What is a Process Audit?

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process auditor

Process Audits

What is a process audit? A process audit is a highly focused inspection of internal:
  • systems
  • processes
  • organizations
Process audits are more than just:
  • product tracing
  • sampling
  • measurements
The purpose is to limit the assessment focus to specific:
  • procedures
  • routines
  • specifications
Theses specifications are used in a designated business areas, units, or departments. Many people assume that process and system audits are identical. They are actually quite different.

Process vs. System Audits

A system audit is what most people are familiar with. The system audit inspection activity strives to determine conformity or nonconformity with established standards. For example, OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) is an elite safety audit program. It is favored among:
  • production
  • construction
  • manufacturing companies
An external VPP audit involves OSHA trained safety inspectors from the state. It also includes 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. It also looks at 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.

Processes Defined

What is the process audit definition? A business process is an integral part of an organizational system that is controlled by:

  • management personnel
  • defined standards
  • 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. They 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. A business process audit verifies conformity to very detailed controls and requirements. Specific procedures are usually used to control individual processes related to:

  • work
  • safety
  • quality duties

Steps to Process Audits

process audit

In virtually all cases of process audits, as well as most other types of audits, there is a specific step-by-step method to completing the audit successfully. The process of auditing has 4 steps:

  • Preliminary Review
  • Field Work
  • Report Generation
  • Post Audit Process

Each of these audit steps covers an equally important portion to the ultimate creation of the overall audit.

Preliminary Review

The need for an audit has been identified and auditors are tasked to the occasion. For example, a toy manufacturer has decided that it wants to become a much more environmentally friendly business. With that new goal in mind, it wants to re-tool many of its processes to use more environmentally conscious processes. As a result, the company gathers a team of process auditors. They tell them the exact goals they are seeking. That includes:

  • sourcing of manufacturing materials
  • sourcing of packaging materials
  • marketing types used

What is the main goal of this battery of process audits? What processes must be audited? How will the audits be conducted? When will the audits start? How long will they last? The Preliminary Review stage of an audit is all about creating a quality audit plan going forward.

Field Work

This is the stage in which the actual audits take place. At this stage, for the hypothetical toy manufacturer above, auditors have taken their places in different areas of the business including:

  • manufacturing
  • packaging
  • marketing

They will study the processes in their current states. They will go beyond just observing and recording. The auditors may also attempt to discern how these processes could be improved.

Report Generation

As its name suggests, this audit stage is all about creating a quality audit report that the audit sponsors can glean maximum value from. A high-value audit report should have a number of important qualities such as:

  • clarity of communication
  • accuracy
  • good organization
  • abundance of high-value information

The higher the quality is of the report, the more the sponsor can benefit from its post audit.

Post Audit

At this point of the business audit process, the audit has been planned, has taken place, and the report is issued to the sponsoring company. A number of things can happen at this juncture.

The company may simply take the report, dismiss the auditing business processes team, and plan to spend some time to find a way to implement desired change based on the report. The company may also ask the audit team to now move on to helping to plan upcoming changes based on the report and what was observed during the audit. That same company, on the other hand, could go on to request additional audits by the same team or by another auditing team. They may then ask questions like, “What is auditing to look like going forward?” Regardless of the path the sponsoring company chooses, this final step finishes the audit process.

Benefits of Process Audits

what is a process audit

Process audits can cost companies a significant amount of capital, time, and energy. They can also expose some potentially harmful truths and cause problems to what could have always been an otherwise smooth status quo. So, why do companies sponsor audits in the face of such costs?

Despite the costs, many companies willingly undergo the process because the benefits outweigh the costs and risks. There can be many benefits depending on the individual audit. Generally, however, the following represent the most common benefits that drive companies to audit.

Possibly the most valuable benefit to process auditing is that of transparency and the assurance of effective corporate governance. Those at the top of a company’s management team often are not able to be fully in the know and in subsequent control if they do not fully understand the nature of their company processes. Full awareness is extremely valuable to the extent that it can allow corporate management to steer the company clear of dangerous, illegal, unethical, or otherwise unsustainable practices.

Process audits also offer the benefit of understanding when and how to use certain processes. Perhaps a company’s processes are perfect in terms of what they do and how they are carried out, but the timing or frequency of those processes is inefficient or flawed somehow. They can be valuable in discovering these types of issues and subsequently fixing them.

In addition to these great benefits, process audits often simply reveal better ways forward moving into the future for a company. As the company looks to a better operational future, such audits can truly point the way. They can also show which approaches to continue just as they are as opposed to simply pointing out what to change.

Required Skills

Anyone who audits must have a broad knowledge of work:

  • standards
  • procedures
  • problems
  • 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
  • inspection techniques

Process auditors must have the abilities to organize and structure workloads. They need to deal with vague documentation and complex business processes. Business leaders expect process auditors to identify non-conformities. They also need to 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. A process auditor should be comfortable collaborating with diverse individuals during interview, inspection, review and monitoring activities.

Organizations of Interest

organizations for process audits

For those interested in or already working in the business process auditing field, there are several organizations involved in the discipline. The following organizations are highly recommended points of association for the process audit world.

The of Internal Auditors of North America

This organization represents the greater discipline of auditing. It also covers many of the sub-disciplines found within the greater field. IANA offers professional:

  • advocacy
  • education
  • certifications
  • events
  • media
  • books
  • exclusive membership
  • membership perks

American Management Association

The American Management Association provides professional oversight, advocacy, and guidance in all matters of professional business management. Many resources are offered by this organization in regard to business processes, business management, and more.

Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology

The discipline of industrial organizational psychology is highly related to business processes and auditing. As such, SIOP, or the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology is an excellent resource for those seeking additional guidance. This organization also offers a variety of educational, informational, and advocacy resources.

Anyone interested in audits may pursue a career in:

  • occupational safety
  • quality control
  • operational management


The majority of 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.

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