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What Makes an Audit Successful?

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Audits help an organization or team to solve problems. They identify areas for improvement; places where client or stakeholder expectations haven’t be met; violations of regulations or industry standards; and information on the accuracy and relevance of in-house metrics.

A successful audit has management support, starts with sufficient preparation, is avoids antagonizing the people it is supposed to help, and results in a course correction or other action.

Management Support

Management support is critical before, during, and after an audit. It may be ensured by:

  • Fully communicating the reason and necessity for the audit, whether regulatory compliance or quality control or some other reason
  • Advising management or stakeholders of their role in the audit and, if possible, having a management representative participate
  • Creating a report that communicates the audit results clearly, concisely, and at the appropriate level of understanding
  • Reporting on results quickly enough so that time and interest doesn’t move on
  • Recommending and helping to implement corrective action.

Preparation

Preparation is adequate when it encompasses:

  • Knowing exactly what you are auditing, why the audit is needed, and how you will conduct it (for example, knowing the relevant regulations you need to comply with) 
  • Preparing a schedule for both the audit and any meetings required to update management or other stakeholders
  • Creating a list of questions that you need answered before and during the audit; the questions should be open ended to avoid an abrupt “yes” or “no” and glean significant information.

Employee/Team Support

People are easily antagonized by an audit when it interferes with their higher priorities like finishing projects on schedule, occurs so frequently that no time is given for corrective action, or provides too much information for anyone to absorb. 

An audit is made more supportive by:

  • Keeping questions, checklists, or other information gathering tools as short as possible.
  • Auditing regularly, so that the group being audited (team or department or business unit) become used to the process and don’t panic to prepare
  • Making sure the questions attack actual problems, such as the quality of data being generated rather than the amount of data
  • Setting up standards that are reachable and reasonable
  • Including everyone who is affected by the group being audited to ensure that a recommendation aligns with everyone’s needs and to determine if a problem originates within or outside of the group
  • Providing a balanced report that indicates what the group is doing right and helps to establish an environment of trust.

Course Corrections

An audit that recommends changes but results in no action whatsoever has failed. According to the US General Accounting Office, the way to get action on audit recommendation is by:

  • Communicating the need for any change, with quality recommendations that are grounded in root causes and are convincing
  • Staying committed to following through on the audit with action
  • Providing information on course corrections or other actions that would help solve the problem or issue
  • Aggressively monitoring and following up to see if the action plan has been implemented
  • Giving special attention to the most serious or flagrant matters.

In addition, the auditor may want to be prepared with information, advice, or recommendations for sources of help in designing and implementing an action plan.

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