Audit Versus Inspection?

Audit, audit by exception


Would you please tell me what the differences between audit and inspection are?


This is a great question.   We can start with the definitions of inspection and audit per the new ISO 9000:2015 standard.  Inspection is “Determination of conformity to specified requirements”  (3.11.7)  and Audit is “systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining objective evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which audit criteria are fulfilled”  (3.13.1).

Without parsing the words to much, the difference is one of scale:  Inspection is most often associated with inspecting a product or a service to make sure it is right, and an audit is most often associated with a higher-level review of the system that is designed to produce and inspect the product or service.

An audit of a manufacturing process wouldn’t just inspect the product, it would ensure (at a system level) that required inspections had already been performed on the product.  I have often made the differentiation in the following way… “An inspection is down in the grass, but to do an audit, you have to climb a tree.”  The reflects the difference in purpose and perspective for an audit.   Other authors, such as Arter, Sayle, and Russell refer to inspections as ‘backward looking’, that is, what was actually done to provide a product or service, while audits are ‘forward looking’.   Audits ensure that proper management controls are in place to ensure product quality into the future.   Instead of inspecting quality in (to a product produced in the past), an audit evaluates how well a quality system will predict and prevent quality problems (in the future).   My three favourite references are Quality Audits for Improved Performance by Dennis Arter, Management Audits, by Allan Sayle, and the ASQ Auditing Handbook, edited by JP Russell.

Thanks very much,

Denis J. Devos, P.Eng
A Fellow of the American Society for Quality
Devos Associates Inc.
(519) 476-8951