Auditing by Pulling the Thread


Monroe J. Ratchford, President, LEAPS Consulting, LEAPS Consulting, Dumfries, VA, USA


Auditing, Maturity,Process





The best internal auditors and an elite set of external auditors “pull the thread” when doing audits. What does this mean? Why should it be done? How do you do it?

Most audits are about “compliance” with the standard, statues, and sometimes contracts. Each process is checked to see if the process individual steps are being followed. We seek to validate via each process that we are in compliance with our own governance. This could be called “intra” process audits. Our focus is within the process. As our organizations mature, we discover most disconnects are not within the process, but between processes—inter” process challenges.

Inter process audits are aligned with the “system approach.” This is a recognition that functional or even process “silo” approach has its limitations. The systems approach stresses the interactive nature and interdependence of the management system. The systems approach takes the disparate elements/processes and requires them to perform as an interrelated single system.

Inter process audits might be the best approach to determine QMS effectiveness. Judging QMS effectiveness seems like a difficult animal to get our arms around. But perhaps if we looked at QMS effectiveness as the effectiveness of process interactions to achieve customer loyalty, then we would be digging deeper into the character of our organization.

So, inter process audits, “pulling the thread” is about process to process interactions. That the disparate processes required to perform operations are viewed as interrelated components of a single system. There are lots of ways to this:

  • Following a product or service through each organizational process. We could should how the HR process (recruiting) has an effect on the Business Development (qualifications) process, which in turn affects Service Delivery (contract performance).
  • Following a service request or incident through each of your processes: e.g. from incident management, to problem Management, to Change Management, to Business Relationship Management processes.
  • Following a customer complaint or feedback though each process seeking root causes and validating the handoffs.
  • Adopting the LSS “Gemba” approach where you see yourself as a customer and as a customer, journey through the organizations processes.
  • Taking the interested parties’ requirements and articulating what processes affect these requirements. Auditing from the perspective of meeting those interested party requirements might yield different results.
  • Examining your strategic risks and determining which process could contribute to the mitigation. That is conduct risk-based thinking from an interrelated process perspective.

There are lots of opportunities to take an inter process audit perspective. Taking this perspective or “pulling the thread” through the process is a higher calling and requires more maturity. It’s a little messier to document during an audit, but will raise the bar for organizational continual improvement. “pulling the thread” will make the context requirements of the standard have purpose. Thread pulling by process will force leadership to “referee” because multiple leadership functional channels will be forced to interact. Leadership will see the QMS at the operational level with better understanding I believe its an obligation of internal auditor to provide this inter process, pulling the thread audit service to their organization.