problematic areas. Create a management report detailing this information. Once the owner and managers finish reviewing the audit findings, a strategy meeting should be held that focuses on analyzing and deciding how – and sometimes whether – to incorporate solutions for quality improvements presented by the audit team.