Collaboration: The Hobgoblin of Consistency

How do you decide the number of auditors to assign to an audit? What is the “right” number? Do you shy away from having just one auditor? Does every audit require a lead and followers? How is the decision made? Why won’t I quit asking questions and get to the point? 

I bring this up because of two recent events. The first is that we have been knee-deep in scheduling right now (long story, long day, long headache) and, as is appropriate when scheduling (or perhaps just an excellent way to sidetrack from the actual task of scheduling, which we were all getting tired of), we had some discussion around the concept of “How many auditors does it take…”
(Quick aside: How many auditors does it take to screw in a light bulb? Zero. Auditors don’t do original work.)
A couple more questions that build on the prior ones but change the emphasis.   Why is it ever right to have more than one auditor? What is gained by more than one auditor? What do you lose?
That last set of questions comes from the second recent event. I just finished reading Psychoshop by Alfred Bester and Roger Zelazny. The science fiction readers out there will instantly recognize these classic authors’ names. Among many other titles, Bester is the author of the award winning The Demolished Man and Zelazny the award winning Lord of Light. Psychoshop is a strange approach to collaboration. Almost twenty years after Bester’s death, Zelazny took up the continuation of this half-finished novel. And the result, while interesting (again for the science fiction fans out there, the book reads like a Philip K. Dick novel the publisher accepted only because it was written by Philip K. Dick), is disjointed. It seems pretty evident which author wrote which part, and there are stops and starts that hinder the flow of the novel. So, at the end of the day, it feels as if the novel does not have consistent themes, concepts, and vision. Ultimately, it feels like two different people wrote the book at two different times.
So, back to the questions. You put more than one auditor on an audit. How do you make sure the final product feels seamless? How do you ensure that the findings and concepts of one auditor meld with those of another auditor? Does having an auditor-in-charge mitigate all this? How do you make sure that the final audit has a consistent theme, consistent concepts, and consistent vision? How do you make sure it doesn’t look like an audit done by two different people at two different times?
Face it.  The minute more than one person is involved in a project, all these issues have to be taken into account. People quickly point to the benefits of having more than one person on an audit – training (new auditors and supervision), more work done in a shorter span of time, synergies, two minds brought to the same problem. But the resulting issues are seldom discussed.
I’m not necessarily saying the right answer is to have only one auditor on every audit. I am saying it should not be an automatic decision to have more than one. I am saying the issues and concerns should be taken into account. I am saying that everyone needs to properly mitigate issues such as continuity, coordination (including more people involved in an audit requiring more meetings), and transfer of information. I am saying…heck, maybe I am saying the right answer is to have one auditor, and the exception (the exception that needs to be justified) is to have more than one.
So, one final question: How much thought are you putting into staffing your audits – not the actual people, but how many auditors should be involved?
(The preceding need not be read by any one-person audit shops.)


Posted on Jan 20, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Ballad of a lonesome auditor

    I'm a poor lonesome auditor
    My company is too small to pay for an audit team
    I have to be strongly self-disciplined
    Otherwise the quality will decline
    I’m taking unreadable notes
    B’cause no one reads my notes
    I miss being contradicted
    I can’t being always right
    At the coffee machine
    People don’t speak freely near me
    Of course I’m exaggerating
    But sometimes I feel like…
    I'm a poor lonesome auditor !

    (sorry for my English writing, I’m French)
  1. Fantastic!!!  Feels like Woody Guthrie.  Now all we need is to put it to music.  (I wonder what Dwight Yoakum is doing?)

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