Preparing for an unannounced audit…

As a technical manager on site, I remember vividly the feeling I used to get when reception called to say that my unannounced auditor was in reception waiting for me. I don’t think the memory of that slightly sick feeling and the flashing lights in front of my eyes will ever leave me!

Handling an unannounced audit is difficult enough as it is, so it’s important that you prepare as much as you can to try to reduce the stress on you, your team and the site.

Most auditors will make up their mind about what audit grade of site you are within the first half an hour, so first impressions really do count!

I’ll take you through the first 5 top tips on how to prepare for an unannounced audit, which is my own experience of being the auditee and the auditor…

First impressions

Next time you drive to work, try to look at your site with a fresh pair of eyes. If you were the auditor driving in, what first impression would you get? Does the site look tidy and professional from the outside? Is there clear signs for them to know where to go and park? Is there a place for them to park?

Signing in

When the auditor arrives is it clear whether they should sign in at the gatehouse with security or at reception? If it’s an unmanned reception – is there clear instructions for them as to how they should alert someone? Does the gatehouse or reception area give a good impression – is it clean and tidy?

If the auditor has to wait for someone to arrive, are there things for him/her to look at that will give a good impression? Such as accreditation certificates, company quality policy (signed and up to date of course), perhaps KPI or communications to staff?

In the panic of an unannounced audit it is very easy to forget the basics, such as making sure that the auditor completes a health screening form and it is checked and signed off before they are allowed in the factory.  Make it someone’s job to do this, so it’s less likely to get forgotten.


As the auditor is unannounced, you must ensure that they prove who they are. Do not under any circumstances let them into site without carrying out the proper checks. They must be able to prove who they are (using a driver’s license) for example and that they work for the auditing body that you’ve contracted, or your customer has contracted.

To do this request a list with photos from the auditing body of the auditors that may arrive at your site. Make sure that this is available to anyone who may be responsible for signing in the auditor. The person signing them in must check their ID and also that they appear on the photo list provided by the auditing body. They must not be allowed on-site until this is completed. Making sure this process happens quickly and professionally is really important, one to make sure that you give the right impression but secondly because some unannounced customer audits require you to get the auditor onto the shop floor within a maximum time (e.g. 15 minutes). If you do not adhere to this maximum time you are at risk of getting a non-conformance before the audit has even started!

Looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes, like you’re seeing your site for the first time is a really essential skill to develop. We get used to seeing the same things every day and if the standards start to slip a little, day by day, it’s human nature to not notice them. Go through the process of signing in yourself and see what it’s like, try to see it from someone else’s point of view.

Lastly, make sure that your site is secure – the auditor must not be able to get in without following the correct process. If you were the auditor are there any doors that you could get through? The last thing you want is for your auditor to make it inside and even into the production area unnoticed!

Having the right people in place

You tend to know roughly when unannounced audits are due, as you’re normally given a window for when the auditor will appear.

Think about all the people who will be involved in the audit, from the person who signs them in (don’t forget to include those that will do this outside normal working hours as well as those that do it during the typical working day), the person who will escort them to the room, those who will escort them around the factory, those that are involved in the traceability, the document review, those that provide lunch, if you have systems such as SAP or other databases in use – include those that you need to run the reports.

Make a list of all these people and who will do what tasks. Make sure you agree these tasks with them and that they are clear on exactly what they need to do. You also need to make sure there is someone who will step into their place on their behalf if they are off (their deputy). Then, make sure you agree with each person and their deputy that they are not to be off site at the same time!

I’ve had first-hand experience of the problems that it causes when this is not thought through in detail like this! It’s Sod’s law that the day your whole management team is off site for a team meeting, is the day the auditor will arrive. This doesn’t go down well and has a negative impact on your audit score, so make sure you are prepared!

If you also have group support functions who look after things like supplier assurance, make sure that you have a plan as to how they are going to get to site and how things will be managed if they are not able to attend site.

Factory warning

The purpose of an unannounced audit is to make sure you’re audit ready at any time and standards are always high. But everyone know there are always sillies that catch you out and a little bit of preparation can reduce the likelihood of these biting you on the bum!

When the auditor arrives at security or reception you need an agreed process of communication. You need to get the message out as fast as possible to all those that need to know. How are you going to do this and does everyone involved know a) what the communication plan is and b) what they need to do when they are notified?

Work out with your team who the initial call from security or reception will be to.  Make sure that if they’re off site that there is another person tee’d up to receive this call.  Make sure that the number given will always be answered.

Once that call is made – who do they tell and who does the next person tell and so on…

If you have a tannoy system in the factory, you could have an agreed announcement that goes out so everyone on the shop floor knows. Make sure this is ‘in code‘ because if the auditor has already made it down there, you don’t want them to hear it!

Once everyone knows that the auditor is here, make sure everyone knows their roles and what they need to do, to make sure the ‘sillies‘ are sorted.

A ‘runner‘ is also an audit must, someone who is one step ahead of the auditor at all times, checking things before they get there.  Make sure who ever this person(s) is/are, they have the authority to put things right immediately if they pick anything up.

I’ve really enjoyed writing part 1 of this 2-part article for you on unannounced audits – read the 2nd part of this article here.

I think this is a massive subject that would be really useful and we could cover so much.  If you have any ideas about what you would like me to cover in future articles, on this subject or any other please let me know in the comments below.  I want them to be helpful to you, so I need to know what you want me to write about!

Have your say…

4 thoughts on “Top Tips for Unannounced Audits – Part 1

  1. Good information. Please cover if relevant technical manager who look after site QMS is not available.

    1. Hi Nagaraju
      Thanks for your comment. We covered roles in this post, but I will expand this for you on the next one for just that of the Technical Manager.

  2. Another tip is having an administration pack ready for the auditor – visitor health questionnaire & factory rules (in case not gone through at security / reception and is a reminder to get this completed), factory clip board, factory pen, paper, & torch all for the auditor to use if needed.

    Need also to have easy access to factory protective overalls and footwear of all sizes. Same for any warm clothing normally provided if appropriate. There is nothing worse than not finding the right size boots for a visitor!

    Agree internally the route that you will take the auditor. Usually low risk to high risk is the correct food safety order, but be prepared for the auditor to decide on a completely different order!

    The audit is of the WHOLE business. The reason for the stress, cold sweats, increased heart rates and never-to-leave-us-technical-people dread is because the factory management team are not made to step up on these occasions. These audits are NOT technical audits but are business audits so should be lead by the Site General Manager and the Factory Manager. The Technical Manager should be in support but not obviously the lead. The Site GM and FM leading the audit alone will give a good impression! These positions need to understand that if they do not contribute to getting a good result, they have an in-secure business as a direct result. Yes, I am passionate about this point!

    1. Hi Carol,
      Thanks for sharing your tips – they’re great! You read my mind with a few (which are being covered in the part 2 of this post).
      I love your passion and I totally agree with you!

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