Wednesday, January 19, 2011

surviving an audit

A comment on my last post mentioned QA (quality assurance) audits. I haven't been involved in a QA audit on administrative (filing?) practices, although the threat of such an audit was used routinely when the administrative stuff started to get shabby - reports going out with a bunch of stupid mistakes, files "stored" all over creation, etc.

I've been in charge of fieldwork that was targeted by technical QA audits (i.e. making sure that the sample protocols were correct) and health and safety audits. I always had at least some sort of warning, whether that was a clandestine call from a friend that the QA person was seen leaving the office with steel-toe boots, or it was the distant sighting of someone with a fresh hard hat and a clipboard. I even ordered up a safety audit myself once when the field crew was trying a brand-new (and scary) technology, nobody had a clue what they were doing, and I was convinced someone was going to get hurt.

Other than my last example, which was not an audit request so much as a plea for help, I never found the audits to be all that useful. The field personnel generally knew their stuff more than the auditor, so the audits turned into an exercise in filling out little check boxes and making sure the paperwork was in order. I got dinged personally for using an old company form to fill out the exact same information and then arguing with the guy about it. Somewhere in my old personnel file is the word "insubordinate"...

But I digress. What I really could have used was an actual technical audit, intended for internal use. It would have really helped to have an independent geologist (i.e. one not personally or professionally involved with the project) come by and see what I was doing, make suggestions, and then revise the standard operating procedures based on what was actually working (or not) in the field. Maybe then the audit wouldn't be a "gotcha" exercise and a threat, but an actual learning experience.

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