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​Don't Emphasize the Dead in Deadline

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If you've been following along, you know I'm in the middle of a series of blog posts talking about the way we think, how we can get better critical feedback, and, ultimately, how to work towards making our audits and ourselves better. Last week, I was knee-deep in writing the next entry of the series when it began to take an interesting turn.

Let me note that, generally, I know what I plan to say in these things. But it is no exaggeration to say that I'm never sure where they may wind up. The result is that what you see in these posts is often an insight into the meanderings that make up my thoughts as they are being thought. (After all, this is "From the Mind of Jacka.")

So, the blog post began to take an interesting turn. And I began to pursue that interesting turn. And I realized there was an aspect of the discussion I hadn't really thought about. And it was an aspect that warranted further consideration. And the more I wrote and researched, the more I realized there was a lot more there there than I had first realized. And within short order what had seemed to be a one- or two-paragraph interlude grew large enough to become a separate post.

Part of the reason I tell you all this is as a warning. If you are tuning in for the next part of the series, well, it ain't gonna happen yet. I realized that, to really give substance to what I wanted to say, more work was needed — more work than could be completed in time to meet the deadline for posting my blog.

Of course, I could have gone ahead and either left out that additional material or only presented it half-assessed. But I felt there was something better that could be done and, in spite of a looming deadline and a promise to the customers (that's you guys), I felt it better to set aside that arbitrary deadline toward providing more value to those customers.

And that leads to the other reason I tell you all this.

Internal audit time constraints and deadlines seem to rear their ugly heads at every turn. Last week, I discussed the need to take time from our busy schedules and critically assess the work that was completed. This time, I want to use my recent experience with developing a blog post as an example that, while we do have commitments and promises, we cannot let the quality of the work suffer just because we are trying to "get things done on time."

I hate how some internal audit departments never met a deadline they could meet. (Ours was one of them.) Deadlines are a promise. And internal audit has very little capital beyond its word. Yet, we cannot be slaves to those deadlines.

The worst I've ever seen was a couple of instances where I assigned auditors fraud investigations that were to be conducted out of town. They would make their arrangements, make the trip, begin the work, and then, no matter where they were in that investigation, end that work because they had to catch a flight. They returned considering their fieldwork to have been completed.

Okay, that one's pretty obviously bogus, and you'd never do that. (Never mind that I saw more than one auditor do it more than once. There's a moral in here about financial budgets, too. But that's for another time.) But how often has our work been cut short because of an impending vacation or someone being sick or a client not able to meet with us or a restriction on the number of hours that could be spent on the audit or a due date or the need to catch a flight or …

How often do we see a looming deadline and begin cutting interviews short, dropping tests, restricting scopes, determining risks are no longer risks? How often does that deadline take precedence over the quality of the audit work?

We have to be cognizant of time — ours and the client's. And that means that adjustments are often necessary. But my point/question is whether that decision has been made with a full realization of the impact it will have on how accurate the final opinion is. Cut too deeply, and it is just as bad as leaving a potential fraud in Tucumcari because your plane is leaving.

Of course, with that in mind, never forget the other side of the coin. And I'll again use this blog as an example. My original intent was to have the next part of the series posted last Friday. Here it is a week later and, rather than the next in the series, I've provided this filler.

The other side of that coin is that we can far too easily become enmeshed in the mantra of "I need more," suddenly finding that the pursuit of more has taken more and more time, the deadline is long gone, and no one cares anymore.

I worked with an auditor who was notorious for responding to the question, "How is the project going?" with "I've just got one more thing to finish up." He always had "one more thing" and his projects were conspicuously, ignominiously, grandiosely late. He only finished projects because our boss would bludgeon them out of him.  And, that "one more thing" was seldom cleared up,

No surprise, but it is a balancing act. We have to make sure we have fulfilled the promise we made at the start of the project/audit/review by allowing ourselves the freedom to move beyond the arbitrary constraints of time and dates that we have established. But we also have to ensure that we do not use that as a crutch, allowing us to put off the work for inconsequential and flimsy excuses.

Finally, in spite of my having flimsily tied this to the series of posts I've been writing, I promise to have the actual next installment for you this Friday.

I'm just as interested as you are to find out what I'll have to say.

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