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Quality assurance and quality management have become fashionable items for the business and popular press[1-3]. One of the main topics of this interest, especially in the UK, has been the ISO 9000 series standards for quality assurance (the standards used for auditing are [4-6]), and the value and significance of registration by third parties to these standards. This registration is managed by a process of quality system auditing.
A quality system audit can be defined as:
A systematic and independent examination to determine whether quality activities and related results comply with planned arrangements and whether these arrangements are implemented effectively and are suitable to achieve objectives.
This examination should be undertaken by a qualified and independent expert, reviewing the objective evidence of compliance maintained by the company.
However, the realization that the Japanese had used quality as a strategic weapon took quality from the specialists and introduced it to mainstream management thought, especially in the work of authors such as Crosby and Deming. There was also the recognition that business needed to guarantee more than product conformance and should be concerned with gaining customer satisfaction. This needs, among other things, speedy delivery and prompt and polite attention.
If quality is meeting the customers' requirements, it has implications beyond product design and manufacturing, traditionally the main concerns of the quality system. Other functions not previously touched, such as marketing and finance, have an important role to play in ensuring customer satisfaction. So quality has needed to become:
A set of principles and methods organised as a comprehensive strategy with the goal of mobilising the entire company in order to achieve the greatest client satisfaction at the lowest cost.
Achieving this requires:
The willingness and ability that emerges when a company instils a sense of responsibility in all the actors and secures their consent, especially at the highest level.
Not all these attributes of quality are easily determined from objective evidence, and as quality assurance standards have evolved to take account of some of these concerns (as a perusal of earlier quality assurance standards and early versions of BS 5750 demonstrate), auditors are having to examine a wider range of evidence in order to decide compliance.
Another issue is that the role of quality system auditing is changing. Traditionally, audits were demanded by customers of their suppliers and carried out by the customer or by an independent representative acting on their behalf. However, as certification has become more popular, the benefits of operating a compliant quality system have increasingly been sold to the suppliers themselves. Their objectives for the quality system will be somewhat different from those of their customers (although, of course, there will be considerable overlap in aims). As a consequence, more stakeholders are concerned with the results of an audit and the audit process must accommodate the goals of these stakeholders. Because of all these questions, it was decided to survey auditor attitudes and methods, to see how auditors currently address these issues.
Design and execution of survey
Surveys are based generally on either interviews or questionnaires[12,13]. It was decided to use questionnaires because there are over a thousand auditors working for certification bodies and it would be time-consuming and expensive to interview a significant fraction of them. The main difficulties with this approach are that the range of questions that can be asked is limited and clarification or follow-up of answers is extremely difficult (especially as the questionnaire was anonymous). In the questionnaire, most of the questions were closed (a closed question is where the auditor answers from a list of options, rather than prepare an answer themselves), as this quickens the analysis and presentation of the results.
In 1993 there were over 30 accredited certification bodies, but most of these register companies in specific industries (such as the reinforcing steel and ceramic industries). It was decided that, because of their size and specialization, it would not prove useful to sample these …