Does Your Audit Look Like My Kitchen Remodel

Block Scheduling is Hurting Your Audit Processes

By Chris Liebtag, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt | May 2013

Have you ever remodeled a room in your house? My wife and I decided to tackle our kitchen a few months ago. While I consider myself handy, my wife does not. To ensure the job was done right the first time, and that our kitchen wasn't unusable for weeks on end, we decided to solicit bids from a few contractors. We settled on a one with a good reputation and credible references who could meet our timetable. 

That sounds somewhat like the criteria clients use when the select a CPA firm. However, it wasn't until the project began that I realized how this company was really like an audit team with inefficient and ineffective processes.

Setting a Schedule and Budget

We met with the project manager to review the material and labor costs and confirm how many days the kitchen would be unavailable. The five day plan was music to our ears. Even better, the project would begin the following Monday. 

It wasn't until much later, when the project manager confessed, that we found out the company had no intention, nor the ability, to meet this timetable. Our kitchen was one of the many renovations the company was juggling, and they already had a big project that was running weeks behind and far over-budget. 

Sound familiar? Do you schedule audits already knowing that you'll need to leave the field before the fieldwork is completed with no time scheduled for wrap up? Why? Could it be because you employ "block" scheduling where audits start on a Monday and end on a Friday? What clients are ready first thing on a Monday? Not many. So why does every audit have to start on a Monday and end on Friday? 

More importantly, why is the entire engagement team scheduled for the whole time period when, if you budgeted appropriately by experience level, you don't need everyone for the entire week? Wouldn't it make more sense to move someone on to the next engagement to make sure the client is ready for the entire team to arrive? Often, work expands to the time allowed – if you give someone 40 hours to do a project, they'll take the entire 40 hours. That's why scheduling is one of the most critical aspects of an audit. Your engagements demand dynamic, flexible, staggered and responsive scheduling.

Processing Change Orders

As the contractor was installing cabinets in our kitchen, we found out that one of them had been damaged during transport and would be reordered. Only a portion of the work could be done until the cabinet arrived, causing at least a half day delay. This issue wreaked a bit of havoc on our schedule.

If your client calls to reschedule two days before field work is to begin, your block schedule is destroyed. What's the impact? You now have staff with open time and have to find somewhere to utilize them. Other engagements will be impacted. Your reputation for timely and quality of service is at risk with this client as well as others.

You have to be able to effectively process changes to your workflow. If you pull into a client's parking lot and wonder – or hope – they are ready, you might as well leave the car running. It is how you interact and set expectations with the client both prior to fieldwork and while you are in the field that defines their experience and the experience for all of your clients.

Working in the Field when Scheduled

The equivalent of fieldwork in my kitchen remodel surprised me the most. This is the large periods of time, three or four hours, where tools were in the kitchen but workers were not. One morning the crew showed up at 7:30, left at 8:30 and didn't return until 4:00 that afternoon. It was a big inconvenience. The time budget was a myth. And I felt as if I was actually paying them to work on some else's job. 

What happens when you are in the field? Are you exclusively and dutifully working on that particular engagement? Or do you have three open engagements in addition to the one you are physically at? The client knows you are in the conference room, but doesn't know you're reviewing someone else's audit. You're in a bind though. Your volume of work coupled with ineffective scheduling and an improper staffing leverage model has you start many projects and finish a few, just like my contractor.

Wrapping Up the Details

It's no surprise that my kitchen remodel took a week longer than it was supposed to. However, it actually took longer than that because the contractor left without completing the finishing touches. The kitchen was functional, but it took another three weeks before it was completely done.

When you leave the field with work yet to be completed, you are dooming yourself. Wrap up seems to take forever. Yes, you'll get the job done, but what happens before then? Your workloads are unbalanced, stress skyrockets and errors increase because the work is no longer fresh in your mind. Ultimately, your client relationships suffer.

My kitchen remodel looks great. It's more functional and we know the work was done right. We consider it a happy ending. If there isn't happiness and celebration at the end of your audits, embrace the benefits of Lean Six Sigma. Get to the root cause of your inefficiencies and make meaningful change. Deliver on your promises and enhance your reputation by completing your audits on time and to your client's satisfaction. 

Experience increased productivity and profitability, too. 

Lean CPA
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