Why work programs work

The short of it

Audit work programs work because they require you to think about what you are going to do before you do it. They take away the stress of worrying how you should approach a certain audit issue for 90% of the time, because you have thought about it before your audit team was on the ground, facing the problem.

The practice of writing good audit workprograms is disappearing

I scout the internet for new audit workprograms quite often. My first traditional port of call is Auditnet. They provide a good selection and I understand their premium program is very good. Still, with constrained budgets there are other acquisitions which get priority, so I look around.

I don’t necessarily look for work programs I need right now, I like to have the feeling that somewhere in my dropbox library is an audit work program for most of my standard audit needs.

The problem is that even though the internet is growing, I feel I am getting less and less relevant audit work programs in my google search results. Perhaps the art of writing good audit work programs is disappearing?

Defining an audit work program

An audit work program to me has always been a detailed description of the audit procedures to be executed to adequately cover a certain aspect to be audited. It is a step-by-step overview of instructions which allow for even a person with limited training to execute specific steps in an audit.

Audit work programs are not written for stupid people, although the first time you see one, you may think they are. Rather, they embody some of David Allen’s key GTD principles … by getting your tasks out of your head and on paper (or whatever medium) you reduce part of the stress. In order to get to that point, you need to make the investment of developing audit work programs. But what’s the real added value?

The relevance of the audit work program

Internal auditors can encounter significant stress. There is a limited timeframe to execute the audit. Requested documents are not always ready on time. Unexpected findings come up and need to be dealt with. Auditees are stressed and react negatively to the auditor. And now I’m only describing daily audit situations. At times like that, it’s good to know that a lot of what you need to be doing is well explained in a structured and executable set of instructions. If you don’t need to think about how you need to do what you do, you can spend more time understanding what is going on based on the information you gather.

Beating procrastination

There’s another advantage. Auditors are (like) people. Like everyone else, we can succumb to procrastination, to postponing what needs to be done and chasing the interesting finding. On occasion, we can even chase our own tails. But then the work is not getting done.

The point of the audit work program is to describe the work to be executed in such manageable chunks that the threshold to execution diminishes to the point where the resistance to doing the work is low enough to push us forward. Again, we are protecting ourselves from our own procrastination. And we ensure we do our job: providing the audit committee and the board with information on due diligent behavior of our auditees.

Happiness through workprograms

It may seem a bit bizarre, but in my professional life there are few situations I’ve been consistently more happy than when developing and executing a good work program. It holds you with your nose to the ground and close to the work. It requires some deep thinking on how you can most effectively and efficiently execute an audit step. It helps you focus on the facts and the figures, not the narrative surrounding them. It helps you to see clearly.

Of course I had my epic project proposal wins when I worked as a consultant. Of course being involved in a green field brainstorming and suddenly seeing the way to a solution is a kick. And taking a group of people through a discovery process really gets the blood flowing.

But for professional satisfaction … nothing beats a good, well developed audit work program. When I’m in the middle of development or execution, it always brings a smile to my face. Because I know that whatever comes out of the audit, our work does not go where our minds have not gone before.