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ComplianceFinancieelFiscaal en Accounting31 maart, 2022

How agility helps reduce operational friction: Being agile-minded

Being agile-minded enables you to deal with the unknowns in your audit – unpredictability, uncertainty, volatility, complexity, and ambiguity

The pandemic has exacerbated the need for agility in audit work, based on the sheer volume of unknowns and uncertainty that organizations must navigate. This has created a need for internal auditors to shift their mindset away from attempting to plan with certainty, or being prescriptive, toward a more adaptive nature that allows for course corrections at any point in the audit cycle. Being agile-minded can help auditors be more flexible, adaptive, and responsive.

Plus, being agile-minded will help you deliver sooner, smoother, better & happier

Working in a more agile way can also help you deliver sooner, better, higher quality audits with less rework, and with more engaged and motivated people. The focus of this article is how being agile-minded helps reduce operational friction and enables smoother audit delivery:

Smoother: less friction and frustration with audit clients and stakeholders, Internal Audit (IA) Leadership and Management, and fellow auditors. Let’s look at each of these three areas in more detail:


Reduced friction with audit clients and stakeholders

The “secret sauce” to helping your audit clients and stakeholders embrace your working in a more agile way is upfront signposting, which, in this context, simply refers to having an open conversation. Meet with your audit clients and explain that you’d like to work in a more agile way, which translates to taking a “no surprises” approach where internal auditors will share their observations and any attendant caveats as they go, rather than at the end of the audit or stage gates. This provides more transparency into the audit process to help audit clients understand the applied logic and gives them the opportunity to respond with any mitigating actions or input which may inform the next sprint. It’s a two-way communication and value exchange. The result is less friction in the reporting period, fewer contentious closeout meetings, reduced reporting time, and more engagement from both auditors and audit clients.  

The commitment you want from your audit clients is relatively straightforward. It includes:

  • Are you interested in learning about our findings earlier and more frequently?
  • Are you willing to give us input on a more frequent basis?
  • Can you give us 30 – 90 minutes every week or two weeks?

Reduced friction with Internal Audit leadership and management

I see a level of maturity in this practice, with many internal audit teams benefiting from having a simple conversation with their audit clients about what they've done, what they've learned, and therefore what’s next. Other audit teams might share a rough running order and agenda for the review. In comparison, others see an advantage in writing down their draft or potential observations and working on the audit report incrementally. Whichever approach you choose to communicate your audit progress is your choice, driven mainly by the level of audit client engagement.

What I’ve described above for audit clients, also applies to IA leadership and management:

  • Are you interested in us sharing with you our observations earlier and more frequently?
  • Are you willing to give us your input as we go, not at the end (which creates waste, rework, and friction)?
  • Can you give us 30 – 90 minutes every week or two weeks?

Again, I see a level of maturity in this practice, but the most productive review meetings I’ve seen have been combined including the audit delivery team, audit clients, and IA leadership and management. I also see some teams have a pre-meeting with IA leadership and management and then meet audit clients. Whatever best works for you and your organizational context.

Reduced friction with our co-workers and fellow auditors in an audit delivery team

Iterative audit delivery, that’s breaking down an audit into bite-sized chunks (sprints) can be a game changer in terms of smoother audit delivery. For completeness, here are the four meetings every sprint. Remember, no one size fit’s all, but an agile team-level framework should look something like this:

Mindset: Plan as a team to focus on the most critical work first
The ask: Can you meet every two weeks to plan the next cycle?

Team members get a voice. It’s a collaborative meeting to collectively plan out the work of the week or two weeks. Among many other things, it helps remove the friction of work simply being “given & told by-when” or handed to team members with little consideration for actual availability or do-ability.

Meeting #2 – Daily standup
Mindset: Communication and share progress and challenges as you go
The ask: Can you meet daily for 15 minutes to share what you’ve done, what you need to do, and what you will do today?

I’ve also seen audit delivery teams benefit from inviting their day-to-day audit clients to this meeting, or every-other meeting? I’ve seen this reduce friction, remove the need for constant chaser emails and overall provide a faster turn-around with less wasted time for both auditors and audit clients.

Meeting #3 – Sprint Review
Mindset: Share observations, gather relevant input
The ask: Can you meet every two weeks to hear findings to date and give input?

As I have already described, holding regular communication and value exchanges can significantly help with audit clients’ frustrations with auditors and their leadership, principally around a lack of transparency in the audit process.

Meeting #4 – Sprint Retrospective
Mindset: Debrief on technique, not the substance of the audit itself, to continuously improve, and to reduce or remove any friction between team members
The ask: Can you meet every week or two weeks to improve how we work together, so we can course-correct and get better together as a team?

The framework has this built-in feedback and correction loop, the Retrospective, to discuss and identify actions for improvement. This reduces frustration between team members as we proceed with the audit.

Getting started

An agile iterative audit delivery framework is adaptable. A framework wouldn't be very agile if it were highly prescriptive and set in its ways. Remember my mantra - we’re learning from IT, not copying it. Agile for audit should be adapted to the context of audit. After all, you’re auditors, not software developers. It's for you to use, adapt, and do more of what works for you and less of what doesn't. Everyone would agree that change can be challenging, especially when talking about behavioral change. In other words, you need to change your ways of working rather than your audit methodology (which is a fixed constraint for many).

An excellent way to begin transitioning to an agile mindset is by finding auditor colleagues who are open to embracing change. Also, look for those in leadership positions who will buy into the benefits of agile practices. Find these people, and experiment with the mindset of continuous improvement.

My best advice on getting started is to take an agile approach to your agile adoption. Start small with one audit and go from there. As I’ve mentioned, ensure you signpost upfront to your audit clients. It’s also important to allow yourself the opportunity to learn as you go. Getting started, you'll experience some successes and some bumps along the road. But you will continually improve and find opportunities to refine the agile framework and deliver greater value to audit clients. As you do, you’ll see more people gravitate toward agile ways of working because they’ll see the benefits, either directly or are encouraged to try it after seeing what other teams achieve. Plus, the audit client feedback that I’ve seen audit teams receive makes experimenting well worth it.

There may be other operational challenges not covered above where the agile mindset and framework could be beneficial. If so, I’d love to hear about them, or any feedback on this article. Please email me at [email protected]

Mark Williams bio headshot
Agility in internal audit consultant, coach, trainer and keynote speaker
After four years of experience helping auditors and audit leaders embrace more agile ways of working, Mark is widely regarded as the industry-leading expert on agility in internal audit and compliance.

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