Lawrence Sawyer, one of the “fathers” of modern internal auditing once observed that, “Few sources of friction within the auditing department exceed that caused by the process of report writing. The most brilliant of analyses and the most productive of audit findings seem to be forgotten during the trauma of report writing.” From my experience truer words have never been written.
I learned early in my internal audit career how time-consuming and frustrating it could be to write an effective audit report. No matter how well I thought I had captured the results of the audit, the audit team leader would inevitably rewrite much of what I had written. To make matters worse, the chief audit executive (CAE) then would rewrite substantial portions yet again. As my career progressed, I later found myself fulfilling the roles of team leader and CAE that I had so vilified earlier in my career. I became just another culprit who rewrote internal audit reports and perpetuated the age-old tradition of changing “happy to glad.”
Team leaders and CAEs aren’t the only contributors to the report timeliness challenge. As I illustrate for students in my new seminar, “Auditing at the Speed of Risk,” depending on the size and structure of an internal audit department, there can be several other “cooks in the kitchen” when a draft report is being finalized. These can include additional levels of review, legal reviewers, professional editors, and the quality assurance review team (referencers). By the time everyone has taken their shot at a draft report, it can sometime take as long to issue a report as it took to perform the audit!
The impediments to timeliness of audit reports are not even limited to the players in the internal audit department. As most internal auditors have experienced, the release of an initial draft is sometimes only the beginning of the timeliness challenge. The draft report frequently is received with a resounding thud by those whose areas of responsibility were the subject of the audit. Thus begins the negotiation process and give-and-take over the draft report that may add weeks to publishing a final report.
Over the years, I have led or worked with numerous internal audit departments that have tackled the audit report timeliness challenge. Many of them have achieved enviable results in reducing the audit report “cycle time.” From my experience, there are at least five strategies that (if deployed effectively) can substantially reduce the amount of time it takes to report audit results:
There are no quick solutions or easy answers to the age-old challenge of audit report timeliness. However, from my experience, internal audit departments that recognize they have a timeliness challenge and seek to reduce cycle time can make an impact. The strategies outlined above have worked in numerous organizations around the world. I would be interested in hearing from you about any additional strategies for success.