If you don’t actively work at avoiding scope creep in project management, scope creep can get the better of you and your audit team. Let me tell you a little story about that.
Once upon a time… an audit manager asked me to help her figure out why her team of five auditors was getting such inconsistent results.
One of the auditors could really crank out the projects. She, single-handedly, completed half of the team’s audit plan each year and created the resulting reports. Another of the auditors completed only two projects each year and the resulting reports were painful for the audit manager to edit. The other three members of the team were somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
The audit manager’s main question for me was, “What do I do to get my slower auditors to crank out their projects faster?” In her question, I could hear her frustration and knew that she was blaming the senior auditor for being so slow.
After working with the team for a few hours, it was evident what was happening. The faster auditor was able to focus on very specific issues as a result of doing a risk assessment up front. Her audit objectives were very tight and limited. She did not look at everything in an area; she looked at one or two things. She turned in multiple deliverables along the way and sought approval for her audit plan from the audit manager before she began her work and kept the audit manager informed as the work progressed.
The slower auditor, although a more senior auditor, was very slow to wrap up projects. Once he would delve into an area, he seemed to get lost in the vastness of the topic and see a myriad of options for getting the work done. Because he was a senior auditor and a little introverted, he did not like to check in with the audit manager for feedback. He worked completely independently and was hesitant to show the working papers and the report to the audit manager until he was sure both were perfect.
This usually meant that the audit manager didn’t have a clue what was going on with the project until the very end of the project, when it was much too late to redirect the auditor. At the end of the year, this senior auditor was super stressed out because the audit manager was pressuring him to get the projects done so that the audit director could report a completed project to the audit committee.
Maybe you are thinking to yourself, like the audit manager, that the slower auditor is at fault in this story. But I didn’t see it that way. Although the audit manager was not purposely setting her auditors up for failure, her inaction was allowing it.
By applying these five tips for avoiding scope creep in project management, the audit manager eventually succeeded in creating the interesting reports that her boss wanted without wasting the resources her audit shop was given.
Tip 1 – Set a limit
The manager didn’t want to set deadlines because it put pressure on her team and that didn’t feel good to anyone. Setting deadlines wasn’t nice and she wanted to be nice.
But, she had to admit that it also wouldn’t be nice if her boss found out that she was wasting audit resources on bloated projects.
The manager realized after a few months that setting tighter deadlines helped her team be more creative and selective about the issued they pursued, which also made the audit reports more interesting.
Tip 2 – Bite off only what you can chew
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time? OK – hold on… that is a terrible question. Auditors do not have time to eat an elephant!
There are too many animals in the jungle that need our attention and audit teams cannot spend their precious, limited time on just one elephant.
Instead, the manager started requiring her team members to pick out just a few things that concerned them on the assigned elephant and then she set a clear expectation that the team member only focus on those few things. This then allowed them to quickly move on to their next assignment. (You know, the lions, the tigers, the bears! Oh my!)
Tip 3 – Focus on the bones
Stephen Covey advises us to begin with the end in mind. So the audit manager started writing down the bones of the the audit as soon as the team finished the risk assessment.
What are the bones? The bones are the:
- Master objectives and subjectives
- Outlines of the related findings
- Evidence gathering techniques for the condition, effect, and cause of the finding outlines as well as the overall conclusion
She kept the bones visible to her team at all times and every time someone wanted to go off on a tangent, she asked them how that would impact the bones and thus the final audit report.
Tip 4 – Just say no
Once the bones were developed, the project manager got tough. When the client and staff came up with requests and ideas that would expand the scope of the project, she said no.
And if the client or the team member kept insisting, she explained the extra cost to them and asked them if they thought the extra cost was truly worth it. If they still insisted, she asked them to sacrifice something that was important to them so the audit could be expanded – like some funding or another audit project. Once she went as far as to suggest that the auditor forgo the vacation they were planning so the team could get the audit out on time. Usually, they acquiesced.
Tip 5 – Require deliverables
The propensity of all humans (not just auditors) to wander off on a tangent trying to satisfy their curiosity is just too real to ignore. You can’t just set an auditor on a path and expect them to stay on it.
The audit manager did not want to micromanage or hover over her auditors. So, she simply asked them to turn in deliverables – like audit programs, risk assessments, individual working papers – by certain dates. That way she didn’t get as many nasty surprises at the end of the audit and then have to send the auditor back to the planning phase, thereby doubling the size of the elephant!
Once the director used these basic principles for avoiding scope creep in project management – setting time and scope limits, requiring her team to develop and focus on the bones, and making unpleasant (but necessary) decisions to keep the project on track – she was able to turn an auditor that she viewed as a problem into a true asset to the team. And on top of that, she was able to create a higher number of interesting audit reports each year.