A process audit is a highly focused inspection of internal systems, processes and organizations. Process audits are more than just product tracing, sampling and measurements. The purpose of process audits is to limit the assessment focus to specific procedures, routines or specifications used in a designated business area, unit or department. Many people assume that process and system audits are identical, but they are quite different.
Process vs. System Audits
A system audit is what most people are familiar with because this inspection activity strives to determine conformity or nonconformity with established standards. For example, OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP)is an elite safety program favored among production, construction and manufacturing companies. An external VPP audit involves OSHA trained safety inspectors from the state as well as industrial hygienists and occupational specialists. This enterprise-wide audit may take an entire week to complete in a large facility. An audit that focuses on departmental processes will evaluate the performance of employees and the policy compliance with individual steps and activities. Process audits, like system audits, compare past activities against predetermined standards to reveal inefficiencies and improvement areas. Unlike system audits, process audits cannot grade the overall efficiency and performance of an organization’s business.
A business process is an integral part of an organization system that is controlled by management personnel, defined standards and staff expectations. Businesses processes completed by separate departments produce different results and value-added benefits. For example, a warehouse process of lean logistics will accept incoming shipments and then immediately re-ship them to a different destination. The company that receives these shipments may have their own internal process for adding items to inventory and moving materials to the final department destination. These separate processes must be properly controlled by a management system in order to streamline flows and efficiency. Business process audits verify conformity to very detailed controls and requirements. Specific procedures are usually used control individual processes related to work, safety and quality duties.
Anyone who audits business processes must have a broad knowledge of work standards, procedures, problems and expectations. Familiarity with business information technology, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer service relationship management (CSRM) and warehouse information system (WMS), will be expected. Process auditors should have hands-on experience with process models, systems engineering, quality auditing and inspection techniques. Process auditors must have the abilities to organize and structure workloads while dealing with vague documentation and complex business processes. Business leaders expect process auditors to not only identify non-conformities, but also recommend viable solutions and internal controls. Process auditors must have the ability to build cross-functional relationships with departmental stakeholders. Their excellent conceptual and communication skills will help them with public speaking and presentation meetings. Process auditors should be comfortable collaborating with diverse individuals during interview, inspection, review and monitoring activities.
Anyone interested in process audits may pursue a career in occupational safety, quality control and operational management. The majority of process audit opportunities are available in manufacturing facilities because slight product variations, such as a one or two millimeter difference, may result in mis-manufactured products and defects.