Does your company employ quality inspectors and auditors? Do you tend to hire different profiles, and specialize your staff as much as possible?
There are good reasons for this, as we explore in this article. Note that we will be looking at second-party audits and second-party inspections. (Not at third-party audits, which are conducted as a step toward certification)...
What Are The Key Differences Between Supplier Auditors & Quality Inspectors?
1. The need to follow a checklist strictly
The best auditors feel constrained by a detailed checklist. They want to fully understand the context of the organization first, and to follow the approach that makes the sense. They note issues, and at the end they find what clause of the checklist/standard is not complied with.
Quality inspectors mostly ‘tick the box’. Some precise specifications were promised by the manufacturer and need to be checked carefully. The best inspectors will also think of what might go wrong on the product at hand, but first and foremost they will follow their checklist closely.
2. Listening and observation skills
Auditors need to know how to pull information out of people and how to confirm it. It means they often ask open-ended questions, and they get the factory staff to talk more.
QC inspectors look for information in physical products. That’s quite different. They don’t need to have very good interpersonal skills. I would say observation skills are important in both roles.
3. Stressful work
Inspectors are often working on urgencies (last-minute delays, closing dates, etc.) and through stressful situations (the golden sample’s package is already open, the production manager starts shouting at them, the factory doesn’t arrange a driver back to the bus station because they are unhappy with the result...).
Auditors tend to work in more peaceful circumstances. The worst that could happen might be a power shortage.
4. Impact of a bad report
A failed inspection impacts a shipment. A small factory might be unable to pay its staff and suppliers if a shipment is blocked. And if a large batch of highly-customized products (which can’t be resold easily) is rejected by the customer, the whole business might shut down. There is a lot of pressure!
A bad supplier audit report typically prevents a business relationship from starting. (In the case of an audit based on social/environmental standards, it might also cause the business relationship to stop abruptly.)
In both of these situations, there is a high risk of bribery!
5. Long-term impact
A quality audit, or an environmental audit, is likely to drive long-lasting improvements. It raises issues related to the management systems and the processes. What needs to be done is usually clear. A re-audit schedule, and a follow-up on corrective actions, keep pressure on the factory managers to make improvements.
After a passed inspection, nothing special happens. After a failed inspection, the products are typically reworked, but no changes are made to the systems & processes in the factory. The same problems might come back again and again!
6. The need to take photos
It is common to take no photo at all during a supplier audit. This is especially true in third-party audits, but also for some second-party audits. There are several reasons for this (respect of confidential information, the importance of the auditor’s judgment, etc.)
Inspectors have to take many photos to support their findings. It is rare that a supplier doesn't allow for photos. And it is quite tempting to try and discredit an inspector who found many defects but has no proof of those defects…
Inspectors need to be familiar with the product they are checking. For consumer goods this is typically food / textiles / electrical / other hard goods / etc.
When it comes to auditors, they are classified as quality /social / environmental management systems specialists (for example). The best auditors also know a certain industry and, ideally, some production processes – I wrote about this before in Are Technical Auditors Necessary for ISO 9001 Audits?
Auditors usually need to be trained and often certified. This is very common. But much less so for inspectors, as there is not a common certificate.
Where do you stand on the differences between inspectors and auditors? Do you have different staff for both? Do you have any points to add to these 8?
Please leave your comments and questions below for our community, and we'd be happy to answer any questions you may have too!
Read more on auditing in this blog post: What Auditors Consider To Be Good Quality Inspection Records