At the conclusion of an audit, the audit team presents its findings to the auditee at the closing meeting. Before leaving, the auditor also typically gives the auditee their findings that detail any nonconformities supported by objective evidence.
Following this, the lead auditor needs to compile a detailed audit report. The audit report needs to record all information necessary to justify why an organization is compliant with a particular standard, and detail any necessary corrective actions.
Put simply, the main objectives of an audit report are to illustrate nonconformances, outline positives, and identify opportunities for improvement.
Clear, concise, and evidence-based writing is important to deliver an effective audit report. The report should convey a balanced summary of the areas that were audited and should be no more than two pages. Any corrective action requests should be included as an attachment, along with a cover letter.
Information for the report can be obtained from working papers and input from members of the audit team. The audit team needs to understand the value of the information they have gathered to determine what to include in the report.
ISO 19011:2002 provides a terrific guide for writing audit reports. The report should include the following, as applicable:
- Audit scope and objectives: The purpose of the audit, including if it was a regular process audit, or a follow up on a corrective action. Also define the boundaries of the audit, including all areas that were audited.
- Details of the audit plan: Who audited what process and when.
- Identification of reference documents and standards: For a third-party audit, this would typically include the quality management system standard. For internal audits, the documents and standards may be a list of internal documents and procedures associated with the functions and activities that were audited.
- Identification of the auditor and audit team members: When multiple auditors are involved, the lead auditor and auditee representative should be identified.
- Audit dates and length: Evidence that audits were conducted in accordance with the audit schedule, identifying the audit days and documenting the resources that were needed.
- Identification of interviewees: When interviewing process owners, their names should be documented. Recording names on working papers provides connectivity to objective evidence and shows that the auditor has fulfilled the requirements of the audit process.
- Positive activities or areas of best practices: Highlight positive activities or areas of best practice. Auditing is about confirming compliance and conformance, not catching people doing something wrong.
- Document nonconformities: Be clear in your explanation of the standard that has been violated, the actual nonconformity, and objective evidence to determine that a nonconformity exists. The statement of nonconformity needs to be clear and precise, with enough detail that the auditee can use it to initiate root cause analysis.
- Distribution list: For external audits the report distribution is generally limited to the organization’s management representative. For internal audits the distribution tends to be much larger, and is typically specified in an internal procedure governed by the audit group management.
ISO 19011 also outlines optional items to be included in the audit report. The following could be included if deemed useful:
- Summary of audit process and obstacles: This is important to include if the issues hindered the audit.
- Any areas not covered: If the auditor needs to omit something they intended to cover, this should be noted for future reference.
- Disagreements: If the process owner does not agree that the audit evidence presented is nonconforming, it should be noted in the report.
- Identify opportunities for improvement: Many organizations will use recommendations for improvement as a way to document cases when an auditor has identified something that is not nonconforming, but could be improved. However, the report should not include specific recommendations for corrective action.
- Agreed follow-up plans: If an agreement was made regarding how to address a nonconformance, it can be useful to record this.
Writing audit reports is a fine art, and can be perfected over time once the basics, as mentioned above have been mastered. The important thing to remember is keep it clear, concise, and evidence-based.