Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 51;   December 22, 2021:

Internal Audits Without Pain


If adhering to established procedures is part of your job, you probably experience occasional audits. You can manage the pain of the experience by regarding audit preparation as part of the job. Because it is. Here are some tips for navigating audits.
A working meeting with an auditor

If you work in a regulated environment, or in any environment in which you must comply with documented procedures, you probably are familiar with some of the procedures you must follow. Inevitably, there are some procedures that you don't understand quite so well, because they might be new, newly revised, or rarely used. Because you can't be certain that your understanding of all procedures is up to date, there is some doubt in your mind that you're doing everything by the book.

To add to your anxiety, auditors occasionally drop by to verify that you're complying with the requirements of all those procedures. The anxiety can be more intense if the degree of compliance the auditors find can be an important indicator of your career success.

Unfortunately, The people who devise procedures don't
always know whether the burdens those
procedures impose are sustainable
the people who devise procedures don't always know whether the burdens those procedures impose are sustainable. That is, the effort required to understand and comply with the procedures might not be consistent with the effort available, given the other constraints on your work, such as deadlines, budgets, and other procedures.

The problem you face can be challenging. Here are seven insights that can help ease the burden of working in procedure-driven, audited environments.

Auditors attend to deviations that create high risk
The deviations auditors most value are those that create the greatest risks. It isn't that the auditor wants to find noncompliance that generates risk. Rather, most auditors are even happier to find compliance in all areas where noncompliance generates high risk.
But either way, they must examine work products and processes for instances of noncompliance that create greatest risk.
Auditors often use sampling techniques
Many auditors are resource-constrained. Because their audits don't have enough resources or time to examine every attribute of every work product and process, they sometimes examine attributes determined by a random sampling method.
If you can determine what sampling method the auditors use, you can apply it to your own work to search for deviations in advance of the audit. Correcting what you find, in advance, can improve work output quality. Otherwise, there really isn't much you can do to anticipate what the auditors will examine based on random sampling, because it's random.
When you find deviations on your own, extrapolate
If you make self-auditing a part of your own work routine, you can improve audit results proactively. When you find an indicator of noncompliance, correct it, of course. But also examine analogous attributes of all work products and processes to repair any analogous deviations that might have occurred.
Auditors favor examining what's easy to examine
Clever auditors search for noncompliance in areas where noncompliance is easy to recognize when it occurs. A high cost of verifying compliance is a deterrent for resource-constrained auditors.
If examining a work product for noncompliance is laborious, then auditors are relatively less likely to examine that work product, all other factors being equal.
Audit tools reduce audit costs
Resource-constrained auditors can expand what they examine by employing automation. They create tools that examine work products to ensure that they're in compliance with standards. For example, if all documents must bear identifiers that comply with a standard for identifiers, writing a tool to check for this is a simple matter.
If you can get access to the tools yourself, you can ensure compliance with the standards that the tools measure. If you can't get access to the tools, you can create your own tools if you know what the tools check for.
Pay attention to what auditors found in the work of others
If you know what auditors found in the work of others, you can check for those same things in your own work. That much is obvious.
But knowing what auditors found in the work of others also tells you where the auditors looked. Even more important: because auditors usually find something wherever they look, knowing that they found nothing in some areas tells you where they didn't look. For either of these ploys to work, you need to exchange audit results with a group of colleagues who are subject to similar audits.
Some audits have specific agendas
Some audits arise as results of accidentally discovered incidents of noncompliance. Such incidents are often surprising to all concerned. They can even be embarrassing. The audits that result have agendas.
When an audit has an agenda, the auditors want to examine work products in which they expect to find deviations of a particular kind. Examinations can range more broadly, but they have a specific purpose: to eliminate as far as possible from the set of work products any noncompliance of the kind that matches the agenda of the audit. Be certain that you address that kind of noncompliance in advance.

Last words

Most important: your past performance is a guide. It tells you where unintentional noncompliance is most likely to re-occur. If you have a record of deviation in specific areas, auditors might examine those areas more carefully. But much depends on what were the causes of past deviations. For example, if in the past your noncompliance arose from failing to maintain currency in your understanding of some procedures, then focus not on the nature of the noncompliance, but instead on those procedures that have recently changed. In any case, analyzing the results of past audits is probably a good starting place. Go to top Top  Next issue: Monday Morning Minute Message Madness  Next Issue

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsProjects never go quite as planned. We expect that, but we don't expect disaster. How can we get better at spotting disaster when there's still time to prevent it? How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble Starts is filled with tips for executives, senior managers, managers of project managers, and sponsors of projects in project-oriented organizations. It helps readers learn the subtle cues that indicate that a project is at risk for wreckage in time to do something about it. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

An air traffic controller using a display system at an Air Route Traffic Control CenterRemote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I
Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonHow to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
The Satir Interaction Model as simplified by WeinbergManaging Wishful Thinking Risk
When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking. Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
An excavator loads spoil into rail cars in the Culebra Cut, Panama, 1904Power Distance and Teams
One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects.
An empty officeAnticipating Absence: Why
Knowledge workers are scientists, engineers, physicians, attorneys, and any other professionals who "think for a living." When they suddenly become unavailable because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, substituting someone else to carry on for them can be problematic, because skills and experience are not enough.

See also Project Management and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Bottom: Aerial view of the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland. Top: Inside the Forth Rail Bridge, from a ScotRail 158 on August 22, 1999.Coming June 1: Mental Accounting and Technical Debt
In many organizations, technical debt has resisted efforts to control it. We've made important technical advances, but full control might require applying some results of the behavioral economics community, including a concept they call mental accounting. Available here and by RSS on June 1.
A goose and goslingsAnd on June 8: Flexible Queue Management
In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out order can cause confusion and waste of time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need more flexible queue management. Available here and by RSS on June 8.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.