During an audit, you discover a department's most significant project was misguided, no longer aligned with organizational needs, and a waste of the department's limited resources. Everyone involved agrees with your assessment, leading to the question, "Why continue?" Leadership responds with reasons such as: "We always complete every project," "We just do as we're told," and "We can't stop — it would be an admission that we failed." What do you do?
Any auditor worth his or her completed time sheet would recommend that management adjust, modify, or stop the project dead in its tracks, allowing the department to get to work on something (anything) more important. Unfortunately, while we might do an excellent job of telling others what to do, many audit departments do not practice what they preach and often move forward on potentially inconsequential projects as though there were no turning back.
Stories from the real audit world — experiences from my own career or that I learned about from others firsthand — help illustrate this problem. Details have been removed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the somewhere-in-between.
- While providing support for the external auditors, the chief audit executive (CAE) explained that one of the planned tests did not apply to the way the company operated. The accountant agreed but explained the test would have to be completed because "it was a requirement of the audit program."
- Although auditors were told the audit schedule was flexible, no one ever deviated from it. The audit leader would say, "If we went to the audit committee and asked for a change, they would think we didn't know what we were doing when we first put the plan together."
Unfortunately, it wasn't too hard for me to produce these examples — a sign that the practice of continuing to do work obstinately just because it is "in the plan" continues to haunt our profession. We claim we want to be agile, but we don't even have the agility necessary to adapt to changing circumstances.
There is nothing — no project, no audit engagement, no plan — that internal audit should require itself to complete just because it has already been started, it is what has always been done, or the more dreaded, "we don't want to have to explain why we changed." This is not value, this is not service, this is not professionalism — this is blind adherence to meaningless dogma.
Look ahead at the work you are doing and, if it has no reason — if the risk isn't there, if the requirements aren't there, if it is done to support a promise that makes no sense — just say no. Turn around and start something new, different, and better.