Audit – Critical friend or foe

Audit – Critical friend or foe

by Patrick Watson

We have all experienced that dreaded situation – the auditor is here…! He / she arrives armed with a tick box check list, and all too often a similar mentality. The findings are presented on the basis of a pass / fail score with the inevitable negative residual impact on the team members.

So how can you turn this into a positive, lesson learnt experience aimed at feeding back to the team alternative approaches for consideration?

3PM have been engaged in a number of project and internal estate team reviews over the recent years and set out below the simple guidelines & ethos we adopt: We aim to change the audit process and make it more a positive experience.

Set the right Cultural Environment

The Auditor must adopt a facilitative mind set, the role should be to explore the available information, present back the facts in a clear and measured way. Listening is our biggest asset to ensure the team’s views are fully represented. We initially hold a pre-audit workshop where we seek from the key team members their views and engage them in the process from day one.  This gives the team a voice, creates the feedback loop and starts to break down the barriers.  We use this session to set out our approach and “tell them what we are going to tell them”.

Our stance is to seek solutions to each issue and not just identify the challenges.


We adopt the Pre-mortem concept – where the auditor initially takes the team (supplemented via desk top document reviews) through a period of reflection, drawing out the issues – no matter how big or small. From here we apply the worst case scenarios or a “brainstorm of doom” assuming what can go wrong and will go wrong.  This is undertaken by 3PM independent from the main team based on our findings and allows us to generate a picture of the challenges ahead and what could go wrong.

We then pick the Top 10 issues, drawing on our experiences of common project failures to ensure we pick up the areas where the biggest risk impacts on the project can occur.

Initial focus is on the “show-stoppers” and those areas where from experience problems are likely to occur. These areas are generally known by the project team but day-to-day pressures drive the team’s attention into other aspects.  One key role of the 3PM auditor is to highlight those concerns that are outside of the project delivery team’s control.  Typically these relate to lack of leadership, governance and clarity in the expectations of the desired outcome.

Following this phase we now do what 3PM does best: solve complex problems.

Our approach is always to keep the focus on the strategy and then dig into the detail to test and validate the approach. Once the problem is highlighted experience shows that the team will generally work to resolve it.


We then phrase our feedback as a recommendation, explaining why we have concerns, what we believe is required and then summarising our specific recommendation and give each a priority (Immediate – longer term). This is tempered so that the reader to the report does not react to the ranking.  Traditional RAG status give an over emphasis on the RED issues.  Our feedback is delivered in the written form and then followed up by an open discussion to allow the team to acknowledge the actions proposed or to justify why they do not believe the recommendation is valid.