Every project that we undertake is something new…at least, it should be. I've told the joke before; I'll tell it again: Why did the auditor cross the road? Because he looked in the workpapers and that's what they did last year.
I don't care what type of work you are doing – project, audit, or consultation. I don't care how you currently perceive the project – old, new, boring, exciting, redundant, fresh, mindless, or worthless. I don't care what area you are reviewing – expense reports or petty cash or accounts payable or accounts receivable or accounting or pricing or marketing or R&D or M&A or C&C or 7&7 or sales or admin or mad men or product development or employee development or executive development or executive compensation or executive fraud or sales fraud or employee fraud or vendor fraud or vendor contracts or contract negotiations or labor negotiations or legal or governance or risk or compliance or Larry or Moe or Curly. If you want to really add value, then you need to approach every project as if it is something daring and different that has never been tried before. That doesn't mean you throw out the past – you just can't rely on what has come before to the exclusion of all else.
So how do you jump into every single project as if it were something new?
Just so happens that I ask this question shortly after stumbling across an update from Disneyland. As part of announcing a new section to the park, they have put up a display showing a conceptual process used by the Imagineers. (You know who they are, right? They're those lucky people who actually get to design and build all that cool stuff!) The steps to the process are as follows:
Step 1 – Research – What is our opportunity?
Step 2 – Blue Sky – What can this be?
Step 3 – Concept – The design is in the details
Step 4 – Feasibility – How do we make this real?
Step 5 – Implementation – How should we build this?
I would argue that every project audit approaches should be gone into with these steps in mind. Some already translate to the design of any audit program. "Implementation" is a gimme; it is the process of building the audit program we've decided we want to complete. It could be argued we also accomplish "Feasibility" in our translation of "Concept" into "Implementation". (Note how this also explains our use of "Concept".)
The big idea resides in those first two steps. I would propose that any project (any audit, any report, any consulting opportunity, any meeting, any anything) should start with the question "What is our opportunity?" In all we undertake, we have been given the chance to work with the business, to be an ambassador for opportunity and change, to make a difference in the "way things are done." Each audit should be approached with that expectation - that there is an opportunity that hasn't existed before; a chance to do more than has been accomplished in the past.
And that should be followed with the "Blue Sky". This is the term used when dreaming the impossible – almost akin to brainstorming. No restrictions, no holds barred, what is the greatest thing that can be accomplished.
Putting these all together – determining the opportunities that might exist and marrying them with imagining something greater than has been ever done – can result in any audit project taking on unfathomable dimensions. And making the project (and the department) greater than anyone could have hoped.