Posts Tagged ‘audits’

Project Reality Check #16: The Folly of Audits

by Gary Monti on April 5, 2011

“No good deed shall go unpunished,” is crazy but commonly experienced. Why is that? Why would an audit trigger punitive measures? After all, when doing one’s best it would seem safe to assume the value of the work would be recognized and would show in the numbers. This could be considered especially true with this series of blogs since earned value has been trumpeted as the heart of project management. So what is the problem? The purpose and value of reports is a good place to start.

Reports And The Meaning of Numbers

Why have reports? Simple, they sustain communications in a relationship especially when everyone can’t be together at the same time. Consequently, numbers are abstracts – distillates – of a relationship. And now the plot thickens! Communications are complex, multi-channeled, multi-contextual activities. Look at the simple joke:

Take my wife…please!

How many layers (contexts) does that joke have? It has at least two. The joke is in the collision of those contexts. Unfortunately, when that collision of contexts occurs on the job it is more of a tragedy than a comedy. The folly occurs in this collision. It puts very sharp teeth in the bite of “no good deed shall go unpunished.” So, what does this have to do with audits and reports? Plenty. It has to do with context and expectations.

Context and Expectations

So when do audits and reports go haywire?

Audits and reports go haywire when they are laden with expectations that fail to map to the reality of what it takes to get the job done or the reports project an inaccurate balance between all the contexts present.

Looking at the cause of all this will help.

The Devil Is In The Dynamics

There’s an old saying, “The devil is in the details.” There is truth in it. However, it doesn’t cover all situations.

For complex projects the devil is in the dynamics. The failures and flaws are not with the individual person or component. Rather, they exist in the dynamics between the organization and operations.

Most reports are designed to address what senior management believes are the policies and procedures, which are based on management’s expectations. Typically, this is all laid out at the concept and design phase. When a system goes into operations, though, a new element comes into play – reality. Think of the Mars rovers and all that has been done to keep them operational. Unforeseen problems had to be solved. This has led to a much longer life expectancy for the rovers than was ever anticipated. No one is going around blaming scientists and engineers for the problems encountered per the original plan. Instead they are being recognized for throwing themselves into the problems and coming up with solutions. Some work, some don’t. Looks like one rover is down for the count. Overall, though, the program has been a great success.

Listen For The Solution

A chapter can be taken from the Mars situation in generating a solution to poor audits.

The solution to poor audits is in listening; listening for how people work to get things done in spite of the system.

Again, reports are distillates of relationships. This means communication, which is a two-way street. Yes, senior management needs to determine the direction the company needs to go but this should be tempered by and informed from the wisdom and experience of those in the trenches, unless, of course, the managers are clairvoyant. My recollection, though, is years ago Madam Cleo tried that on her cable channel and went bankrupt.