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What is 510k Content Format

This article defines the 510k content format for an FDA 510k pre-market notification submission in accordance with the September 13, 2019, FDA guidance.

image 1 What is 510k Content Format

What is a 510k?

A 510k submission is a pre-market notification submission to the FDA. The “510(k)” designation refers to the applicable section and sub-section of the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act. The “pre-market” designation is a reminder that companies must submit a 510k submission before marketing their products. Finally, the “notification” part of the phrase is used instead of the word “approval” because the FDA does not consider the 510k review process to be an endorsement or approval of your product. Instead, the 510k review process is a review by the FDA to determine if your product meets the requirements of substantial equivalence with a predicate device. The FDA initially performs a prescreening of the 510k submission to verify that it meets the minimum requirements for 510 content format. Then during the 510k substantive review process, the reviewer must answer six questions in the substantial equivalence decision tree:

  1. Is the predicate device legally marketed?
  2. Do the devices have the same intended use?
  3. Do the devices have the same technological characteristics?
  4. Do the different technical characteristics of the devices raise different questions of safety and effectiveness?
  5. Are the methods acceptable?
  6. Do the data demonstrate substantial equivalence?

The 510k process was not intended to be the primary process for regulatory approval by the FDA. The 510k process was intended to be a simplified approach for clearance of devices that are of moderate-risk and similar in design and intended use to another moderate-risk device that is already on the market. However, the process was manipulated as a loophole by device companies to avoid the more rigorous pre-market approval (PMA) process that requires conducting a clinical investigation.

Recent changes to the 510k review process are much deeper than the 510k content format

In approximately 2010, the FDA gradually started making changes to the 510k process. The FDA started publishing more guidance documents specifying both collateral guidance documents that apply to all device classifications (e.g., biocompatibility and human factors ), and particular guidance documents that apply to only a small number of product classifications (e.g., CADe). In 2012, the FDA implemented a new policy called the Refusal to Accept (RTA) Policy for 510(k)s. The FDA implemented this policy to improve the general quality of 510k submissions. All submissions are now subject to a 15-day review of the 510k content format to ensure that the submission includes all 20 required sections required by the FDA, the submission includes a table of contents and page numbering, and the various sections of the 510k include basic elements that are frequently forgotten by companies. Initially, more than 60% of the 510k submissions were rejected during the RTA screening process. Still, submissions have improved, and training of the FDA personnel performing the RTA screening has resulted in a more consistent application of the RTA policy. The FDA also systematically converted each of the remaining Class 3 devices that were eligible for 510k clearance to Class 3 devices requiring a PMA. The most recent changes were the elimination of requiring the submission to include a printed hardcopy of the submission (i.e., FDA eCopy only) and no longer allowing predicates that are more than ten years old.

FDA requirements for 510k Content Format

The FDA requires that your 510k submission is organized into 20 sections as described in section V of the table of contents of the September 13, 2019, FDA 510k guidance document. The FDA no longer requires a hardcopy of the submission. Now the FDA only requires an electronic copy (i.e., FDA eCopy) with a hardcopy of the 510k cover letter. The cover letter may be included in the eCopy, but it is not required. The FDA eCopy guidance document was updated on December 16, 2019.

The FDA eCopy guidance gives you the option of organizing the 20 sections of a 510k into 20 volumes with multiple documents in each volume or to submit sequentially numbered documents. The word “volume” refers to electronic folders in the FDA eCopy rather than physical binders. There is no right or wrong choice regarding volumes—if your eCopy uploads. The answer to this question is personal preference. The FDA recommends that multiple volumes be used for more extensive submissions, but using the same process for every 510(k) submission makes submission teams more efficient. It also is more comfortable for the FDA to navigate between documents when they are not in separate volumes. Therefore, the document structure is generally best for the FDA, and the volume structure is usually best for the company to prevent the need for renumbering files and file names. We always use the volume structure for every submission, even pre-submissions. Submissions are organized into 20 volumes to match the 20 sections of a 510k submission. If we include an RTA Checklist, then we add a 21st volume. The FDA recommends using the 21st volume for miscellaneous appendices, but the volume structure of the submission makes it easy to insert miscellaneous content directly into the applicable sections by adding documents after the initial section summary document.

Overall Numbering or Numbering within Sections?

Again, this is a personal preference. However, there are always last-minute changes to documents. Therefore, whichever numbering system you use should minimize the need for the last-minute renumbering of the entire submission. This is especially painful when you number the overall submission, and then you add a page to the middle of the submission when you are trying to ship out your submission that day. By numbering only the sections, you reduce the amount of rework required. Our firm deviates slightly from the “numbering within sections” requirement. In the table of contents, we indicate how many pages are associated with each document in a volume, and then we start each document with page 1. One FDA reviewer recently requested that we modify this to “page x of y,” where “x” is the page number of that document, and “y” is the total number of pages in the document. Therefore, we updated all of our templates to reflect the “page x of y” format for page numbering.

510k Format Content: Using Your Table of Contents for Project Management

When I was less experienced, I used project management software and action item lists to manage submission projects. Experience has taught me to simplify. Now I only use an action item list to track the progress of individual tasks. To track the overall submission, I now use the table of contents as my project management “report.” If you color-code the rows of your table of contents, you can communicate the status of each document in the submission. At the beginning of the project, all the rows indicate documents are not yet started—signified by the color red. Once I being a document, I change the color to yellow. Finally, when the document is completed, I change the color of the row to green. Three documents require the signature of the official correspondent with the FDA:

  1. 510k Cover Letter
  2. Certification Regarding Confidentiality
  3. Truthful and Accuracy Statement

Once these three documents are completed, they still need a signature that should only be applied just before we prepare the eCopy. Therefore, I signify the status of documents waiting for signatures with blue rows. A couple of people struggle with reformatting row colors, but every single person on your team will understand that they want the table of contents to gradually change from red, to yellow and finally to 100% green.

Posted in: 510(k)

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Why remote audit duration should never exceed 90 minutes

This article explains why remote audit duration should not exceed 90 minutes and the unique opportunities created by a series of short remote audits.

download 3 Why remote audit duration should never exceed 90 minutes

Parkinson’s Law and the subject of audit duration

On November 19, 1995, Cyril Northcote Parkinson published an essay in the Economist. The title of the article was “Parkinson’s Law.” In the first sentence of the essay, Parkinson says, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This essay refers to the observation that work is elastic concerning the demands on time when completing paperwork. When I first trained as an auditor, trainers emphasized that the most significant challenge faced by auditors is to complete an audit within the time available. An auditor’s task is to achieve the audit objectives within the time specified by the audit program manager. Time is precious, and you cannot easily extend the audit duration after scheduling the audit.

How much time is needed for a full quality system audit?

This question is a silly question to ask a consultant that works on an hourly basis. A consultant working on an hourly basis will make more money if they work more hours. Therefore, there is little incentive to underestimate the time required to complete the objectives of an audit. However, after completing hundreds of audits, I can honestly state that eight hours is not enough time to perform a full quality system audit of a medical device company’s quality system. However, I completed a full quality system audit of a small company in less than two days. I also had difficulty completing an audit of a larger company in four days. An FDA inspector typically requires four days to complete a routine inspection, even at foreign manufacturers where English is a second language, and they only need to return on the fifth day to prepare their FDA 483 observations to give to the company. Therefore, three days is typically the absolute minimum time required to complete a full quality system audit.

Does Parkinson’s Law apply to audit duration?

Parkinson’s Law certainly applies to the audit duration. If the lead auditor assigns a team member to review the CAPA process, the task is unlikely to be completed in 30 minutes, and most auditors would struggle to appear busy for more than three hours. You need enough notes to provide objective evidence of conformity for your audit report, but if you finish too quickly, then others may perceive that you were not thorough. Therefore, most auditors will begin any process audit by asking for a copy of the procedure and a log of the records available. The auditor will quickly review the procedure’s revision history to determine when the last revision was made and if there have been any significant revisions since the last audit. Next, the auditor will review the log to estimate how many records should be sampled. The auditor will then estimate how much time is needed to review the sampled records. Finally, a quick mental calculation is made to determine how much time remains for procedure review before the auditor must move on to interview the next subject matter expert.

Why are auditors always behind schedule?

An auditor begins with small, close-ended questions that are designed to put the auditee at ease. The auditor may even comment on unrelated subjects to build rapport first. Records may not be readily available, but auditors almost always have to wait for record retrieval. The request is recorded, copies are made, and the subject matter expert may need a little time to review before handing the auditor the requested record. Auditors will ask clarifying questions, and auditees will need a few moments to check their facts. Any one of these delays is insignificant by itself, but collectively there may be two-and-half minutes of delay cumulatively for each record requested if you sample five records, which represents a combined delay 12.5 minutes. If you average only seven minutes to review each record, then a sampling of five records will require 47.5 minutes. This will leave you only 12.5 minutes for introductions, review of the procedure, and conclusions. If you want to interview any of the people that investigated root-cause, then you will need more than an hour to complete your audit, and you will not finish in the one hour scheduled.

Why is it so hard to complete a full quality system audit in three days?

Most of your process audits require a few more minutes than you expected, but you will also need time to walk to the next subject matter expert, or you will be waiting for the next subject matter expert to enter the conference room. If the quality system consists of only the minimum twenty-eight required procedures, your full quality system audit will require more than 28 hours to complete. If there are additional regulatory requirements for CE Marking or MDSAP certification, you will need even more time to audit every process. You should also expect certain processes to require more time to properly sample records, such as technical documentation and design controls. Even the most experienced auditors struggle to review a technical file and/or design history file in less than two hours.

What happens to an auditor after auditing all day?

As a Notified Body auditor, I used to leave my home in Vermont on Sunday afternoon and drive two hours to the nearest major airport. Then I would be gone all week conducting audits. On Friday, I would drive home and arrive in the middle of the night. Each day audits would begin early in the morning, and I would complete the day after 8.5 to 9 hours of work. Jet lag, sleep deprivation, too little exercise, and constantly eating at restaurants took its toll. I would consult my Google calendar to learn what city I was in each morning, and to remember what company I was on my schedule for the day. I would purposely try to do as much walking around during the day just to keep my blood flowing and to help stay awake. I would read documents while pacing back-and-forth in conference rooms, and I would always make sure that we had to audit the most remote area of a facility after lunch to make sure that I didn’t fall asleep. I will tell stories and jokes to entertain my hosts, but it was necessary to break up the monotony of auditing quality systems seven days a week. I would make sure I drank at least six liters of water each day for health, but this also gave me an excuse to go to take frequent bathroom breaks. Somehow I managed to survive that lifestyle for more than three years. Each day my feet, legs, back, and neck were in severe pain. I had constant headaches, and I know the quality of my work gradually declined throughout each day. The most valuable lesson I learned was, you need to move frequently, or you will die.

unnamed Why remote audit duration should never exceed 90 minutes

What happens when you sit in front of a computer for eight hours?

I can sit in front of a computer longer than almost anyone I know. When I focus on work, four hours can elapse without me getting up from a chair even once. I might pick up my empty coffee mug four or five times to take a sip before I am conscious of the need to get another cup. On days where my schedule consists primarily of Zoom meetings, I may sit through as many as six consecutive meetings before I take the time to get up and go to the bathroom and get a drink of water. Clients may perceive that I have tremendous endurance, but there are negative consequences to this work pattern. My wrist becomes sore, and I need to switch my mouse pad and the style of the mouse I am using every day. I change computers, switch microphones, and take a short walk. My neck, back, and legs will hurt worse than any of the audits during my years as a Notified Body auditor. Sitting at a computer all day has resulted in mild symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Sitting at a computer continuously for the audit duration is physically exhausting and tedious. If you must complete a remote audit on a continuous eight-hour day, you can, but it is not healthy or productive. The negative health consequences and negative impact on productivity are equally applicable to auditees.

What can you do to reduce audit fatigue during a remote audit?

The most straightforward strategy for reducing fatigue is to take breaks. Instead of auditing for eight hours continuously, try auditing in two or three 90-minutes segments each day. If you are auditing someone in a different time zone, you may only be able to accommodate an audit duration of one 90-minute session per day without working through the night. Taking breaks will allow you to leave your computer, eat food, and even go to the bathroom. You can recharge your headset during a break too. You should consider taking a walk outside. It is incredible how much better you feel when you get some exercise, stretch, and experience a little natural light instead of the unnatural glow of your computer’s monitor. The person you are auditing will appreciate the breaks, but they will also enjoy the improvement in your overall demeanor. A simple smile after a 30-minute break has a tremendous positive impact.

How can we utilize breaks more effectively during remote audits?

Auditors need documents and records to review as objective evidence. The most obvious way to make use of breaks is for the auditor to give the auditee a list of documents and records to gather during the break. This will give the auditee an excuse to go and get the documents and records if they are stored in another location. The auditee might also scan records during a break. A break also gives subject matter experts time to re-familiarize themselves with the documents and records before resuming the audit. Auditees and auditors will need to recharge batteries, but the auditor might take time to convert their notes into a summary for the final audit report. The auditor might also review the audit criteria one more time before writing a nonconformity. The auditee might take advantage of the break to initiate a new CAPA and write a draft of the corrective action plan. Then when the audit resumes, the auditee can review the draft plan with the auditor to ensure that the plan is appropriate and nothing was accidentally omitted from the CAPA plan.

unnamed 1 Why remote audit duration should never exceed 90 minutes

Why are 90 minutes a magical audit duration?

Auditing one process in a single 45-60 minute session is ok, but if you audit two processes in a single 90-minute session, you can reduce the time spend starting and stopping the audit session by half. Adding a third process to a single session will have a smaller impact, and the meeting will need to be so long that most participants will begin to lose concentration, and fatigue becomes a significant factor. Ninety minutes is not quite long enough to audit two processes effectively. Still, an auditor can request procedures in advance of the session or spend time after the session reviewing procedures. Therefore, by paying an additional 30 minutes reviewing two procedures “off-line,” the auditor can dedicate 100% of the “on-line” time to reviewing records and interviewing subject matter experts. The result is a fast-paced, 90-minute session where each subject matter expert typically is only needed for 45 minutes. Alternatively, if you are auditing more complex records like a design history file, you can spend all 90 minutes discussing that area.

Posted in: Auditing, ISO Auditing, Remote Auditing

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How to make a supplier questionnaire for remote auditing

You already have a supplier questionnaire, but do you know how to make a supplier questionnaire to assess a supplier’s ability to support a remote audit?

FRM 004 Supplier Questionnaire How to make a supplier questionnaire for remote auditing

The four most significant mistakes people make when designing a supplier questionnaire

In Medical Device Academy’s supplier qualification webinar, you learn how to improve your supplier qualification process by replacing the traditional methods of supplier qualification with more effective approaches to supplier evaluation. The following are four examples of how to improve your supplier questionnaire.

Supplier questionnaires should be specific to the product or service provided

The first mistake people make is to use a generic questionnaire. It would be best if you asked your supplier questions that are important to the work that the supplier will be performing. Therefore, each category of product or service should have its own set of questions. For example, important questions related to ethylene oxide contract sterilization services are the maximum size limitations for pallets in the sterilization chamber and whether the facility can conduct sterility testing on-site. However, an injection molding supplier might delay the return of your supplier questionnaire if these questions were on the survey that you send to them because they don’t understand the questions.

Supplier surveys should be more than checkboxes

The second mistake people make is to ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” response or a checkbox. These are closed-ended questions. It would be best if you always were asking open-ended questions because the response will give you more information about the supplier. In addition, most people resist responding with a “no” response even if the real answer is “no.” For example, “What is your FDA registration number?” is more useful than “Is your company FDA registered?” Another example is, “How many production lines use SPC charts?” instead of “Do you use SPC charts?” In fact, in the open-ended version of this question, you will learn if the use of SPC charts is widespread, and you learn how many production lines the supplier has.

Remember to ask suppliers to update survey surveys every year

The third mistake people make is to request that a supplier questionnaire be completed only during the initial supplier qualification process. Every year companies grow, shrink, or change. If you ask suppliers to update their questionnaire, you can use that information to determine the health of your supplier’s business. You might also discover that one supplier just added a new production capability that will allow you to consolidate more of your outsourced work with that supplier and eliminate another problem supplier. Every company has a turnover in personnel as well. It is a great idea to ask suppliers to provide contact information for multiple people in the organization, such as quality contact, billing contact, and a production planner. Eventually, you will probably need to speak with each of these people, and if one of the contacts is no longer at your supplier, you will still have two other contacts. Updating this information also gives you a hint of whether turnover is widespread or limited to a specific individual.

Supplier questionnaires should be in spreadsheet format

The fourth mistake people make is to send a Word Document for suppliers to complete (PDF format is even worse). Word and PDF formats are time-consuming to complete, and they are harder for you to analyze than a spreadsheet. Most people provide a Word document or a PDF because they are focusing on the requirement for control of records. However, if you have an electronic quality system, the supplier survey information will be part of your electronic system as soon as you enter the data into your software. Alternatively, if you have a paper-based quality system, then you can print the spreadsheet out, sign it, and date it. The huge advantage of using Excel spreadsheets is that you can copy the new data into a column next to the previous year’s responses. Then you can quickly see what changes your supplier made in the past year.

What should you add to your supplier questionnaire?

Most private companies will not share what their revenues are for the business, but as a customer, you should be more concerned with how many human resources your supplier has. Therefore, you should consider asking, “How many employees, or full-time equivalents (FTEs), work for your company?” You might also want to know if your supplier is relying on a temporary workforce. For example, “What percentage of the FTEs are temporary workers?” Many questionnaires will ask for the square footage of the facility, but this doesn’t provide you with any details about the facility layout. Alternatively, you could ask for a copy of the pest-control map for the facility. This would give you a detailed layout of the facility, and it also confirms that your supplier has a pest control plan for the facility. Another related question to ask is, “Please describe any expansion/construction projects that have been implemented in the past year or projects that are in progress (e.g., the addition of a mezzanine).” If the company added 30,000 square feet to their production area, but there was no change to the pest control plan, you might have some clarification questions for your supplier. In general, a good strategy for developing your questionnaire is to think of at least one open-ended question related to each clause of the ISO 13485:2016 standard without referencing the standard. The following are some examples that might help you:

  1. When was the last software re-validation for quality system software?
  2. How many active external standards is your company currently maintaining?
  3. Please provide a list of procedures and identify the person who would be interviewed during an audit for each procedure (i.e., process owner or subject matter expert).
  4. In the absence of the management representative, who is designated as the liaison for an FDA inspector?
  5. What are the upper control limits for particulate counts, air viable counts, and surface viable counts in your controlled environment(s)?
  6. On what dates was the environmental monitoring of controlled environments conducted in the last year?
  7. Please identify how many quality inspectors are responsible for the incoming inspection?
  8. Please list the calibration ID and equipment name for any inspection equipment that requires specialized training (e.g., CMM)?
  9. How many suppliers are on your approved supplier list (ASL)? And how many suppliers did you audit in the past year?
  10. How many nonconforming material reports (NCMRs) were opened in the past year? And how many NCMRs currently remain open?
  11. How many partial or complete lots were returned to your company by customers in the past year?
  12. Please list any corrections and removals (i.e., recalls) that your company has been involved in during the past year and the current status?

How many questions should your supplier questionnaire include?

There are 28 required procedures in ISO 13485:2016, and there are even more subclauses within the standard. It is an excellent idea to create a list of questions you might ask for each subclause, but a supplier questionnaire should not include all of those questions. Just as audits are just a sampling, your supplier survey questions should be sampling as well. You should review last year’s questions and eliminate questions that you think are not especially useful for that supplier. Some questions should be asked each year to assess if the quality system has changed significantly, and you should consider adding a few new questions each year. The best questions will require the person to perform some research to answer the questions. But it is unreasonable to expect a supplier to spend more than two hours completing a supplier questionnaire if you plan to purchase less than $20,000 in product or services.

Supplier questionnaires specific to remote auditing

In many ways, a well-designed supplier questionnaire is similar to a remote audit, because you are asking the supplier to answer multiple open-ended questions about their quality system to verify that the quality system is fully implemented and remains effective. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees are now required to work from home, and it is not possible to physically visit certain facilities. Therefore, you should be adding three elements to your supplier questionnaire to assess your supplier’s ability to support a remote audit and to determine their ability to maintain the effectiveness of the quality system during a viral outbreak. The three elements are 1) policies for personal protective equipment for employees and visitors, 2) business continuity plans to maintain internal operations and to ensure redundancy of crucial suppliers, and 3) availability of digital documents and records or paper documents and records via video conference software. These three areas were also the subject of a previous blog on changes triggered by Covid-19. It would help if you also asked about the availability of hardware and software communication tools for conducting a remote audit. You might ask your supplier, “Which areas of your facility can we observe during a remote audit using live video conferencing (e.g., Zoom mobile application)?” and “What experience does your company have in the use of Zoom as a video conferencing tool?”

Gimbal How to make a supplier questionnaire for remote auditing

Access to documents and records during remote audits

During a remote audit, you will need to access documents and records virtually. If your supplier can participate via a video conferencing tool with a high definition web camera or smartphone, then you should be able to see any documents and records that you could normally see during an on-site audit. However, your supplier will need to hold the document or records steady, possibly by using a music stand and a camera tripod so that you can take notes regarding the contents of the document or record. You will also need a way to record your notes. You might try using a Pixelbook or similar computer to write your audit notes. At the same time, you watch the video conference using a second computer–possibly on a conference room projector screen or large flat screen monitor. You could also use a tablet, such as remarkable. Of course, you can always use a pad of paper and a pen and then transcribe your notes later. All of these methods will be faster and more convenient than digitally scanning each document and uploading the documents to a shared folder or sending the scanned document by email.

It would help if you also were asking your supplier which records are already available digitally. You can expect all of the quality system procedures to be available in digital formats, but many records may already be available electronically as well. For example, purchase orders, quality system certificates, drawings, and blank forms should be available in digital format. In a supplier audit, you typically will focus on a subset of the quality system records that are related to production process controls, purchasing, incoming inspection, shipping, and control of the nonconforming product. Asking your supplier which of these records are available in digital format will help you determine which records you need to request from the supplier in advance and which records can be requested on-demand.

How to obtain our supplier questionnaire template (FRM-004)

If you are interested in purchasing our supplier questionnaire template, FRM-004, it is included with the purchase of our supplier qualification webinar. If you think of any new questions to add to this template, please email me at rob@13485cert.com. Just put “FRM-004 Suggestion” in the subject line.

Posted in: ISO Auditing, Supplier Quality Management

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How to get ISO 13485 certified, time for success?

In this article, you will learn how to get ISO 13485 certified, and you will be successful while avoiding the stress that tortures other quality managers.

ISO 13485 Certified How to get ISO 13485 certified, time for success?

There is a big difference between being ISO 13485 certified and being compliant with ISO 13485:2016, the medical devices quality management systems standard. Anyone can claim compliance with the standard. Certification, however, requires that an accredited certification body has followed the requirements of ISO 17021:2015, and they have verified that your quality system is compliant with the standard. To maintain that certification, you must maintain your quality system’s effectiveness and endure both annual surveillance audits and a re-certification audit once every three years.

Step 1 – Planning for ISO 13485 certification

There are six steps in the ISO 13485 certification process, but that does not mean there are only six tasks. The first step in every quality system is planning. Most people refer to the Deming Cycle or Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle when they describe how to implement a quality system. However, when you are implementing a full quality system, you need to break the “doing” part of the PDCA cycle into many small tasks rather than one big task. You also can’t implement a quality system alone. Quality systems are not the responsibility of the quality manager alone. Implementing a quality system is the responsibility of everyone in top management.

Below you will find seven tasks listed. I did NOT identify these nine tasks as “Steps” in the ISO 13485 certification process, because these tasks are typically repeated for each process in your quality system. Most quality systems are implemented over time, and the scope of the quality system usually grows. Therefore, you are almost certain to have to perform all of the following nine tasks multiple times–even after you receive the initial ISO 13485 certification. As the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Therefore, avoid the inevitable heartburn caused by trying to do too much at one time. Implement your quality system one “bite” at a time.

Task 1 – Purchase applicable standards

The first task in implementing an ISO 13485 quality system is to purchase a copy of the ISO 13485:2016 standard, such as the MDSAP Companion Document. You will also need other applicable medical device standards. Some of these standards are general standards that apply to most, if not all, medical devices, such as ISO 14971:2019 for risk management. There are also guidance documents that explain how to use these general standards, such as ISO/TR 24971:2020, guidance on how to apply ISO 14971:2019. Finally, there are testing standards that identify testing methods and acceptance criteria for things such as biocompatibility and electrical safety. You will need to monitor these standards for new and revised versions. When these standards are updated, you will need to identify the revised standard and develop a plan for addressing the changes.

When you purchase a standard, be sure to buy an electronic version of the standard so you can search the standard for keywords efficiently. You should also consider purchasing a multi-user license for the standard because every manager in your company will need to look-up information in the standard. Alternatively, you could buy a paper copy of the standard and locate the standard where everyone in your company can access it. Often I am asked what the difference is between the EN version of the standard and the ISO version of the standard. “EN” is an abbreviation meaning European Standards or “European Norms,” which is based upon the literal translation from the French (i.e., “normes”) and German (i.e. “norm”) languages. “ISO” versions are international standards. In general, the body of the standard is typically identical, but harmonized EN standards for medical devices include annexes ZA, ZB, and ZC that identify any deviations from the requirements in three medical device directives (i.e., MDD, AIMD, and IVDD).

Task 2 – Identify which processes are applicable

Clause 1 of ISO 13485 is specific to the scope of a quality system. ISO 9001, the general quality system standard, allows you to “exclude” any clause from your quality system certification. However, ISO 13485 will only allow you to exclude design controls (i.e., clause 7.3). Other clauses within ISO 13485 may be identified as “non-applicable” based upon the nature of your medical device or service. You must also document the reason for non-applicability in your quality manual. Typically, the following clauses are common clauses identified for non-applicability:

  1. Clause 4.1.6 – quality system software
  2. Clause 6.4 – work environment
  3. Clause 7.5.2 – cleanliness of the product
  4. Clause 7.5.3 – installation
  5. Clause 7.5.4 – servicing
  6. Clause 7.5.5 – sterile devices
  7. Clause 7.5.6 – process validation
  8. Clause 7.5.7 – sterilization validation
  9. Clause 7.5.9.2 – implantable devices
  10. Clause 7.5.10 – customer property
  11. Clause 8.3.4 – rework

Task 3 – Assign a process owner to each process 

The third task is to assign a process owner to each of the processes in your quality system. Typically, you create a master list of each of the required processes. Usually, the assignments are made to managers in the company who may delegate some or all of a specific process. You should expect most managers to be responsible for more than one process because there are 28 required procedures in ISO 13485:2016, but most companies have fewer than ten people when they first implement a quality system.

Task 4 – Prioritize and schedule the implementation of each process

The fourth task is to identify which processes need to be created first and to schedule the implementation of procedures from first to last. You can and should build flexibility into the schedule, but some procedures are needed at the beginning. For example, you need document control, record control, and training processes to manage all of your other procedures. You also need to implement the following processes to document your Design History File (DHF): 1) design controls, 2) risk management, 3) software development (if applicable), and 4) usability. Therefore, these represent the seven procedures that most companies will implement as early as possible. Procedures such as complaint handling, medical device reporting, and advisory notice procedures are usually reserved for last. These procedures are last because they are not needed until you have a medical device in use.

Task 5 – Create forms, flowcharts, and procedures for each process

Forms create the structure for records in your quality system, and a well-designed form can reduce the need for lengthy explanations in a procedure or work instruction. Therefore, you should consider developing forms first. The form should include all required information that is specified in the applicable standard or regulations, and the cells for that information should be presented in the order that the requirements are listed in the standard. You might even consider numbering the cells of the form to provide an easy cross-reference to the corresponding section of the procedure. Once you create a form, you might consider creating a flowchart next. Flowcharts provide a visual representation of the process. You might consider included numbers in the flow chart that cross-reference to the form as well.

Once you have created a form and a flowchart, you are now ready to write your quality system procedure. Many sections are typically included in a procedure template. It is recommended that you use a template to ensure that none of the basic elements of a procedure are omitted. You might also consider adding two sections that are uncommon to a procedure: 1) risk analysis of the procedure with the identification of risk controls to prevent risks associated with the procedure, and 2) a section for monitoring and measurement of the process to objectively measure the effectiveness of the process. These metrics are the best sources of preventive actions, and some of the metrics might be potential quality objectives to be identified by top management. 

Task 6 – Perform a gap analysis of each procedure

Most companies rely upon internal audits to catch and missing elements in their procedures. However, audits are intended to be a sampling rather than a 100% comprehensive assessment. Therefore, when a draft procedure is being reviewed and approved for the first time, or a major re-write of a procedure is conducted, a thorough gap analysis should be done before the approval of the draft procedure. Matthew Walker created an article explaining how to conduct a gap analysis of procedures. In addition, Matthew has been gradually adding cross-references to ISO 13485:2016 requirements in each procedure. He is color-coding the cross-referenced clauses in blue font as well. This makes it much easier for auditors to verify that a procedure is compliant with the regulations with minimal effort. The success of these two methods has taught us the importance of conducting a gap analysis of all new procedures.

Task 7 – Train applicable personnel for each process 

You are required to document the training requirements for each person or each job in your company. Documentation of training requirements may be in a job description or within a procedure. In addition to defining who should be trained, you also need to identify what type of training should be provided. We recommend recording your training to ensure that new future employees receive the same training. This will ensure consistency. You are also required to maintain records of the training. You must verify that training was effective, and you need to check the person is competent in performing the tasks. This training may require days or weeks to complete. Therefore, you may want to start training people several weeks before your procedure is approved. Alternatively, you can swap the order of tasks and conduct training after the procedure approval. If that approach is taken, then the procedure should indicate the date the procedure becomes effective–typical 30 days after approval to allow time for training.

Task 8 – Approve the procedure 

Approval of a procedure may be accomplished by signing and dating the procedure itself, while another approach is to create a document that lists all the procedures and forms being approved at one time. The second method is the method we use in our turn-key quality system. Companies can review and approve as many procedures at one time as they wish. Since this process needs to be defined to ensure that all of the procedures you implement are approved, the document control process is typically the first procedure that companies will approve in a new quality system. The second procedure generally is for control of records. Then the next procedures implemented will typically be focused on the documentation of design controls: design controls, risk management, usability testing, and software development. The last procedures to be approved are typically complaint handling, medical device reporting, and recalls. These procedures are left for last because you don’t need them until you are selling your medical device.

Task 9 – Start using the procedure and generating records

The last task required for the implementation of a new quality system is to start using the procedures to generate records. All of the procedures will need records before the process can be verified to be effective. Records can be paper-based, or the records can be electronic. Whichever format you use for the record retention needs to be communicated to everyone in the company through your Control of Records procedure and/or within each procedure. If you include the information in each procedure, the records of each procedure should be listed in the procedure, and the location where those records are stored should be identified. Generally, there is no specific minimum number of records to have for a certification audit, but you should have at least a few records for each process that you implement.

Step 2 – Conducting your first internal audit

The purpose of the internal audit is to verify the effectiveness of the quality system and to identify nonconformities before the certification body auditor finds them. To successfully achieve this secondary objective, it is essential to have a more rigorous internal audit than you expect for the certification audit. Therefore, the internal audit should be of equal duration or longer in duration than the certification audit. The internal audit should not consist of a desktop review of procedures. Reviewing procedures should be part of gap analysis (i.e., task 6 above) that is conducted on draft procedures before they are approved. Internal audits should utilize the process approach to auditing, and the auditor should apply a risk-based approach (i.e., focus on those processes that are most likely to contribute to the nonconforming products, result in a complaint, or cause severe injuries and death).

After your internal audit, you will receive an internal audit report from the auditor. You should also expect findings from the internal auditor, and you should expect opportunities for improvement (OFI) to be identified. Experienced auditors can typically identify the root cause of a nonconformity more quickly than most process owners. Therefore, it is recommended for each process owner and subject matter expert to review nonconformities with the auditor and discuss how the nonconformity should be investigated. The root cause must be correctly identified during the CAPA process, and the effectiveness check must be objective to ensure that problems do not recur.

Step 3 – Initiating corrective actions

Corrective actions should be initiated for each internal audit finding immediately, to make sure the findings are corrected and prevented from repeat occurrence before the Stage 1 audit. It will take a minimum of 30 days to implement the most corrective actions. Depending upon the scheduling of the internal audit, there may not be sufficient time to complete the corrective actions. However, you should at least initiate a CAPA for each finding, perform an investigation of the root-cause, and begin to implement corrective actions.

Also, to taking corrective actions related to internal audit findings, you should look for internal audits from other sources. The diagram below shows several different sources of potential corrective and preventive actions.

Risk based CAPA Process Diagram How to get ISO 13485 certified, time for success?

Monitoring and measuring of each process is the best source of preventive actions, while internal audits are typically the best source of corrective actions.  Any quality problems identified during validation are also excellent sources of corrective actions because the validation can be repeated as a method of demonstrating that the corrective actions are effective. However, your ISO 13485 certification auditor will focus on non-conforming products, complaints, and service as the most critical sources of corrective actions. These three sources are prioritized because these three sources have the greatest potential for resulting in a serious injury, death, or recall if corrective actions are not implemented to prevent problems from recurring.

Step 4 – Conducting your first management review 

In addition to completing a full quality system audit before your stage 1 audit, you are also expected to complete at least one management review. To make sure that you have inputs for each of the 12 requirements in the ISO 13485:2016 standard, it is recommended to conduct your management review only after you have completed your full quality system audit and initiated some corrective actions. If possible, you should also conduct supplier audits for any contract manufacturers or contract sterilizers. It is recommended to use a template for that management review that is organized in the order of the required inputs to ensure that none of the necessary inputs are skipped. Quality objectives will need to be established long before the management review so that the top management team has sufficient time to gather data regarding each of the quality objectives. Also, you should consider delegating the responsibility for creating the various slides for each input to different members of top management. This will ensure that everyone invited to the meeting is engaged in the process, and it will spread the workload for meeting preparation across multiple people.

At the end of the meeting, top management will need to create a list of action items to be completed before the next management review meeting. Meeting minutes will need to be documented for the meeting, including the list of action items and each of the four required outputs of the management review process. We recommend using the notes section of a presentation slide deck to document the meeting minutes related to each slide. Then the slide deck can be converted into notes pages and saved as a PDF. The PDF notes pages will be your final meeting minutes for the management review. An example of one of these notes pages is provided in the figure below.

Print PDF of Meeting Minutes Notes Page Example How to get ISO 13485 certified, time for success?

One of the more common non-value-added findings by auditors is when an auditor issues a nonconformity because you do not have your next internal audit and your next management review scheduled–even though each may have occurred only a month prior to the Stage 1 audit. Therefore, we recommend that you document your next 12-month cycle for internal audits and schedule your next management review as action items in every management review meeting. The schedule can be adjusted if needed, but this allows top management to emphasize various areas in internal audits that may need improvement. You might even set a quality objective to conduct a minimum of three management reviews per year at the end of your first management review.

Step 5 – Stage 1, Initial ISO 13485 Certification Audit

In 2006, the ISO 17021 Standard was introduced for assessing certification bodies. This is the standard that defines how certification bodies shall go about conducting your initial certification audit, annual surveillance of your quality system, and the re-certification of your quality system. In the past, certification bodies would typically conduct a “desktop” audit of your company before the on-site visit to make sure that you have all the required procedures. However, ISO 17021 requires that certification bodies conduct a Stage 1 audit that assesses the readiness of your company before conducting a Stage 2 audit. Therefore, even if the Stage 1 audit is conducted remotely, the certification body is expected to interview process owners and sample records to verify that the quality system has been implemented. Certification body auditors will also typically verify that your company has conducted a full quality system audit and at least one management review. Finally, the auditor will usually select a process such as corrective action and preventive action (CAPA) to make sure that you are identifying problems with the quality system and taking appropriate measures to address those problems.

Your goal for the Stage 1 audit should not be perfection. Instead, your focus is to make sure that there are no “major” nonconformities. The term “major” used to have a specific definition:

  1. Absence of a documented procedure or process
  2. Release of nonconforming product
  3. Repeat nonconformities (not possible during a Stage 1)

Under the MDSAP, the grading system for nonconformities now uses a numbering system for grading of nonconformities: “Nonconformity Grading System for Regulatory Purposes and Information Exchange Study Group 3 Final Document GHTF/SG3/N19:2012.” Any nonconformity is graded on a scale of one to four, and then two potential escalation rules are applied. If any nonconformities are graded as a four or a 5, then the auditor must assess whether a five-day notice to Regulatory Authorities is required. A five-day notice is required for in either of the following situations: 1) one or more finding grading of “5”; or 2) three or more findings graded as “4.” If your Stage 1 audit results in a five-day notice, then you are not ready for your Stage 2 audit. For example, a complete absence of two required procedures in clauses 6.4 through 8.5 of ISO 13485:2016 would result in two findings with a grading of “4.” This would not result in a five-day notice, but the absence of a third required procedure would result in a five-day notice.

The duration of your Stage 1 audit will be one or two days, but a 1.5-day audit is quite common for MDSAP Stage 1 audits. The reason for the 1.5-day Stage 1 audit is that it is challenging to assess readiness for Stage 2 in one day, and if the total duration of Stage 1 and Stage 2 is 5.5 days, then the Stage 2 audit could be completed in four days. The four-day audit is more convenient than a three-day audit for a two-person audit team.

After your Stage 1 audit, you will receive an audit report, and you should expect findings. You should initiate corrective actions for each finding immediately, to make sure the findings are corrected and prevented from repeat occurrence before the Stage 2 audit. The duration between the audits is typically about 4-6 weeks. That does not leave much time for you to initiate a CAPA, perform an investigation of the root-cause, and implement corrective action. At a minimum, you must submit a corrective action plan for each finding to your MDSAP auditing organization (AO) within 15 calendar days of receiving the finding. For any findings graded as a “4” or higher, you will need to provide evidence of implementing the corrective action plan to the AO with 30 calendar days of receiving the finding. You are also unlikely to have enough time to conduct an effectiveness check prior to the Stage 2 audit.

Step 6 – Stage 2, Initial ISO 13485 Certification Audit

The Stage 2 initial ISO 13485 certification audit will verify that all regulatory requirements have been met for any market you plan to distribute in. The auditor will complete an MDSAP checklist that includes all of the regulatory requirements for each of the countries that recognize MDSAP: 1) the USA, 2) Canada, 3) Brazil, 4) Austria, and 5) Japan. The auditor will also sample records from every process in your quality system to verify that the procedures and processes are fully implemented. This audit will typically be at least four days in duration unless multiple auditors are working in an audit team.

The audit objectives for the Stage 2 ISO 13485 certification audit specifically include evaluating the effectiveness of your quality system in the following areas:

  1. Applicable regulatory requirements
  2. Product and process-related technologies
  3. Technical documentation

All procedures will be reviewed for compliance with ISO 13485:2016 and the applicable regulations. The auditor will also sample records from each process. If the auditor identifies any nonconformities during the audit, it is important to record the findings and begin planning corrective actions immediately. If you have any questions regarding the expectations for the investigation of the root-cause, corrections, corrective actions, and effectiveness checks, you should ask the auditor during the audit or the closing meeting. At a minimum, you must submit a corrective action plan for each finding to your MDSAP auditing organization (AO) within 15 calendar days of receiving the finding. For any findings graded as a “4” or higher, you will need to provide evidence of implementing the corrective action plan to the AO with 30 calendar days of receiving the finding. The auditor will not be able to recommend you for ISO 13485 certification until your corrective action plans are accepted.

If you receive a finding with a grading of “5,” or three or more findings graded as “4,” then the MDSAP auditor is required to issue a five-day notification to the regulators. The auditor will also need to return to your facility for a follow-up audit to close as many findings as they can. It is not necessary to eliminate all of the findings in order to be recommended for ISO 13485 certification, but the grading of the findings must be reduced to at least a “3” before recommending the company for certification. The number of findings also determines whether the auditor recommends your company for certification.

In addition to reviewing the findings and conclusions of the audit during the closing meeting, the auditor will also review the plan for the annual surveillance and re-certification with you. Each certification cycle is three years in duration. There will be two surveillance audits of approximately one-third the duration of the combined duration of stage 1 and stage 2 initial certification audits, and the first surveillance audit must be completed within 12 months of the initial certification audit. In the third year, there will be a re-certification audit for two-thirds of the duration of the combined duration of stage 1 and stage 2 initial certification audits. The initial ISO 13485 certificate will be issued with a three-year expiration, and the certificate is typically received about one month after the acceptance of your corrective action plan.

Other resources related to ISO 13485 certification:

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How to avoid the most common supplier evaluation mistakes

The focus of this article is on the process of supplier evaluation and re-evaluation for medical device companies and how to document your evaluations.
No Grandfathering Image How to avoid the most common supplier evaluation mistakes

You have several suppliers today, but did you have a rigorous supplier evaluation process when you first hired those suppliers? If your business is going to be successful, you need to treat your supplier evaluation process as a critical strategic process. Supplier qualification and is more important than the hiring of any senior manager. ISO 13485:2016 requires you to have a procedure for supplier evaluation and re-evaluation, but the type and extent of your supplier controls are not specified.

Which of your suppliers are critical or crucial?

Crucial suppliers were defined in a draft policy published by the European Commission as part of the introduction of the requirement for unannounced audits. Essential suppliers make a component or subassembly that is high-risk, or your firm cannot easily purchase the component or subassembly from another supplier. Critical suppliers for medical device manufacturers fall into one of three categories: 1) a contract manufacturer, 2) a contract sterilizer, or 3) a contract packager or labeler. These three types of suppliers may be selected for unannounced audits by a Notified Body. The FDA also requires these three categories of suppliers to register their facility.

Should you establish other supplier evaluation categories?

The short answer is no. The purpose of categories is to ensure that a large number of suppliers are consistently managed. Instead, try reducing the number of suppliers you are managing. Give your best suppliers more work, and fire the worst suppliers. If a component is “single-source,” encourage another supplier to quote that business before you look for a new supplier. It would be best if you took the time to evaluate each supplier thoroughly. If you don’t have the supply chain resources to do this, then you have three choices: 1) hire another person to help manage your supply chain, 2) fire suppliers that are not meeting your requirements, or 3) replace the weakest member of your supply chain team.

How do you re-evaluate existing suppliers now?

There are a lot of possible answers to this question, but unfortunately, the most common answer is, “because that’s who we’ve always used.” This practice, referred to as “grandfathering,” is a horrible approach to supplier re-evaluation. Suppliers that miss your requested delivery dates, and suppliers that ship nonconforming product should be required to implement supplier corrective actions immediately. You need to follow-up on these corrective actions and verify that the corrective actions were effective. If the corrective actions are not effective, or if new supplier issues occur, then you should find an alternate supplier as soon as possible.

Another stupid reason for selecting a supplier is “because they were the lowest bidder.” There’s an old government contracting joke about this strategy. It sounds something like this, “a million mission-critical parts, designed by engineers that have no clue what the real world is like, built by the lowest bidder, and inspected by a bureaucrat that can be bribed with a bottle of wine and some prime rib.” I tend to discount the quality of the lowest bidder every time. I always wonder what they forgot to consider when they bid on the job. If the lowest bidding supplier can explain why they have an inherent advantage over their competition, then maybe you should consider hiring them. If there is no rational reason why a supplier’s pricing is below their competition, this usually means that the supplier is desperate, or they plan to increase their pricing after you are a customer.

What should be your supplier evaluation and re-evaluation criteria?

All medical device suppliers should have a quality system, but ISO certification is not required. Therefore, if a supplier has ISO 13485 certification, you might abbreviate your initial supplier qualification process. However, ISO 13485 certification should have minimal impact upon your on-going supplier evaluation process. You need to know how well your supplier’s quality system is being maintained. If your supplier is sharing copies of their annual surveillance audits and FDA inspection reports with you, this will give you a better indication of the quality system effectiveness.

Consider performing supplier audits for supplier evaluation

Although it is not required, the best way to evaluate the effectiveness of a supplier’s quality system is to perform a supplier audit. Specifically, you should focus on the processes that are directly related to your product or component. Production process controls and final inspection are the most critical areas to audit. Other areas that are important to consider for supplier audits are 1) incoming inspection, 2) purchasing controls, 3) shipping, and 4) control of nonconforming materials. Conducting a supplier audit using the process approach is the most effective method. The process approach method of auditing will ensure that document control, record control, calibration, process validation, and training are sampled as support processes. The supplier audits may also be conducted as on-site audits or remote audits.

Certificate of Conformity (CoC) vs. Certificate of Analysis (CoA)

Another supplier evaluation criteria should be product conformity. You should be reviewing more than whether your supplier shipped the correct product and the correct quantity. Did your supplier provide a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) that summarized the inspection methods, acceptance criteria, and the inspection results? Or do you verify that a Certificate of Conformity (CoC) was included and accept the lot you received? If your company is only receiving a CoC from a supplier, you should be sampling the product at incoming inspection and verifying that the product is conforming with your requirements. Even if the supplier is providing a CoA, you should still perform periodic sampling and inspection of the product to make sure the CoA provided matches the actual product you are receiving.

Considering Improving your supplier questionnaires

If your company is requesting that suppliers complete supplier questionnaires, make sure that you are asking the most relevant questions. You need to know if your supplier can support remote audits. You need to know if there have been any significant changes to the quality system. You need to know if the company has had any significant non-conformities resulting from certification body audits. You need to know if there have been FDA inspections and what the results of the inspection were. You should also be obtaining monitoring and measurement data related to process conformity and product conformity. Asking your supplier to identify any shutdown periods or planned renovations is a required input for critical and crucial suppliers for CE Marked medical devices subject to unannounced audits. It would help if you also were asking your supplier to update the names, titles, and contact information for key management personnel. Would you like a copy of our supplier questionnaire?

No Grandfathering Image 1 e1591549101295 How to avoid the most common supplier evaluation mistakes

What should you be doing to address the Covid-19 pandemic?

As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, many suppliers have had significant disruptions to their supply chains, workforce availability, and transportation vendors. Since many medical device products are urgently needed during this pandemic, it is important to ask suppliers to provide a summary of their current situation and any analysis they have done to assess potential risks that could disrupt your supply chain. Does your supplier have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE)? What type of precautions is being taken to ensure that employees don’t exhibit symptoms of Covid-19 illness? Does your supplier have a policy for self-quarantining if an employee is exposed to someone that has the virus? Does your supplier have a disaster recovery plan?

Consider using size for supplier evaluation

Bigger is not always better. If you are a small customer of a large supplier, your needs will seldom be important to your supplier. Alternatively, if your company is much larger than your supplier, your supplier may not have the resources to grow with you and keep up with your current demand. When you are initially qualifying suppliers, try to select suppliers that are approximately the same size as your company or slightly larger. You should also consider identifying more suitably sized suppliers if you have a significant size mismatch or one develops over time.

What if you don’t have the resources to evaluate your suppliers?

Supplier evaluation and re-evaluation is a strategic function that impacts your profits, your ability to deliver product on-time to your customers, and nonconforming product can tarnish your company’s reputation. Therefore, your company needs to invest resources to analyze your supply chain. It would help if you had suppliers that have excellent quality and suppliers that will encourage your company to improve. Are there best practices you can learn from your suppliers? Is your supplier able to help you manage your inventory? Can your suppliers help you solve production problems? Supplier evaluation should only be secondary in importance to your design process and post-market surveillance. As they say, “garbage in equals garbage out.”

Do you need additional training on supplier evaluation?

On June 25, 2020, at 11 am EDT, and we are hosting a live webinar on how to qualify your suppliers. In this webinar, you will learn how to qualify new suppliers even if they don’t have ISO certification and best practices in supplier evaluation. We will be sharing a new supplier questionnaire that includes questions to help you assess whether a supplier is capable of supporting remote audits. We will help you develop a strategy for the allocation of supply chain personnel, and show you how to convince top management to prioritize supplier audits.

Posted in: Supplier Quality Management

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How to apply a risk-based auditing approach to audits and remote audits

In this article, you will learn what risk-based auditing is, and how to apply a risk-based approach to auditing and remote supplier audits.

animal nature reptile animal world How to apply a risk based auditing approach to audits and remote audits

Risk-based auditing considers the risks of failing to achieve audit objectives and the opportunities created by choosing various audit methods and strategies. For example, if you are conducting your first internal audit for a new quality system, a desktop audit of procedures might be appropriate. Alternatively, if you are auditing a mature quality system where very few changes to procedures have been made in the past year, a desktop audit would be a waste of time, and using the element approach to auditing is unlikely to add much value. Audits are meant to be a sampling. Therefore, you should focus on areas of importance, areas where previous nonconformities were identified, any new products or processes, and anything that changed significantly. 

The risk-based auditing approach is the most significant change in ISO 19011:2018

One of the main differences between ISO 19011:2018 and the previous 2011 version is the addition of a “risk-based approach” to the principles of auditing. Specifically, clause 4(g) of the guidelines for auditing management systems is, “The risk-based approach should substantively influence the planning, conducting and reporting of audits to ensure that audits are focused on matters that are significant for the audit client, and for achieving the audit program objectives.” A lot of people are unsure of what is meant by a risk-based approach, but the key to understanding this is to focus on the definition of risk. From a product perspective, the risk is the “combination of the probability of occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm.” From a process perspective, the risk is the “effect of uncertainty on an expected result” (ISO 9001:2015, clause 3.09). Therefore, auditors should emphasize medical devices that present the highest severity of harm and any devices that have a high probability of hazards or hazardous situations occurring. When an auditor is focusing on a process, rather than a specific medical device, auditors should emphasize any processes that are not under control and any recent process changes.

Auditor selection should also be risk-based

If you are conducting a supplier audit as part of your initial supplier qualification for a critical component supplier or contract manufacturer, you should consider doing a team audit with a multi-disciplinary team. This is a risk-based approach to the supplier qualification process, which ensures that you have subject matter experts evaluating each process instead of auditors with a general quality assurance background. This approach also forces more of your personnel to introduce themselves to the new supplier, and the audit will develop more reliable communication channels between your two companies. Alternatively, if you are conducting a routine internal audit of a production process, you might select a new lead auditor to conduct the audit. You don’t expect any significant findings in a routine internal audit of an established production process. In your role as an audit program manager, you need to match the new lead auditor to a process that will force them to look at all aspects of the process approach to auditing. Specifically, process validation, calibration, maintenance, and process monitoring are areas that may not apply to other administrative process areas such as purchasing.

Risk-based auditing should influence your auditing schedule.

The frequency of auditing suppliers and internal process areas should reflect the risks associated. Therefore, when you create or update your auditing schedule, you should consider the risk level of products being audited and the process being audited. Production processes with a moderate or high level of non-conforming products may need to be audited more than once per year. Still, a supplier with an excellent track record of extremely high quality and on-time delivery may be audited on alternating years. If you previously scheduled a remote audit, you may want to alternate to conducting an on-site audit the next time.

The duration of your audits should not always be the same either. If one production process makes one product in low-volume, and another production process makes multiple products in high-volume, you should not schedule a two-hour internal audit for both processes every year. The low-volume production process may only need a one-hour audit once per year. In contrast, the high-volume process may require a four-hour internal audit or multiple audits each year.

Risk-based auditing applied to remote supplier auditing.

The risk-based auditing approach was added to ISO 19011:2018 as the seventh principle of auditing. This represents the most significant change to that standard, but how does it apply to remote auditing? Despite the opportunities created by remote supplier auditing, there are also risks associated with auditing suppliers remotely. Most people worry about auditees hiding hazardous situations or unacceptable environmental conditions such as filth or disrepair. However, unacceptable cleanliness and maintenance practices don’t happen overnight. Therefore, you should expect a clean and well-maintained facility to remain that way. One approach is to alternate between remote and on-site audits to verify the overall condition of a supplier’s facility. Therefore, the risk of auditees hiding objective evidence is more an issue of trust than a highly probable occurrence.

The more probable risks associated with remote auditing are related to the potential lack of availability of records. This is especially important for paper-based quality systems. Most people try to address this risk by scanning paper documents and records, but scanning documents have limited value. Scanning paper documents is more efficiently performed in a large batch by an automated or semi-automated process. Also, auditors and inspectors typically focus on the most recent records, and auditors and inspectors rarely sample 100% of the records. Therefore, the best risk controls include:

  • Ask a guide to send a digital picture of the record.
  • Use a tripod-mounted HD webcam focused on a music stand or similar surface.
  • Ask the auditee to read the document while you take notes.

In our experience, you will probably rely on all three risk controls, but it is unlikely to delay the audit. However, in response to the limited physical access to medical device facilities and personnel, certification bodies are sending out questionnaires to assess the risk of being unable to achieve audit objectives or cover the required scope of surveillance and recertification audits. As the audit program manager, you can reduce these risks by working with supply chain managers to develop new supplier questionnaires that specifically ask questions about the capability of supporting audits remotely. In particular, it would be important to obtain facility maps to identify areas with inadequate cellular coverage and identification of records that are only available in hardcopy format.

 

Posted in: Auditing, Remote Auditing

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Plague Doctor’s Scary Guide – Available for Pre-Order

The “Plague Doctor’s Scary Guide to Remarkable Remote Quality Audits” by Matthew C. Walker and Robert V. Packard is now available for pre-order from Amazon ($5 pre-order discount until August 28, 2020).

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Book Description for “Plague Doctor’s Scary Guide to Remarkable Remote Quality Audits”

Remote quality audits can be remarkable. Remote audits don’t have to be an 8-hour Zoom meeting marathon that causes deep vein thrombosis. You don’t need a box of adult diapers either. We can teach you a better way. Unfortunately, today on-site quality audits have become scary adventures into a plague-infested world. Most people describe auditing as more boring than Ferris Bueller’s homeroom teacher. Your top management deeply disdains to participate in quality audits, and most CEOs cannot be bothered to show up for an opening meeting unless an FDA inspector is present. Today we are faced with a global viral pandemic that has transformed on-site auditing from a necessary evil to a positively scary and potentially dangerous job.

Ok, maybe I’m just dramatic. Perhaps it is not so “scary” to hop on a plane to conduct an on-site audit. After all, how many people die in conference rooms, excluding death from boredom? Maybe you always wanted to perform quality audits remotely to eliminate the cost of travel expenses. Remote audits are especially attractive for supplier audits on the other side of the world, after all, who looks forward to a 14-hour direct flight from JFK to Seoul. The biggest challenge in changing your audit process from an on-site audit to a remote audit is that you need to convince top management, your certification body, and the next FDA inspector that remote quality audits are just as effective as an on-site audit.

Quality audits can be a remarkable value-added activity. Still, I don’t think you will learn how by reading the mighty 645-page tome on value-added auditing that was written by another indie author published on Amazon. You need to stop using the element approach and learn to conduct audits using the process approach instead. You also need to make better use of the subject-matter experts in your company. They can help you audit a specific process if you teach them how, but they are not joining you on that 14-hour flight. You need to start using remote auditing techniques to get engineers involved in the auditing of areas they know better than you do.

It might not be possible to convince a design engineer to learn to be a lead auditor, but you can teach them to be capable audit team members for 90-minutes. Your design engineer can be an audit team member from the safety of their home at 8 pm on a Tuesday when it’s 9 am in Seoul on Wednesday morning. Let us teach you and the other engineers in your company how to conduct effective remote quality audits, and we will keep you safe.

I know you will say there is just one problem. How will you convince your boss? Well, you could mention the thousands of dollars you will save on travel costs. You could suggest using those 28 hours of flight time to do something more important than trying to sleep on the “Redeye” Korean Air flight. You could also say that it will be infinitely easier to coordinate five 90-minute Zoom meetings with your supplier than scheduling one full-day audit in Korea.

Covid-19 has changed the world as we know it. Your approach to auditing must change with it, or people will die. Buy the book now, because I guarantee changing your audit approach will save you money, changing will improve the quality of your audits, and changing might save the life of someone on your audit team.

20190531 005146 150x150 Plague Doctors Scary Guide   Available for Pre OrderMatthew Walker is the creative genius behind the “Plague Doctor’s Scary Guide to Remarkable Remote Auditing.” Matthew and Rob Packard just finished creating a new lead auditor course for a significant US non-profit training organization. Matthew’s job is to help clients implement new quality systems for ISO 13485 certification. He is the gap analysis guru for the consulting firm, and he is continuously updating quality system procedures. Matthew is a gifted writer. His delightful sarcasm and satire will entertain you while you read about the most boring topic on planet earth.

Rob Packard 150x150 Plague Doctors Scary Guide   Available for Pre OrderRob Packard was the instructor in 12 different lead auditor courses for more than 100+ lead auditors in total. He was a certified lead auditor for CE Marking, CMDCAS, ISO 13485, and ISO 14971. He was director of quality, and the audit program manager, for four different medical device companies. Rob now owns and operates a successful regulatory and quality system consulting firm with six full-time employees, and 100% of the employees work remotely.

Other Information

Our first book was “How to Prepare Your 510(k) in 100 Days. The book was only made available to attendees of our 510(k) courses in Amsterdam and Las Vegas. We also made a PDF version available to people that purchased our 510(k) templates and 510(k) webinar series.

This new book, the “Plague Doctor’s Scary Guide to Remarkable Remote Auditing,” was the idea of Matthew Walker and is being co-authored by Matthew Walker and Rob Packard. The target length is 25,000 words, but we are likely to exceed that. The content will be organized in the order of the ISO 19011:2018 standard.

Sean Gardner is the artist that is creating the book cover design for the Plague Doctor’s Scary Guide. He specializes in dark, scary images with swirls of magic. The above picture is a draft for the cover art (tell us what you think). He is a talented caricaturist and tattoo artist that works at Helheim Gallery in Salem, MA.

We are also kicking off the project with a blog series specific to remote auditing techniques:

  1. Changes triggered by COVID19 in your quality system – May 2
  2. Remote audit opening meeting – 4 changes – May 12
  3. Audit team communications – May 19
  4. Remote audit resources – software and hardware tools – May 26
  5. How to apply a risk-based auditing approach to audits and remote audits – June 2
  6. How to make a supplier questionnaire for remote auditing – June 25
  7. Remote audit duration less than 90 minutes – June 30
  8. Remote auditing work instruction – July 14
  9. Planning partial remote audits – July 21
  10. Remote audit invitations – 4 things to remember – August 4
  11. Training new audit team members and lead auditors – August 11

Five (5) new webinars planned on related topics:

  1. Opening Meetings Webinar (free) – May 14, 2020
  2. Audit team communication during a remote audit (free) – June 4, 2020
  3. How to qualify your suppliers webinar (pre-order by June 1) – June 25, 2020
  4. Remote auditing techniques webinar (pre-order by July 1) – July 16, 2020
  5. MDSAP Certification Body Interviews (free) – August 6, 2020

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Remote audit resources – software and hardware tools

If you are planning a remote audit, you will need more remote audit resources than a webcam and web conferencing software. Matthew Walker is a significant contributor as co-author of this article.

20200525 095104 scaled Remote audit resources   software and hardware tools

Clause 5 of ISO 19011:2018 is titled “Managing an audit program,” and subclause 5.4.4 is specific to determining audit program resources. For conducting audits remotely, you will need remote audit resources. Almost every laptop has a built-in webcam and microphone, and that is the minimum functionality you will need to conduct a remote audit. However, adding other software and hardware technology can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your audit team.

What remote audit resources do you need?

Remote audits are not the same as a desktop audit, because a remote audit requires remote access to more than emails containing procedures and records. Auditors need access to people and access to physical areas of your facility. This creates one of the most significant challenges for this type of audit method. Call me a Negative Nancy, but I suspect that most audit plans do not specifically include logistical preparations to support this audit method. On the surface, it seems like a simple concept. Internet access and a scanner should cover most of the needs for the auditee to survive this digital encounter. In practice, conducting a remote audit that genuinely adds value and does more than checkboxes, requires serious planning.

Let’s start with the obvious; a remote audit needs a way for the auditor and the auditee to communicate with each other. Ideally, you need more than your phone. We recommend Zoom for video conferencing, but we list several other video conferencing software applications below. Here are the features of Zoom that we typically use during a remote audit:

  • Video Chat – Using Zoom, two or more parties can communicate using video input from webcams. This is nice because it allows for a more visual conversation, and you can see more of the facial expressions and body language of the person you are speaking with than you can with a traditional phone call. It also allows for sign language to be used if necessary.
  • Screen Sharing – Screen sharing is an essential tool you will use during a remote audit because it allows you to share documents and records on your screen even if you are not the host. The more records you have electronically, the more valuable screen sharing will be during the audit. An auditor can say, “Can you show me that quality system certificate again?” or “Can you show me where Isomedix is on your approved supplier’s list?” Being able to facilitate those verification activities saves the auditee the hassle of emailing documents or uploading content to a shared folder. This ability to share your screen is also essential for an auditee to demonstrate training effectiveness and competency.
  • Recording – Meetings can be recorded in their entirety or sections. This allows the auditee to record the opening or closing meetings of the audit to share with others that were unable to attend. If there are questions regarding non-conformities or opportunities for improvement, a recording of the conversation ensures that the auditor has an accurate record of complex objective evidence that would slow down the audit and gives managers a perfect record to demonstrate the issue when corrective actions are initiated.
  • Chat Record – Zoom, and most other video conferencing software, provides a chat box that can be used to take notes. If someone runs to the bathroom, and you don’t want to forget your question, you can enter it in the chatbox. Chat boxes are especially helpful when there is a language barrier, or someone’s accent is hard to understand. Text typed in the chatbox also serves as a place to record information that may be difficult to remember if you cannot access your audit report. If a production area has too much background noise, the chat feature might be the best way to communicate important details, such as: “That information is found in section 7.5.6 of the Quality Manual; POL-001 rev A.” The chatbox can also be used to communicate a list of documents, or records in a specific date range, that you want an auditee to make available for you to review off-line. Other participants observing the audit may also be responsible for collecting those documents in real-time to ensure the audit can continue without any delay. Finally, content in the chatbox can be recorded as a text file automatically.
  • Tour Guide – Video chat allows auditees to bring auditors into physical places of their facility as if the auditor were there in person. Production employees can be interviewed, in person and in real-time, while the employee demonstrates processes. You can show how nonconforming materials are labeled and segregated to keep them from accidentally being used for production. When requesting this audit method in an audit agenda, the lead auditor should recommend a dedicated “camera person” with a mobile phone and selfie stick, because it is challenging to answer auditor questions and operate a video camera simultaneously. Remember, remote audit resources consist of hardware, software, and people

My favorite remote auditing tools (hardware)

My favorite hardware resource is the Pixelbook that I am using to write this article. We write audit reports with Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word because multiple team members can simultaneously edit the same document without creating conflicting versions. We operate Zoom video web conferencing software to speak with auditees and clients, but we use the Pixelbook to type our notes and audit reports. The Pixelbook is lightning fast, and it is a little smaller, so there is just enough room on your desk next to a laptop. The most significant advantage of using Google Docs is realized when you are the lead auditor of an audit team. As a lead auditor, you can type notes in the section of the audit report that other team members are working on, to make sure that they include audit trails from other members of the audit team. This is also an extremely useful technique when you are training a new auditor, and you want to guide them without disrupting the flow of an interview with a subject matter expert.

My second favorite hardware resource is an HD webcam mounted on a flexible arm with a clamp (see picture above). The video quality is 1080p instead of the 720p that is typical of a laptop camera. The flexible arm is equally essential because you can look directly at the camera while I’m simultaneously looking at the monitor. The only thing I dislike about the webcam I am using is the audio quality. Therefore, I use a gaming headset with a microphone to record the audio, so I can hear the people I am interviewing better. Another alternative is high-quality microphone and headphones, as typically seen in use by podcasters. Even though the sound quality is ideal with a separate microphone and headphones, the cost is higher than most gaming headsets, and you will be tethered to microphone–either physically or at least virtually by the need to maintain a consistent distance between your mouth and the microphone. The more hours you spend at the computer, the more you will appreciate the ability to stand up, adjust the camera, and move your legs a little.

Finally, the last piece of essential remote auditing hardware is your mobile phone. Even with a desktop running Zoom, and a Pixelbook running Google Docs, I still need to ask audit team members questions and conduct quick internet searches. Therefore, your mobile phone is essential to keep with you, in silent mode, during your audit. If you don’t have your phone, then you need to stop sharing your screen and send a message during your audit. Your phone is much less disruptive. I use the phone to keep track of time, to set reminder alarms, and to send Slack messages with other people. You can also join a separate Zoom session on your phone, where an audit team member may need you (the lead auditor) to provide input on objective evidence or evaluation of conformity regarding specific quality system requirements. You might also want to take a quick picture of something you observe on video during the audit. If you record the Zoom session, you can always extract a still image, but taking a picture with your mobile phone is more convenient and takes less time. You can then share the image with a Google Drive folder for your remote audit and copy the image into your audit report. As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

One last note on hardware: a 48” flat screen is great for virtual bike rides on your trainer (as seen in the picture above), but it’s just a little too big for a desktop monitor. It’s excellent for side-by-side viewing, but dual monitors are a better approach.

Remote Auditing Resources for Web Conferencing

Currently, we are using Zoom as our video web conferencing software. Still, we used to use GoToMeeting, and there is very little difference in the functionality of the two software platforms. One of the consequences of the COVID19 pandemic is that everyone is more familiar with web conferencing software. Here are a few other options you could consider, including Slack, which we use as a messaging tool, and we have integrated with Zoom within our team’s channel.

  1. Google Meeting
  2. Skype
  3. Microsoft Teams
  4. Monday
  5. Slack

Remote Audit Resources for Scheduling Your Audit

Currently, we are using Calendly as the automated appointment scheduling software application for our consulting business. However, the functionality of software applications has changed dramatically in the past few years with better integration tools, such as Zappier.  Therefore, don’t be surprised if we change to one of the applications listed below. These applications allow you to manage people, equipment, and conference rooms, but you can also integrate these applications with accounting business processes.

  1. Simplybook.me 
  2. Acuity Scheduling 
  3. Jobber 
  4. Gigabook
  5. vcita

Remote Auditing Accessories

We hosted three international training workshops, and we record training videos for medical device companies every week. Therefore, we gradually accumulated all of the accessories listed below. Technology gadgets for recording videos are continually changing, and our best advice is to save your money. Instead, rely upon a mobile phone and an extra person with “the original selfie sticks” (i.e., arms). Once you complete your first remote audit, then you can think about which of the latest gadgets might make your life easier.

  • Selfie Sticks
  • Tripod
  • External microphones
  • Portable Batteries
  • Additional lighting

If you have any suggestions for additional hardware and software for remote auditing, please add a comment to this article so we can keep this up to date with the latest technology. 

Future Articles & Webinars

Thank you for reading. This article is our third in a ten-part blog series specific to remote auditing techniques:

  1. Remote audit opening meeting – 4 changes – May 12
  2. Audit team communications – May 19
  3. Remote audit resources – software and hardware tools – May 26
  4. How to apply a risk-based auditing approach to audits and remote audits – June 2
  5. How to make a supplier questionnaire for remote auditing – June 25
  6. Remote audit duration less than 90 minutes – June 30
  7. Remote auditing work instruction – July 14
  8. Planning partial remote audits – July 21
  9. Remote audit invitations – 4 things to remember – August 4
  10. Training new audit team members and lead auditors – August 11

Five (5) new webinars planned on related topics:

  1. Opening Meetings Webinar (free) – May 14, 2020
  2. Audit team communication during a remote audit (free) – June 4, 2020
  3. How to qualify your suppliers webinar (pre-order by June 1) – June 25, 2020
  4. Remote auditing techniques webinar (pre-order by July 1) – July 16, 2020
  5. MDSAP Certification Body Interviews (free) – August 6, 2020

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Audit team communication

The lack of visual cues may hinder communication between the auditor and the auditee, but software tools can enhance audit team communication.

Audit Team Communication Cup Phone Audit team communication

Audit Team Communication Requirements

During the opening meeting, the lead auditor is responsible for confirming the “formal communication channels between the audit team and the auditee…[and] the auditee being kept informed of audit progress during the audit” (ISO 19011:2018, Clause 6.4.3). Typically, the audit program manager will follow the lead auditor during the audit. In that situation, audit team communication with the auditee is direct and verbal. However, if the audit team consists of multiple auditors, the lead auditor also needs to establish a method of communication between the team members and the lead auditor. Team members need to make the lead auditor aware of any potential nonconformities, but more critical information includes:

  1. audit trails that require follow-up by auditors in other process areas
  2. any delay experienced by team members
  3. if an audit team member is ahead of schedule

Communication Limitations During On-Site Audits

During an on-site audit, it is not uncommon to have limited communication with the rest of the team, because the team is interviewing auditees and walking through the facility–not sitting at their computer. Sometimes your cellular signal is inadequate for texting or other messenger services such as Slack. It may also be more difficult to have private discussions between team members during an on-site audit. Usually, the audit schedule is very tight, and team discussions must wait until lunch breaks or scheduled team discussions. Unfortunately, these limitations frequently result in the follow-up of audit trails waiting until the very end of the audit, instead of addressing audit trails at more convenient times in the middle of the audit.

Communication Between Auditors During Remote Audits

During a remote audit, all of the audit team members will readily be able to exchange information by email, text, or Slack. Besides, applications like Google Docs allow multiple auditors to type in the same audit report simultaneously. Therefore, auditors can type a specific follow-up item in the section of the audit report, where another auditor will be typing their notes for the applicable audit area. For example, if one auditor is interviewing incoming inspection activities, they can type a note for the auditor that will be auditing calibration to review the calibration certificates for inspection devices used in the incoming inspection process. If an audit team leader needs more time, they can type a quick note for the lead auditor about the need for more time. The lead auditor can also quickly send a Slack message to the rest of the audit team, asking if anyone can aid the audit team member that is behind schedule. This communication is efficient, documented directly within the report, and occurs in real-time. The result is that communication between team members is more effective, and the audit is completed earlier.

Improvement of Auditor Training with Remote Auditing

When audit team members are being trained, the lead auditor must observe their auditing and provide constructive feedback. Ideally, the lead auditor will wait for a “teachable moment.” This is the moment immediately after the lead auditor-in-training makes a mistake. Telling an auditor-in-training what to do during an audit teaches the auditor little. However, if the auditor is allowed to make a mistake, such as forgetting to ask for an audit record, then the lead auditor can point out the error immediately afterward. Correcting the auditor can be as simple as adding a note in red font within the audit report in the same section where the auditor is currently typing. The auditor will see the comment and make the correction, but the auditee will not be aware of the error. This approach avoids any embarrassment to the auditor, and the auditor is more likely to remember the instruction as constructive feedback that will make them better.

Remote Auditing Can Be Easily Recorded

Auditors can learn from the constructive feedback provided by a lead auditor, but they can also learn by watching and listening to themselves if the remote audit is recorded. This is especially easy to accomplish for internal audits, but suppliers may also allow recording of certain process audits. Opening meetings, closing meetings, and common procedures such as incoming inspection usually do not include confidential information. Therefore, you should be able to obtain permission to record these portions of the audit. These recordings can be reviewed by the auditor to identify when poorly worded questions were used. Auditors-in-training can identify when they miss an opportunity to follow an audit trail, or an auditor may realize that they ask auditees certain closed-ended (i.e., yes/no) questions instead of open-ended questions that will help them gather more information from the auditee.

Audit Team Communication with Guides

In addition to the communication between the lead auditor and the audit team members, audit team members also need to communicate with their audit guides. Guides should be used to communicate messages throughout the company. For example, if the audit is behind or ahead of schedule, the guide can communicate adjustments in the timing of the agenda. If an audit team member requests records to be provided, the guide can communicate this request and make sure the records are waiting for the auditor when they return to the audit conference room. Guides also are responsible for helping the audit team navigate from one process area to another during the audit, and to make sure that the audit team observes all safety and gowning requirements during the audit. Finally, guides may also be asked to act as an observer and verify objective evidence collected by the auditor.

Shifting Role of a Guide During Remote Audits

During a remote audit, requests for records to be provided and communication of deviations from the agenda can easily be communicated by the auditor chat features in the video conference, instant messengers, or email. Therefore, you might think that a guide is unneeded. However, when audit team members request viewing another area of a facility during a remote audit, it may be necessary to provide live video images of the process areas. It isn’t easy to speak with the auditor and provide live video images. It may be dangerous to walk backward through your facility, carrying a selfie stick, and concentrating on your discussion with the auditor instead of where you are walking. Instead, the guide should focus on providing live video, and the process owner should be concentrating on providing a guided tour and answering the auditor’s questions. The guide may also be asked to record certain information in video or picture format as objective evidence.

Conclusion

Audit teams should practice using shared documents in Google Docs and Slack during the audit to facilitate real-time audit team communication. Google Docs enables everyone to write their audit notes directly into an audit report template to eliminate delays in the completion of the audit report. Using Google Docs also makes it possible for the lead auditor to observe the progress of the audit in real-time. Audit team communications of audit trails for team members to follow-up can be accomplished in real-time by just adding a note about the trail in the applicable section of the audit report. Finally, remote auditing can facilitate better training of auditors.

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Remote audit opening meeting – 5 changes

This article describes five minor adjustments that lead auditors should make when they plan a remote audit opening meeting.

Remote Audit Opening Meeting Remote audit opening meeting   5 changes

Regardless of whether you are conducting an on-site audit or a remote audit, the first activity conducted during the audit is an opening meeting. The process for conducting opening meetings is defined in ISO 19011:2018, Clause 6.4.3, and it is the responsibility of the lead auditor to lead this meeting. There are three purposes to the opening meeting:

  1. confirm agreement to the audit plan,
  2. introduce the roles of the audit team, and
  3. ensure the audit can be conducted as planned.

Opening meeting checklists

There is a long list of items that are typically confirmed during the opening meeting. New auditors are trained to rely upon an opening meeting checklist to ensure that none of the things on the list are accidentally forgotten. Some auditors will depend on a formal presentation during an opening meeting, but usually, this requires more time to set-up. Therefore, most auditors work from a pre-written checklist on their computer or paper.

Change #1: Presentations replace checklists in a remote audit opening meeting

If you are conducting a remote opening meeting, most of the attendees will be looking at a computer screen. The lead auditor can share their screen as they go through a formal presentation, without wasting any set-up time during the opening meeting. Also, attendees can be emailed the presentation before the opening meeting, along with the audit plan. If you are the lead auditor planning a remote audit, you should use an opening meeting presentation template to make sure that none of the items in clause 6.4.3 are skipped. If your company is developing a work instruction for conducting audits remotely, you should create a controlled template to ensure consistency among auditors. This should also be done for closing meetings. You can learn more about conducting opening and closing meetings in our webinar on May 14, 2020.

Change #2: Every audit team member should create a personal slide

One of the challenges of being remote is that you have trouble establishing rapport with the auditees. To overcome this challenge, you should use live video to show your face, smile, and say hello to auditees. It would help if you also created a slide for the opening meeting presentation that includes a personal picture that conveys your congenial character and less formality. You should also include your preferred method(s) of contact during the audit, such as email address, mobile phone number, or Slack @username. If you are part of a team, you should also present the slide(s) that explain which process areas you will be responsible for auditing. If you have any special needs, such as vision or hearing impairment, you should also indicate how you prefer auditees to communicate with you.

Change #3: Edit the agenda during the remote audit opening meeting

Auditors confirm the planned agenda with the auditees during the opening meeting, but adjustments to the schedule are typical of remote and on-site audits. At most on-site opening meetings, everyone will have a hardcopy of the agenda and make notes on their agenda to reflect schedule changes. It is the responsibility of the lead auditor to distribute an updated version of the revised agenda and to include the updated agenda with the audit report. However, in a remote audit opening meeting, the lead auditor should share a copy of the agenda with everyone in a software tool like Google Docs(see below). When changes are made, switch screen sharing from your presentation to the agenda. You can make the changes in view of all attendees. Also, if you share the document with auditees, they can correct errors in the audit agenda for you (e.g., the spelling of names) and often with greater efficiency than giving you a verbal explanation of the changes.

Google Docs Audit Report Template Remote audit opening meeting   5 changes

Change #4: Verify meeting invitations are updated at the end of the opening meeting

When there is an audit team conducting a remote audit, each auditor should send out a separate meeting invitation and include the lead auditor. This is important because each of the auditors needs to be able to audit simultaneously, but they may need the lead auditor to join their segment of the audit briefly. When changes are made to the audit agenda, such as changing the sequence of process areas being sampled, the time of the invitations needs to be updated for everyone involved. The lead auditor should verify that all of the invitations on their calendar match the updated agenda.

Change #5: Record your remote audit opening meetings (and closing meetings)

Recordings document critical information that might not be captured in the notes of the lead auditor while they are presenting. Therefore, requesting permission to record an opening and closing meeting of an audit is recommended. More importantly, if anyone is absent, the recording can be shared with that person. Finally, recordings allow you to “replay” mistakes and successes. The ability to replay the meeting, and observe yourself, is an invaluable tool for lead auditors in training and anyone that wants to improve.  

How long should your opening meeting be?

Audits are challenging to complete on-time, and therefore shorter opening meetings are desirable. However, the opening meeting is also dependent upon the scope of activities being audited and the number of audit team members. A duration of 30 minutes is typical for an on-site audit, but the opening meetings are often preceded by casual discussion and informal greetings. Teleconference calls and video chat meetings are less conducive to informal greetings because it is difficult for two people to speak at the same time. The remote meetings also seem more likely to start on-time. Therefore, you should expect a remote audit opening meeting to be more efficient (i.e., shorter).

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