It seems audit projects are always running late. Can the solution be simpler than we think?
The timely completion of audit projects comes up way too often when I am talking with auditors. It was a constant battle when I worked at Farmers Insurance, and it seems to be an issue in almost every internal audit department. Apparently, we all struggle to meet the milestones established at the beginning of the project.
And, before some of you start to say "Nay, nay, not me," let me quickly clarify that I am talking about meeting the agreed upon dates established when the project was first started. Not the ones you came up with part way through planning or testing or while writing the report; not the "adjustments" you made throughout the project. I mean actually hitting those initially agreed-upon dates.
Of course, we can all provide lots of good "reasons" why those dates pass so quickly into our rearview mirrors. People get sick, people take vacations, requests for information are delayed, another meeting is required, meetings get postponed, information received is not the information that was actually requested, the report requires innumerable rewrites, ad infinitum.
Speaking from my own experience, we spent a lot of time trying to plan for these circumstances. And, in general, we were unsuccessful. It seemed like (and this may just be the result of time and an old man trying to remember things) we were constantly adjusting milestones and apologizing to our clients for missing those agreed-upon dates.
Of course, there will be some of who will argue that you have it under control. (I might question you on this, but we don't really have time right now.)
So, let me change the question. Rather than asking why we are always late, let's instead ask why it takes so long to complete audit projects.
Or, to put it another way …
Why is the actual elapsed time to complete an audit — the time from planning to issuance of the report — so much longer than the actual hours spent in doing the audit work?
You think you have it under control? Then tell me this. How long does your average audit project take to complete — first meeting and planning to issuance of the final report, including agreed-upon corrective action? One month? Two months? Longer? In all seriousness, in a time when everyone, including internal audit, wants and needs agility, how is a project that takes one quarter of a year to complete a project that can be considered "timely"?
Audit projects that are late and audit projects that take a long time to complete may speak to different issues. However, the solutions to these problems may be similar.
In a recent post titled "Business/busyness," Seth Godin discussed time, how we misuse it, and its impact on productivity. In the article, he listed five "useful things to think about."
Let me provide number three in its totality.
Get focused on the challenges and benefits of connection. Imagine two buildings under construction. Both have 25 well-trained, well-paid, hard-working construction workers. One building, though, was built in half the time of the other. What happened? It turns out that construction almost always slows down because people are waiting. Waiting for the waterproofing to get done (while they wait for the specialist) or waiting for parts or waiting for another part of the project. The internet is the home of the connection economy, which means that this challenge is multiplied by 100. What are you waiting for? When you're waiting, what are you doing to create value?
I gave you the entire quote because there is quite a bit to unwrap in that paragraph with layers that speak to the way internal audit works, connects, and succeeds. But the question that came to mind when I read this (and the potential answer to the issue of audit projects taking too long) was this: When we are involved in an audit project, what are we waiting for?
How much time do we waste waiting for someone else to finish some test work, waiting for a response from a client, waiting for data from a client, waiting for data from within our own department, waiting for reviews to be completed, waiting for everyone that we are just convinced have to be involved in every meeting to free up their time and pretend to agree to attend the meeting?
How much of our time is wasted waiting?
Could it be this simple? Could the solution to timely (not just on time) completion of audit projects be recognizing what we are constantly waiting for and building a structure for our audit projects that better coordinates the work we are doing? Can we cut the construction of our audit projects in half just by reducing the time we spend waiting?
It's been over five years since I retired from Farmers Insurance. That means it's been over five years since I did an actual internal audit project. So, there's a decent chance I'm completely off base on this one. I might not be talking about the real world.
But maybe the problem is that we have accepted delays as the norm. Maybe we have come to believe it is impossible to hold our clients to established milestones. Maybe we have come to believe it is impossible to hold ourselves to established milestones. Maybe we don't believe a thorough analysis of our own processes would provide any benefit. Maybe we are just more comfortable not forcing ourselves to deliver excellence in the form of a through, timely, quick audit.
Maybe we are just so used to waiting we don't see any reason (or think it is possible) to change.
I would be interested to hear from everyone on this. Feel free to post. But also feel free to reach out to me for more detailed discussion. I'm seriously wondering if solving this problem may be part of the solution for making internal audit more agile.
It sounds too simplistic.
And yet ... danged if it doesn't make a lot of sense.