Auditing Improves Effective Planning

Speak of operations assessment, and we’ll hear its significant value. Speak of an audit, and we’ll run for the nearest emergency exit. There’s no difference between the two, yet that word audit chills us. But is an audit really designed to help us or hurt us?

Improve Effective Planning

Problems most often arise from poor planning. Sometimes we’re uncertain if we’re tackling the correct issues and dealing with them the right way. However, we can improve our assumptions about processes and performance with more effective auditing.

Keep Objective Records

The internal audit process is not intended to be a ‘gotcha’ game. Rather, auditing helps management understand and validate the planning element. By keeping an objective record of the process, we can learn to swim first and avoid that sinking feeling later.

Improve with Internal Auditor Training

Les Cornelius, Quality Assurance Coordinator at Lee BioSolutions, Inc., took a two-day IRCA Internal Auditor Skills Class for the knowledge of getting improved results.

“I have to stay updated on new and improved ways to design, assess and improve processes,” said Cornelius. “The checklists, planning an audit, designing an audit program and conducting an audit – all are very helpful in preparation for the ISO certification audit.”

Make Better Decisions

By gathering objective evidence through observation, interviews and samplings of records, management can make better decisions. This will help:

Test organizational objectives and processes

Write factual audit reports that help improve the effectiveness of the management system
Suggest ways to verify the effectiveness of any corrective action to achieve the objectives

Check for Quality

Auditing is the third phase of the Plan, Do, Check, Act process approach – check. It is also one of the 8 quality principles of ISO, which allows managers to make better decisions based not on subjective opinion but objective fact.

The audit process is a valuable step for improvement. Auditor training will teach managers and executives how to improve the effectiveness of their management system, which is essential for ISO 9001 certification.

Audit to Help
To fully understand the requirements of ISO 9001 and to facilitate audit teams, business professionals can also take a five-day IRCA Lead Auditor course. After all, auditing is designed to help us, not hurt us.

Project Management Success and Best Practices

Managing a project can be daunting. Whether planning your wedding, developing a new website or building your dream house by the sea, you need to employ project management techniques to help you succeed. I’ll summarise the top 7 best practices at the heart of good project management which can help you to achieve project success.

Define the scope and objectives

Firstly, understand the project objectives. Suppose your boss asks you to organise a blood donor campaign, is the objective to get as much blood donated as possible? Or, is it to raise the local company profile? Deciding the real objectives will help you plan the project.

Scope defines the boundary of the project. Is the organisation of transport to take staff to the blood bank within scope? Or, should staff make their own way there? Deciding what’s in or out of scope will determine the amount of work which needs performing.

Understand who the stakeholders are, what they expect to be delivered and enlist their support. Once you’ve defined the scope and objectives, get the stakeholders to review and agree to them.

Define the deliverables

You must define what will be delivered by the project. If your project is an advertising campaign for a new chocolate bar, then one deliverable might be the artwork for an advertisement. So, decide what tangible things will be delivered and document them in enough detail to enable someone else to produce them correctly and effectively.

Key stakeholders must review the definition of deliverables and must agree they accurately reflect what must be delivered.

Project planning

Planning requires that the project manager decides which people, resources and budget are required to complete the project.

You must define what activities are required to produce the deliverables using techniques such as Work Breakdown Structures. You must estimate the time and effort required for each activity, dependencies between activities and decide a realistic schedule to complete them. Involve the project team in estimating how long activities will take. Set milestones which indicate critical dates during the project. Write this into the project plan. Get the key stakeholders to review and agree to the plan.


Project plans are useless unless they’ve been communicated effectively to the project team. Every team member needs to know their responsibilities. I once worked on a project where the project manager sat in his office surrounded by huge paper schedules. The problem was, nobody on his team knew what the tasks and milestones were because he hadn’t shared the plan with them. The project hit all kinds of problems with people doing activities which they deemed important rather than doing the activities assigned by the project manager.

Tracking and reporting project progress

Once your project is underway you must monitor and compare the actual progress with the planned progress. You will need progress reports from project team members. You should record variations between the actual and planned cost, schedule and scope. You should report variations to your manager and key stakeholders and take corrective actions if variations get too large.

You can adjust the plan in many ways to get the project back on track but you will always end up juggling cost, scope and schedule. If the project manager changes one of these, then one or both of the other elements will inevitably need changing. It is juggling these three elements – known as the project triangle – that typically causes a project manager the most headaches!

Change management

Stakeholders often change their mind about what must be delivered. Sometimes the business environment changes after the project starts, so assumptions made at the beginning of the project may no longer be valid. This often means the scope or deliverables of the project need changing. If a project manager accepted all changes into the project, the project would inevitably go over budget, be late and might never be completed.

By managing changes, the project manager can make decisions about whether or not to incorporate the changes immediately or in the future, or to reject them. This increases the chances of project success because the project manager controls how the changes are incorporated, can allocate resources accordingly and can plan when and how the changes are made. Not managing changes effectively is often a reason why projects fail.

Risk management

Risks are events which can adversely affect the successful outcome of the project. I’ve worked on projects where risks have included: staff lacking the technical skills to perform the work, hardware not being delivered on time, the control room at risk of flooding and many others. Risks will vary for each project but the main risks to a project must be identified as soon as possible. Plans must be made to avoid the risk, or, if the risk cannot be avoided, to mitigate the risk to lessen its impact if it occurs. This is known as risk management.

You don’t manage all risks because there could be too many and not all risks have the same impact. So, identify all risks, estimate the likelihood of each risk occurring (1 = not likely, 2 = maybe likely, 3 = very likely). Estimate its impact on the project (1 – low, 2 – medium, 3 – high), then multiply the two numbers together to give the risk factor. High risk factors indicate the severest risks. Manage the ten with the highest risk factors. Constantly review risks and lookout for new ones since they have a habit of occurring at any moment.

Not managing risks effectively is a common reason why projects fail.

Continuous Improvement of Business Audits

An effective audit process will mean that audit teams will be taking a systematic approach to gathering and interpreting data and information. In order to maximise the value of the outcomes of the audits the management should: Accept that the audit activity needs appropriate resourcing, including training of auditors, education of operational and management staff, and physical and financial funding. If any of these are inadequate, then the quality of outcomes will suffer. Accept that there will be limitations to the data gathered and the outcomes produced, not least because of the influence of the quality and quantity of resources allocated to the audit activity, but also because of the varying standards of judgement and interpretation that may be applied to the outcomes; Focus on trends, take appropriate corrective action on specific issues, but look for trends and patterns that indicate underlying, hidden, problems that need addressing; Ensure that the auditing activity is flexible and adaptable, in order to make it compatible with the culture and structure of the organisation, rather than adopt a rigid, unchanging process which is likely to be inappropriate and producing inaccurate results; Challenge the findings, the audit process will not be infallible, and should be challenged continuously to ensure that it is, itself, performing effectively; Apply the highest possible standards to the interpretation of results and judgement on what action to take, this requires training, experience, expertise, awareness of the internal and external environment, and an awareness of the impact of proposed changes on the motivation and morale levels of staff and managers, and an ability to forecast the impact on the operational and strategic objectives.

However, there are some dangers that must be avoided in order to maximise the effect of the audits. These include: Overload of data and information, the result either or too many audits being scheduled in general and-or the unnecessary auditing of areas of activity that are obviously performing well. This can be avoided by targeting the audits and schedules more thoughtfully; Overload of improvement recommendations, not in itself a danger, but the organisation can find it impossible to resource, in terms of budget, time, or human resources – all the improvements identified. The answer is to prioritise, focusing on those improvements that will bring greatest value to the achieving of the organisation’s objectives; Complacency, where results are apparently positive in most areas, there is a danger that management will become complacent. By adopting the kaizen continuous improvement approach to auditing, this should be avoided; Over-reliance on the auditing process, by leaving the identification and correction of poor performance to the audit process, rather than the audit process at least in part confirming that positive, continuous improvement activity is taking place; Managers ignoring the relevance of audit findings the most damaging response. If managers do not take the audit results and recommendations seriously and refuse to implement, or only half-heartedly implement the required changes, then the value of the audit process is wasted.

Although the auditing should be scheduled to examine all processes and activity on a regular basis, there is a need for additional emphasis to be given to auditing poor performers. These are activities, processes, functions, systems, where problems are visible of suspected, but the causes are not certain and need further investigation. In these cases management should arrange for ad hoc audits, and-or for these areas to be given priority in current or imminent auditing activity. It is not acceptable to rely on a generic auditing approach. Not dealing with visible or suspected poor performers immediately will allow poor performance to cause immediate and possibly long term damage. Inevitably, the longer the problems remain unaddressed, the more difficult it will be to take corrective action.

There is a danger that management will see only the audit results and concentrate on the decision making as to what improvements to make, and how to implement these. However, management must remember that the audit results are drawn from the activities of people. This means employees, operational staff, managers, specialists, suppliers, customers, stakeholders. Feedback, shaped and delivered in an appropriate manner, depending on the target group, must be seen as an essential element of effective auditing and successful implementation of changes. Not informing people of the rationale, the purpose, the results, and the positive contribution made by auditing, will lead to low morale and motivation, dissatisfaction, and possibly conflict.

It is essential that the improvements generated by the audits strengthen the organisation’s capability to compete. In order to ensure this happens, management will need to be aware that: It will often be necessary for improvement action to be prioritised. Where this is the case, then those improvements that will contribute the most value to the organisation’s competitiveness should be given higher priority. This is a responsibility of management, who will need to be appropriately skilled in this task; The business sector and general external environment is changing rapidly, and even relatively recent outcomes and improvement recommendations may no longer be appropriate due to significant external changes. This requires management to be alert to such changes and to have the ability to interpret how their organisation should best respond; After improvement changes have been implemented these will have, by default, altered the nature of activities and processes, and will need monitoring, auditing, to ensure that the effect is positive. It is highly likely that most changes made will need adjustment, especially in the early stages after implementation. This must be an integral, high profile, element of the change process.

Business Performance Audits are critical to the success of the organisation. The specific functional, process, and activity improvements generated by the Performance Audits are important and must be visible supported by the management. However, strategic and operational priorities will be constantly changing. Senior management must also ensure that the audit activity contributes positively and supports the strategic direction that the organisation is taking. It is the responsibility of senior management to continuously monitor the effectiveness of the auditing activity in the light of this requirement, and make appropriate changes if necessary.

To obtain the maximum benefit from Business Performance Audits the management must view them as a critically important element of the business. Appropriate resources must be allocated to the activity itself, to the interpretation of results, and to the implementation of improvements generated. Auditing must be integrated into the continuous improvement approach of the organisation. In addition, the objectives of the auditing process must be to generate improvements that contribute positively to operational and strategic objectives. If this approach is taken by management, then the organisation will benefit greatly from the continuous improvements that an effective auditing process can deliver, enabling it to continue to perform to the best of its ability.