An Internal Audit examines the operation of your management system. This provides top level management with the information needed to ascertain whether the system is operating effectively or if any changes need to be made.
For a list of the types of audit there are, see the section below, ‘Types of Audit’. For now though we’ll concentrate on Internal and External Audits.
An Internal Audit is performed within the organisation by auditors who are employed by the organisation, but who should have no vested interest in the audit results of the area being audited.
An External Audit can either be an audit carried out by an interested third party, such as the customer of a supplier, or be an audit carried out by an independent, third party, audit organisation (such as a Certification Body) that is free of any conflict of interest, for certification, registration, verification, etc.
So what is the purpose of the Internal Audit?
For Organisations with a formal Management System in place, such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, or ISO 45001, this is a requirement of the Standard, which means it must be done. It is there to serve several purposes:
When should Internal Audits be carried out?
Organisations with a certified Management System should conduct internal audits at planned intervals throughout the year. This will enable you to regularly determine whether the system in question conforms to the requirements of the Standard, the processes and procedures detailed within your Management System, and is effectively implemented and maintained.
Types of Audit
Audits take many forms, first, second and third party, accredited & non-accredited.
First Party Audits
An internal audit of your systems, sometimes carried out as an impartial check of your operations, or maybe as an internal audit prior to your accredited certification audit. Perhaps your company doesn’t have an in-house internal auditor, or requires an independent systems check for compliance verification.
Second Party Audits
Usually carried out on your suppliers or prospective suppliers and may be paid for by them to assure you that their systems are in place to satisfy your company’s needs. Everything may be OK while things are running smoothly, but can they cope if something goes wrong, can they trace back to how and why? Can they recall affected products? If not it may be your company that suffers.
Third Party Audits
An accredited certification audit by an accredited body, e.g. a Certification Body (which may be, for example, audited itself by UKAS).
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Buying a product or service can be seen as a problem-solving or desire-satisfying process, in which customers seek to match its attributes with their needs or wants. In this process, they look at the available products to see which is most likely to offer the benefits they seek.
There are five elements that customers take into account when considering quality. They can be thought of as five questions:
Specification: 'What can I expect when I buy or use the product?' The specification should enable potential customers to determine whether the product is likely to meet their needs.
Conformance: Will it do what I expect?' Any shortfall in conformance to the specification is bound to lead to dissatisfaction.
Reliability: 'Will it continue to do what I expect?' Clearly, customers will value a car that always starts first time.
Delivery: 'When can I have it?' It is important to distinguish between two aspects of delivery: availability and dependability. Availability is about when a product will be ready for a customer. Dependability is concerned with the adherence to a delivery time once that is agreed.
Cost: 'How much do I have to pay?' A purchase is as an exchange, in which a customer obtains goods or services by offering something of value in return. Customers will be satisfied if the price they pay, whether in money or in some other form equates to the value they place on the goods or service.
We can use the five elements of specification, conformance, reliability, delivery and cost to judge the quality of the experience, but at each restaurant different elements will be emphasised. When you eat at a Japanese restaurant you may be more concerned with specifications (what can I expect when I eat there?), whereas when you eat at your local Italian restaurant you may be more concerned with conformance (is it what I expected?).
If you are eating at a Pizza Hut you may be more concerned with reliability (is it the same as last time?). However, in reality expectations are likely to comprise a mixture of these elements, in different combinations in each case.
Customers are likely to have different expectations, even of the same product or service, and this may compound the provider's difficulties. Also, customers may perceive the same product or service quite differently.
Returning to the restaurant example, some customers may see a meal as a means of enjoyment with family and friends, while others may be using it as a business opportunity to entertain their customers.
In short, the quality of a product or service is whatever customers perceive it to be; this makes it essential that providers understand quality from their customers' point of view. In some situations, customers may not be able to judge the technical aspects of a product or service specification.
For example, you may be unable to judge the quality of the medical aspect of an examination and diagnosis you receive at a visit to your doctor. You may therefore judge the experience by the doctor's manner, the receptionist's attitude, or even whether you had to wait longer than you expected.
Shortfalls in quality are likely to arise when there is a gap between what customers expect and what they consider they are getting. When such gaps exist it is almost bound to lead to customers’ dissatisfaction.
Improving quality can reduce the waste caused by scrap and reworking, and means that less time (and hence money) needs to be spent on quality inspection and testing. If customers are satisfied with the goods and service they receive, they are less likely to complain, so the costs of servicing them are lower.
High quality can also reduce capital costs, as processing times will be reduced, and fewer inventories of raw materials and work in progress may be needed. A hotel that makes a lot of mistakes in its bookings or a charity that gives insufficient or misleading information on its telephone help-line service will incur both staff time and expense when dealing with the consequences and with the damage to its reputation.
Most people usually accept that quality is a desirable thing. Many organisations describe themselves as quality organisations, invariably pointing to the quality of their products and services. It is difficult to find anyone who is against quality (although there are always some unscrupulous traders and organisations that knowingly mislead their customers and provide faulty goods and services).
If those who supply goods and services are so intent on achieving quality, why is it that so often customers find that they do not get the quality they want? One reason is that the word ‘quality’ can, and is frequently used to, mean quite different things.
Garvin (1988) argues that any definition of quality will be based on one of the following underlying approaches, which consider quality to be:
1. Perceived. This approach is based on a view of quality as innate excellence. Quality is 'something you recognise when you see it'. Thus Armani can be recognised as a quality couturier. Similarly, Waterford is perceived to be quality crystal. This perception even extends to those who have never owned or come into contact with any of these products.
Such superior quality can be identified by look, touch, and so on. When a service is involved, for example a merchant bank, local solicitor or private health clinic, judging quality may reflect even more intangible criteria, such as the atmosphere in a restaurant or the reputation of a hospice.
2. Product-based. This approach considers those aspects of the quality of a product that can be precisely measured. Quality is seen as a measurable set of characteristics. Thus the quality of a car can be determined by its performance, as measured by its top speed, its acceleration or its fuel consumption. These measures can be controversial. Should we measure the quality of a school by the results its students achieve in exams?
3. User-based. This approach considers quality from the customers' perspective. Thus it is based on a marketing view that customers ultimately decide on the basis of 'fitness for use' what quality means. So an inexpensive product can be viewed as being a quality product.
4. Operations-based. This approach says that the quality of a product or service reflects its conformance to a specification. In this view, quality is achieved if everything is carried out right first time and without error.
5. Value-based. This approach modifies the user-based approach by introducing the notion of cost or price. Quality is thus considered to equate to the best value for money. Many customers will be prepared to accept a product with a lower specification if its price is low. The success of European budget airlines such as Ryanair stems from the fact that many travellers are quite happy to forgo higher levels of service in exchange for cheaper seats.
However, this loyalty is severely tested when things go wrong and delays and cancellations ensue. Garvin's definitions are more than a question of semantics. These approaches are based on fundamentally different understandings of quality, which may lead to quite different actions being taken in the management of quality.
A quality car, education, prison service or holiday will mean something different according to whether it dates from 1950, 2000 or 2050. Likewise, it will be perceived differently in New Delhi, Glasgow and Los Angeles.
Quality is a subjective term whose meaning depends on the expectations people have of a service or product. But the important thing is to consider quality in terms of customers' expectations, recognising that customers can include those who pay for, use or otherwise benefit from a service or product.
If we accept that the purpose of most organisations is to provide services and/or products that satisfy people's expectations of them, then quality is central to the work of all staff, especially managers.
So, the management of quality starts with the customers. If they are satisfied, or better still delighted, they will come back for more, or at least feel that their needs have been met. In either case they are likely to talk about their experience and recommend the supplying organisation to others.
If they are dissatisfied, they will not recommend it, or will disparage it. It is not enough for organisations to identify what factors, behaviours and activities will create value for their customers - they then have to deliver their products or services in a way that is considered acceptable by the customers. In other words, organisations have to develop quality as an integral part of the way they carry out their business.
Over the last 60 years quality has emerged as a dominant theme in management thinking, and many organisations think seriously about how to ensure that all aspects of their processes and systems are designed and managed to deliver high quality to their customers. This is why the ISO 9001 standard is so important.
Quality has become a powerful tool in the marketing arsenals of many companies, which have understood that the benefits resulting from quality are linked to a particular service, product or group of products.
It has become almost a cliché that quality is important to customers and therefore to organisations and their staff. Quality management is about more than identifying those factors, behaviours and activities that make customers happy. It needs to recognise the relation between quality and customer orientation.
What quality means to an organisation is important if you are to make informed and credible interventions in the quality processes in your organisation.
High-quality products and services obviously benefit the customers who pay for, consume or use them, but they also have advantages for the organisation that produces them. High quality can have a twofold benefit for the organisation: it can increase revenue and decrease costs.
A reputation for high quality can help a company attract and retain customers, thus generating a higher volume of sales.
High quality may also enable it to spend less on advertising, as there is nothing more powerful than recommendations from satisfied customers. However, customers are more likely to pass on negative sentiments than positive ones - thus poor quality leads to lower sales.
Whereas customers who buy on the basis of quality are less likely to be sensitive to prices for products that they perceive to be of higher quality. It is often remarked that quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.
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