Audit reports often contain descriptions of problems and discrepancies encountered during the audit. However, not all problems are equal; some are more serious than others. A well-written audit report will classify the problems according to how serious they are. Product-defect-seriousness classification schemes are discussed below. Some organizations also apply seriousness classification to discrepancies found in planning, procedures, and other areas.
These seriousness classifications (e.g., “critical,” “major,” “minor”) should be explicitly defined and understood by all parties. Generally, some sort of weighting scheme is used in conjunction with the classification scheme and an audit score is computed. Although the audit score contains information, it should not be the sole criterion for deciding whether or not the audit was passed or failed. Instead, consider the numerical data as additional input to assist in the decision-making process.
Most audits are not pass/fail propositions. Rather, they represent an effort on the part of buyers and sellers to work together for the long term. When viewed in this light, it is easy to see that identifying a problem is just the first step. Solving the problem requires locating the root cause of the problem, which is challenging work. Many times the problem is treated as if it were a cause; that is, action is taken to “manage the problem” rather than addressing its cause. Examples of this are inspection
to remove defects or testing software to catch bugs. Wilson et al. (1993) define “root cause” as that most basic reason for an undesirable condition or problem, which, if eliminated or corrected, would have prevented it from existing or occurring. Root causes are usually expressed in terms of specific or systematic factors. A root cause usually is expressed in terms of the least common organizational, personal, or activity denominator.
In most cases the auditor is not capable of identifying the root cause of a problem. The auditee is expected to perform the necessary analysis and to specify the action taken to address the cause(s) of the problem. At this point the auditor can sometimes determine that the root cause has not been identified and can assist the auditee in pursuing the problem at a deeper level. At other times there is no choice but to validate the corrective action by additional audits, tests, or inspections. The final proof of the effectiveness of any corrective action must be in achieving the desired result.
Pzydek, T & Keller, P. 2013. Handbook for Quality Management 2nd Edition. McGraw Hill, New York.
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