Internal Audits? Bah, Humbug!

As 2022 was ending, I reflected on our end-of-year celebrations and realized they have a great deal in common with how organizations prepare and conduct internal, quality management audits.
For example, those sparkly decorations, twinkling lights and dangly ornaments are dragged out of storage and dusted off in preparation for the big day. We’d like to replace them, but we will only use them for a few days so what’s the point? Carolers go door to door and "dutifully rhyme their evetime songs.” We also joke about regifting someone’s unwanted socks from last year and feel the pressure of being around infrequent visitors who come to our homes to join the celebrations.
The decorations are like the audit checklists we dust off on clipboards when the time comes. Frequently based on ISO requirements, checklists are used by the internal auditors to question our co-workers, despite them not understanding what the questions mean (did those shepherds “wash their socks by night” or what?) Who wants to receive the unwanted gift of an audit non-conformity which, a bit like those socks, won’t “fit” and no one knows how to get rid of them.
Like many guests, internal auditors only come around once a year. Who doesn’t want to be on their best behavior, in case they see us “not following procedures”? We’re often warned: “Only answer the questions they ask!” And we make sure to clean the facility before they arrive.
There’s a universal way to describe internal audits done in this manner: “Bah, humbug!”
When we perform annual internal quality management system (QMS) audits, there’s nothing to celebrate! There are no “gifts” associated with the audit results. In fact, many people who are involved in the audits are like Scrooge, the famous character in Charles Dicken’s novel A Christmas Carol. They hate audits and will do anything to avoid them.
Those who are responsible for audit scheduling would find inspiration in the so-called staves (or chapters) of A Christmas Carol. Throughout this novel, old man Scrooge is visited three times by ghosts and shown his fate, along with the opportunity to change his ways.
Stave 1 – Don’t Be Scrooge
As with most internal audit programs, in the early phase of QMS implementation before ISO certification, everything is new, there’s a lot to find and report, and there’s the anticipation of “Will we pass the audit?” Management is frequently “miserly” and only interested in the goal of certification (at a minimal cost).
Stave 2 – The Ghost of Audits Past
Once certified, the role of the internal audits should shift to focus on the performance of the QMS. Clause 9.2 states audits are “to provide information on whether the QMS conforms to the organization’s own requirements…” Yet, the internal audits are firmly rooted in the past – checking on compliance with the ISO 9001 requirements.
Stave 3 – The Ghost of Audits Present
If we were to look at how internal audits are conducted, in the way Scrooge was shown Christmas present, we’d see that the auditors are doing the best they can under the circumstances. They may even report to management that the QMS is in serious need of help, but like the children in Dicken’s story, support for action is often lacking.
Stave 4 – The Ghost of Future Audits
As with the A Christmas Carol, a glimpse into the future of internal audits shows us the lack of support for these audits. Along with the inevitable faltering of internal audits, the whole QMS and all the work spent on creating them will eventually die out. The words on the gravestone marking this event? “No management support.”

Stave 5 – Redemption
Unlike Dickens, we can’t rely on ghosts to point out the changes we need to make to our internal audits. This must come from within the organization. Once certification is achieved, the purpose of internal audits is to focus on the quality system’s ability to deliver what was planned. This means engaging all those involved with planning, performing, and measuring the processes and products of the organization.
In 2023, how will your internal audits change in the way that Scrooge finally did? Will you embrace the real reason for doing them?

Our experts at Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center) are here to help you with your internal audits and QMS. Get in touch with our team to start the new year off on the right foot. The Center also has various courses to train your team in quality systems. Check out upcoming courses here.
MEET OUR EXPERT: Andy Nichols, Program Manager
Nichols_A.jpgAndy Nichols, CQP FCQI brings 40 years of expertise in a wide variety of roles and industries, with a particular focus on management systems in manufacturing organizations. At The Center, Andy trains, consults and creates content covering many topics, including quality systems, information security, practical aspects of cybersecurity and business development. He has authored three books, “Exploding the Myths Surrounding ISO 9000 – A Practical Implementation Guide” (published by ITG, April 2013), “A Guide to Effective Internal Management Systems Audits (published May 2014) and “Implementing ISO 9001:2015 – A practical guide to busting myths surrounding quality management systems” (published October 2022).


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Quality Management