The Zero Prep Audit

December 13, 2022

Written by: Paul Van Metre

What even is a zero prep audit? To me, it means you can welcome any auditor into your company any day. You feel confident about passing the audit with flying colors without any extra work to get ready. I believe every company should aspire to zero prep audits.  But for many, it’s not even a concept that seems within reach. Audits, whether for AS9100, from customers, or any other standard you’ve been accredited to, are often a frantic scramble for days or weeks in advance, trying to get your normal day job done while catching up on internal audits, completing outstanding quality tasks, and general cleanup of documentation that hasn't been kept current and tidy during the preceding months. This is not only a very disruptive process for getting your regular work done, but more importantly, it underscores a weakness in the business systems that will be audited. When business processes and records are not kept up to date and maintained, that generates risk in the business. A risk that, at best, is a low-level liability and, at worst, can severely threaten the business.

And to be clear, I am not talking about the very first audits when you go to gain certification for the first time. Those are always going to be a bunch of work. There's no way to get around the fact that it takes many, many hours of hard work to become certified to any standard in the first place. The types of audits that I'm talking about are surveillance audits or recertification audits to any standard. The type that comes up every year during the normal course of business. This would also apply to customer audits where a customer visits your shop to determine if your company has what it takes to make it or be retained on their approved supplier list. Both of these types of audits should be zero prep work. You should be audit-ready all the time. 

Let’s use ISO 9001 or AS9100 as our example.  Most companies hold their QMS documentation in Word Documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PDF files stored within folders on their network.  For many, they still exist in paper form in binders and filing cabinets. In either case, the necessary daily tasks of creating objective evidence of them doing the work they say they do to meet the standard is a very cumbersome process. This often means it doesn’t get done at all in real-time, hence the problem. Here are a few examples of daily tasks that often don’t happen on the schedule they are supposed to happen on:
• Performing thorough risk assessment and contract review for new orders
• Cleaning up and closing Non-Conformance Reports quickly
• Completing Corrective Actions in a timely manner
• Sending out Vendor Audits and report cards
• Documenting management meetings and following up on required actions
• Ensuring that all your vendor material certs are filed and linked to your jobs
• Cleaning up work orders to make sure that everyone has signed off on their respective sections
• Internal audits of the business and its processes
• Calibration of gages and instruments

Think about your own company and all those categories above. Do you do all those things in a timely manner?  If you’re like most, then the answer is no. This means you aren’t audit ready today, and you can’t have a zero prep audit.

The most important aspect of all those things not being done on time is not the scramble you’re going to have to go through when the audit time comes.  That’s no fun, but the real problem is the risk you’re exposing yourself to by not doing those things on time.  Let’s go through a few examples from the list above.
1. Not doing risk assessments - You accept an order that has some requirements for DFARS material that you overlooked. You order any old material and get some that is not DFARS compliant.  After you make the parts, they get rejected by your customer. You’ve lost a huge amount of money and trust with your client.
2. Not cleaning up NCRs - You have some NCRs on a critical job which, when analyzed more carefully, indicated a very unstable process that you didn’t catch.  You sent bad parts to your customer that hadn’t been caught in your inspection process.
3. Late closing CARs - A long overdue CAR didn’t reveal a weakness in your incoming inspection process, which allowed several work orders to pass through with non-conforming products from an outside vendor resulting in thousands of dollars of scrap parts.
4. Not keeping up on management reviews - You haven’t performed your monthly management review in a while.  Because you missed doing this in a timely manner, you didn’t notice that your KPI for on-time delivery for a large client had slid to an unacceptable level.  They disqualified you as an approved supplier, meaning you’ve lost 30% of your total company revenue overnight.

Those scenarios may be exaggerated, but these types of things happen every day at shops all over the world. Major negative outcomes are possible when the company isn’t performing to the required standards. Any company with a certification like AS9100 must eventually keep on top of those things to maintain their certification.  So why let it slide and put your company at risk? Most people would say that things are too busy to do all the work on time. But the reality is your company is strongest, with the least risk, and with the least amount of stress on the employees when you can stay audit ready all the time! There simply isn’t an excuse not to do it on time and always be audit-ready. If your systems are holding you back, then it’s time for an upgrade.

How can ProShop Help? We’ve heard repeatedly that ProShop can reduce the daily workload burden of the Quality Manager in a shop by around 50%. That means there is plenty of time to get the clerical work done efficiently (paperlessly!) and spend a lot more time on tactical quality activities - improving quality, improving business processes - reducing risk. The same is true with the rest of the team. When everyone is not dealing with paper and inefficient business processes, there is a lot more time to do everything right and focus on improving the process.  Every day isn’t a firefight, with barely enough time to get late jobs out the door and customers barely satisfied with your company's performance. When you have the time to be more proactive, and stay on top of important items, the improvements in the business will compound and be a positive upward trend, leading to increased productivity, performance and profitability.  These are just a few of the most important outcomes of being ready for a zero prep audit.

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