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 sustainablethe 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.
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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Films Not About Project Teams: II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be
about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is
important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
- Scope Creep and Confirmation Bias
- As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and
other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions,
is one of these.
- Down in the Weeds: I
- When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing
on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can
we do about it?
- Some Risks of Short-Term Fixes
- When we encounter a problem at work, we must choose between short-term fixes (also known as workarounds)
and long-term solutions. Often we choose workarounds without appreciating the risks we're accepting
— until too late.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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