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Let’s do the short answer first. What is an ISO audit? It’s a process that checks that your practices and policy/procedure match appropriate standards, as laid out by the International Organization for Standardization. Basically, these audits exist as the “prove it” part of the ISO certification process.
That’s the short version. The full explanation gets a little more complicated. To completely answer the question “what is an ISO audit?” we’ll have to dive into a bit more detail.
What Does an ISO Audit Do?
Audits represent an important part of the ISO process. They ensure that the systems you have put in place effectively achieve your quality goals. Internal audits allow you to elevate your operational effectiveness to the highest standards. Third-party audits, meanwhile, are necessary to obtain ISO certification. (We will get into a little more detail on the difference between internal audits and third-party audits).
How Does an ISO Audit Work?
Like any audit, the ISO variety is meant as a double-check. Think about how types of audits work. A financial audit reviews your financial processes, while an inventory audit confirms you physically have the supplies and products you have listed in your records.
An ISO audit applies the same concept. You are checking that the physical reality of your business, the way you do things, and the end-products that you make live up to the appropriate quality criteria. Trained auditors run through a detailed checklist, determining whether your processes are working correctly, and ensures compliance with the stated standards.
How Many Types of ISO Audits Are There?
There are three main types of ISO audits:
First-party audit: These are internal audits, conducted by your employees or by experts you hire. However, these audits aren’t just a casual walk-through. Even if you use your own staff, the individuals involved have to receive adequate ISO training and follow the prescribed audit procedures. This is self-directed, yes…but follows a formal process.
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Second-party audit: Call this the “not you, but someone you know” category. Specifically, this is an audit that you would perform on one of your suppliers to make sure they reach ISO compliance. Or, an audit that one of your suppliers would perform on you. Again, despite not being “official” in terms of ISO certification, the audit would be conducted by trained auditors and conform to strict guidelines.
Third-party audit: This is likely what you think of when you think of an ISO audit. An independent (hence, third party) auditor reviews your operations, confirming whether you reach the necessary compliance level. A successful third-party audit will lead to ISO certification, basically a stamp of approval from an outside source that lets customers and other interested parties know your processes are up to snuff.
But who are these trained auditors? Where these individuals come from depends on the type of audit.
Who Can Benefit from an ISO Audit?
ISO audits often happen with this end goal in mind. As you work toward certification, you will run first-party audits to find weak spots and provide a blueprint for improvement. Second-party audits can perform the same objective, allowing you to tighten your processes further. Ultimately, the third-party audit will bring you the ISO certification you want (assuming everything goes well, of course).
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But, while audits can be seen as a means to an end, consider them as a long-term, ongoing process as well. Getting an ISO certification is a great achievement, although this is the start of a continuing endeavor.
Once you are certified, you will still have to go through the work in order to keep processes going strong.
Even following certification, you should continue your internal ISO audits on a regular schedule. These will make sure that you remain in compliance, and will help keep new processes at ISO-level quality as you grow. Putting together the best products you can, building your brand, and expanding your business is all ongoing effort.