I've got no proof on this one, but I sincerely believe that one of the greatest causes of delays in report writing is actually getting it written. Now, I know that sounds obvious — a little bit like "The reason we can't complete this project is because we can't complete this project." But, what I'm saying is that the act of trying to actually get thoughts down on paper (or whatever medium is your choice du jour) is in and of itself an incredible impediment to actually completing the report.
First, there is the paralyzing effect of the "blank sheet of paper" faced by every author. Fundamentally, it is writer's block, and even internal auditors must overcome it. Memorializing that first word can actually cause strong auditors to quell in their boots. It is as though that first word will not be exactly right and, because we cannot allow ourselves to make a mistake, we are willing to wait until perfection slaps us upside the head.
Templates help, but they are not the complete solution.
And that whole concept of "making mistakes" is the other reason reports get delayed. I've talked about this before (and, danged if I can find where that was, or I'd provide a link), but our constant striving for perfection results in interminable rewrites and delay after delay after delay.
But I think there is another issue that is often overlooked — one that is akin to the "perfect audit report" syndrome mentioned above, but with a twist. We get so tied up in trying to make sure that we say the exact things exactly right in the exact sequence with exact perfection that we lose sight of the message we want to deliver. We are so focused on getting the background perfect and the scope perfect and the purpose perfect and the past participial phrase perfect, that we forget there is a message we are trying to convey.
And, even if we remember that message, it is buried beneath the barrage of information that we deem to be oh so necessary.
So, with all that in mind, let me introduce you to Lynda Barry. Lynda is a cartoonist, author, and teacher. She is the creator of Ernie Pook's Comeek, a comic strip that fundamentally changed the way comics were created, viewed, and accepted. But, to relegate her to the restrictive title of comics creator — even an innovative and game-changing comics creator — is to sell her far too short. Just one example, she has created books that will cause anyone to rethink the fundamental concepts of how they perceive writing, art, and creativity. They are wellsprings of creative thought, challenging and supporting anyone willing to take on the whole idea of being creative. (You want to have your mind blown? Check out What it Is.)
She is also a teacher at US-Madison (among other places) and, in her role as teacher, she has a Tumblr account called "The Nearsighted Monkey" where anyone can watch and explore the lessons that are a part of her classes on creativity, comics, and writing.
One lesson she uses quite often is an adaptation from Ivan Brunetti's Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice. Lynda calls her adaptation "Faster, faster, Ivan Brunetti." The following description is adapted from that Tumblr account (Seriously, check it out…often.)
Fold sheets of paper into six squares. On each page, draw a cat, a skeleton, a rooster, an elf, and a house on fire. In each square, draw each item progressively more quickly. For example, draw a cat in 60 seconds, then draw it in 45 seconds, then draw it in 30 seconds, then draw it in 20 seconds, then draw it in 10 seconds, then draw it in 5 seconds.
Now, for all you auditors out there that are looking for a good time, give it a whirl. (And, yes, you've got time. It's not like you were going to hear anything important in that next staff meeting you had to attend — or lead.)
Lynda explains that drawing over and over in less and less time makes us draw faster with less control. With less control, our hand is allowed to do things that surprise us and introduces us to spontaneous gestures that make for original lines and shapes that can't reveal themselves otherwise.
When Brunetti talks about the exercise in his book, he makes another interesting point. "Note also that as the simplest doodle emerges, when we really have too little time to think about the drawing, we get closer to the 'idea' or essence of the thing being drawn."
And that is why any of this has anything to do with internal audit and with report writing. Because we have the time to think about what it is we are trying to write about, we often become paralyzed with the thought of all those things we could write. And, in the process, we forget what it is we want to write about.
Try the Ivan Brunetti/Lynda Barry trick with an audit report. I'm willing to agree that five seconds is not enough time to even fire off a word or two, let alone any complete thought about an audit. But try it with five minutes. No more; no less. Get that blank sheet of paper set up in word (no templates – that's cheating), set a timer for five minutes, and then GO!
Don't worry about grammar. Don't worry about "required" sections of the report. Don't worry about what anyone else will say about what you are writing. Just use that five minutes to record what is important about the work that you have done in completing the audit.
Is five minutes the right amount of time? Would the process be more effective if you only had three minutes? Do you actually need 10 to get the basic — the very basic — concepts recorded?
To be honest, I don't know. This is a game I have never tried playing. (Although, I will say that, often, these blog posts are written in a fury of typing. They don't always make sense on that first draft [they may not make sense when I get done], but I have the thoughts down and, usually, I then understand what it is I'm trying to say. The rewrites take a lot more time. Just as the rewrite of a report that is written in five minutes will take a bit of time.)
But the key is to get away from your preconceived notions about what a report should look like and what it should contain. To paraphrase Ivan Brunetti, the point is to have too little time to think about the report, getting closer to the "idea" or essence of what we want to write about.
Get those key ideas down. Then build the report around it.