Making Lemonade out of Lemons: The Auditor


It’s around this time of year that people occasionally think about audits.  (Perhaps more frequently than “occasionally” depending on your tax situation!)  Unfortunately, most anticipate a tax review by the government with about as much enthusiasm as for a root canal.  Indeed, many will prefer the dental work.

Yet, a visit by an Auditor can be a good thing.  In this article, which is the last in a series about project roles, I will discuss the positive aspects of having an audit conducted of the people, processes, and/or tools of your project.

Project Roles

Those Project Managers who have had bad experiences and outcomes with audits are probably sure I need to be committed to the funny farm.  Either that or I have no experience with audits.  In fact, that is not the case.  I’ve survived several major reviews by the government of projects in which I was a Core Team Member or a Project Manager.

There is no denial that audits are stressful and take a lot of time to prepare for and conduct.  When I was the Deputy Functional Manager for Planning, my sole responsibility was to ensure all five programs identified by the government passed the scheduling portion of the Earned Value Management System (EVMS) Compliance Review with flying colors.  There were many late nights and lots of lost sleep over the course of those two years.  However, during that time, the organization improved its Planning processes and habits.  Indeed, in every area of EVMS, the company matured and became a leader in the industry.  Some might quibble about the expense and time required to achieve that result.  I would respond that being the “leader in the industry” is a differentiator that results in prestige, name-recognition, more business, and (perhaps most importantly for projects) better and more accurate management tools.  It’s hard to see a downside even with the amount of money and time required.  Shouldn’t an organization invest in better expertise and tools?

Audits also help to ensure accountability.  Although I’d like to think everyone does the right thing – even when no one is looking – we all know that’s not the case.  Audits or the threat of one can be enough to compel people to conduct business in the proper way, according to established policies and procedures.

But, why wait for notice of a formal audit?  I encourage all Project Managers to invite Auditors in to review project documentation and performance.  These folks don’t have to be representatives from the Client; they can be internal Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who can informally spot risks before they become problems, and help you address compliance issues before any “real” auditors arrive.  These mock audits can be excellent dry runs to prepare people for a formal review and also to mitigate the likelihood that real Auditors will find any show stoppers.

The last benefit I’ll discuss is one of learning.  Although you may have a good grasp of a particular process or area, there’s nothing like poring over formal rules and regulations to provide a more in-depth and detailed understanding.  Whereas before you might have given written requirements a cursory skim, a pending audit means you will study them to ensure you can answer questions about them and also discuss how you are in compliance.  (Or take action to make sure you are compliant by the time your work products are reviewed.)

So, don’t fear the Auditor.  See the lemonade inherent in the lemon.

Until next time.

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