Tag Archives for " Project Management "

How to Identify and Manage Audit Stakeholders
Nov 08

How to Identify and Manage Audit Stakeholders

By Harry Hall | Auditing

This is a guest post by Harry Hall. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP). See his blog at ProjectRiskCoach.com.

Some auditors perform the same procedures year after year. These individuals know the drill. Their thought is: been there; done that. But, before we start the engagement, we need to identify the audit stakeholders. 

Imagine a partner or an in-charge (i.e., project manager) with this attitude. He does little analysis and makes some costly stakeholder mistakes. As the audit team starts the audit, they encounter surprises:

  • Changes in the client stakeholders – accounting personnel and management
  • Changes in accounting systems and reporting
  • Changes in business processes
  • Changes in third-party vendors
  • Changes in the client’s external stakeholders

Audit Stakeholders

Furthermore, imagine the team returning to your office after the initial work is done. The team has every intention of continuing the audit; however, some members are being pulled for urgent work on a different audit.

These changes create audit risks–both the risk that the team will issue an unmodified opinion when it’s not merited and the risk that engagement profit will diminish. Given these unanticipated factors, the audit will likely take longer and cost more than planned. And here’s another potential wrinkle: Powerful, influential stakeholders may insist on new deliverables late in the project.

So how can you mitigate these risks early in your audit?

Perform a stakeholder analysis.

“Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” – Brian Tracy

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Using Project Management in Audits
Nov 08

Project Management in Audits: Key to Profit

By Charles Hall | Auditing

On the first day of your audit, you’re confident you’ll deliver your report on time. You have visions of a happy client and happy firm partners. But, somewhere along the way, things break down. Your best auditor transfers to another job. You learn–as the audit progresses–that your junior staff member lacks sufficient training. Your client is not providing information as requested. And, additionally, your audit team has unearthed a fraud.

How can you lessen or respond to these problems? Project management. In this post, I’ll tell you what it is and how you can start using project management in audits, including software selection and practical implementation steps.

Project Management in Audits

Using Project Management in Audits

Auditors need to be effective (by complying with professional standards), but we also need to be efficient (if we want to make money). And project management creates efficiency.

Managing resources, identifying impediments to audit processes, responding to scope creep–these are just a few of the issues that we encounter. And these challenges can increase engagement time and decrease profits. Worse yet, that promise regarding timely completion can go unmet. 

Either we will manage our audits, or they will manage us. 

So, what are the keys to using project management in audits?

  • Audit team members
  • Project management software
  • Create a project management plan
  • Be aware
  • Be vigilant

Audit Team Members

The number one ingredient to a successful audit is your team members. Even more important is the person managing the engagement.

Have you noticed that some people–regardless of the obstacles–just get things done? If possible, get and keep people like this on your audit teams. You may be thinking–at this moment–“but our firm has a difficult time hiring and retaining great employees.” Then revisit your hiring and retention practices.

Having great team members is essential, but they need to work together. So, how do we get them to play their roles at the right time? A project management plan defined in project management software.

Project Management Software

There are plenty of useful project management software packages. They include:

Pricing varies. Some are free while others are expensive. So, you’ll need to do your research to determine which solution is best for you. Personally, I use Basecamp. If you want to start with a free application, try Trello or Asana. Another option is Smartsheet (an Excel-spreadsheet-based product). Larger firms may desire to take a look at XCMWorkflow.

I was recently exposed to SuraLink in an engagement where I assisted a city government with its preparation for an audit. The external auditors used SuraLink to request and receive information from the client. I was very impressed with this product. Though I have used Basecamp historically (as you’ll see in a moment), I plan to give SuraLink a hard look. Basecamp is wonderful in terms of use-of-use, but I’m not confident in the security. So I’ve used Basecamp in conjunction with other products such as ShareFile and Box. SuraLink appears to provide you with one product to manage and house documents. 

Regardless of the project management software you use, always think about security since you are uploading and downloading client files. 
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Accountant’s ipad
Jan 30

Audit Mistakes: Seven Deadly Sins

By Charles Hall | Auditing

Seven deadly audit sins can destroy you. These audit mistakes kill your profits and effectiveness.

You just completed an audit project, and you have another significant write-down. Last year’s audit hours came in well over budget, and—at the time—you thought, This will not happen again. But here it is, and it’s driving you insane.

Insanity: doing the same thing year after year but expecting different results.

Are you ready for better results?

Audit Mistakes

Here are seven deadly (audit) sins that cause our engagements to fail.

Audit mistakes

1. We don’t plan

Rolling over the prior year file does not qualify as planning. Using canned audit programs is not planning.

What do I mean? We don’t know what has changed. Why? Because we have not performed real risk assessment such as current year walkthroughs. We have not (really) thought about current year risks of material misstatement.

Each year, audits have new wrinkles.

Are there any fraud rumors? Has the CFO left without explanation? Have cash balances decreased while profits increased? Does the client have a new accounting program or new staff? Can you still obtain the reports you need? Are there any new audit or accounting standards?

Anticipate issues and be ready for them with a real audit plan.

2. SALY lives

Elvis may not be in the house, but SALY is.

Performing the same audit steps is wasteful. Just because we needed the procedure ten years ago does not mean we need it today. Kill SALY. (No, I don’t mean your staff member; SALY stands for Same As Last Year).

I find that audit files are like closets. We allow old thoughts (clothes) to accumulate without purging. It’s high time for a Goodwill visit. After all, this audit mistake has been with you too long. So ask yourself Are all of the prior audit procedures relevant to this year’s engagement?

Will better planning require us to think more in the early phases of the engagement? Yes. Is this hard work? Yes. Will it result in less overall effort? Yes.

Sometimes the Saly issue occurs because of weak staff.

3. We use weak staff

Staffing your engagement is the primary key to project success. Excellent staff makes a challenging engagement pan out well. Poor staff causes your engagement time to balloon–lots of motion, but few results. Maybe you have smart people, but they need training. Consider AuditSense.

Another audit mistake is weak partner involvement.

4. We don’t monitor

Partners must keep an eye on the project. And I don’t mean just asking, “How’s it going?” Look in the audit file. See what is going on. In-charges will usually tell you what you want to hear. They hope to save the job on the final play, but a Hail Mary often results in a lost game.

As Ronald Reagan once said: Trust but verify.

Engagement partners need to lead and monitor. They also need to provide the right technology tools.

5. We use outdated technology

Are you paperless? Using portable scanners and monitors? Are your auditors well versed in Adobe Acrobat? Are you electronically linking your trial balances to Excel documents? Do you use project management software (e.g., Basecamp)? How about conferencing software (e.g., Zoom)? Do you have secure remote access to audit files? Do you store files securely in the cloud (e.g., Box)? Are you using data mining software such as Idea? Do you send electronic confirmations

Do your staff members fear you so much that they don’t give you the bad news?

6. Staff (intentionally) hide problems

Remind your staff that bad news communicated early is always welcome.

Early communication of bad news should be encouraged and rewarded (yes, rewarded, assuming the employee did not cause the problem).

Sometimes leaders unwittingly cause their staff to hide problems. In the past, we may have gone ballistic on them–now they fear the same.

And here’s one last audit mistake: no post-engagement review.

7. No post-engagement review

Once our audit is complete, we should honestly assess the project. Then make a list of inefficiencies or failures for future reference.

If you are a partner, consider a fifteen-minute meeting with staff to go over the list.

Your ideas to overcome audit mistakes

What do you do to keep your audits within budget?

May 15

Creating New Accounting Products and Services

By Harry Hall | Accounting and Auditing

[callout]This is a guest post by Harry Hall, the Project Risk Coach. Harry is a speaker, teacher, and blogger who helps leaders and project managers get results. Harry has managed projects–mainly for insurance companies–for more than 17 years. He also teaches project management courses to CPA firms. Harry lives in Macon, Georgia with his wife Sherri. He can be found on LinkedIn.[/callout]

Are you wondering how to create new accounting products and services? In this post, I’ll explain how.

how to create new accounting products and services

Imagine an accounting firm (we’ll call it Premier CPAs) that has struggled in recent years. Revenue is down, and the firm has lost several top clients. To make matters worse, the firm recently received a fail report in its peer review.

The partners recently met and were brutally honest with one another. Something has to change.

Premier CPAs has a great team of auditors. However, they are failing to understand their client’s needs, and they are not changing their business model accordingly. Over time, competing CPA firms have created superior products and services.

The partners selected a team to go offsite and develop a strategic plan. The group was challenged to perform an assessment of where the firm is and where it needs to go.

The top strategies identified were to:

  • Implement a more modern auditing software solution
  • Map and re-engineer Premier CPAs’ audit processes
  • Implement a small customer service center

How to Make Your Dreams Come True

Great ideas, but how do we make them a reality? It’s easy to talk about things, but it’s another matter to plan and execute new ideas.

Well, you could do this like many lack-luster firms. Just do the projects willy-nilly. Do it as you have time. Find a few warm bodies who are not busy to do the work. Maybe assign the activities to the IT guy.

Will you get there? Maybe, but how long will it take? How much further will you fall behind your competition?

Take a different approach. Focus on your goals and strategies. Be intentional.

How to Create New Accounting Products and Services

The following steps can put you on a fast track to greater success:

  1. Define your projects. In the initiation of your projects, define them with project charters. Spell out the problems you are attacking, your goals, what you will deliver, the assumptions of the project, the constraints of the project, key stakeholders, top risks, and who will serve on the project team.
  2. Assign project sponsors. Select partners and senior management who will define and cast the vision for the projects. These leaders should have the authority to provide resources and money to complete the projects. While the project team does most of the work, the sponsors are ultimately responsible for ensuring success (and should be held accountable).
  3. Create project teams. One of the most important things you can do for your projects is to staff the teams. Carefully select individuals who have the knowledge and skills to deliver the project in a timely manner. There will likely be some opportunity cost in this equation. You may have to assign some audit personnel to perform the project work.
  4. Kick off projects. Get your project team and key stakeholders together for the project kick-off. The sponsors should share their vision for the project. The individual leading the project (i.e., project manager) should review the project charter, ensuring that everyone understands the project and their roles.
  5. Monitor progress. The project managers should periodically meet with their team members to check the status of the project and to plan their next steps. The project managers report to the sponsors, and in some firms, the sponsors report to senior management and partners. Doing so provides transparency throughout the firm’s leadership.
  6. Celebrate success. Create a robust project culture by celebrating when teams hit milestones or complete projects on time and under budget. Thank your teams.
  7. Perform benefits realization. How do we ensure that the projects produce the desired results? Measure your results at designated times (e.g., six months and twelve months after the completion of each project).

Parting Words…This Is NOT Easy

These steps may require a significant transformation in the firm’s culture. Changing what people believe, their attitudes, and their behavior is the toughest part of creating a productive project culture.

First, leadership is required, not optional. Without a firm hand, people will fall back into old bad habits. The senior leadership team of the firm must consistently communicate their expectations and lead by example. Make sure there is a high level of accountability with appropriate rewards and recognition for high performing teams.

Second, train your teams in project management. At a minimum, identify and train individuals who will serve as project managers. You may want to get a project coach to work with your firm. Many progressive firms require their project managers to get project management certifications.

Lastly, all of these actions must be performed with an eye on your firm’s strategic goals and objectives. Make sure the changes align and support your vision, mission, and goals.

Your best days are ahead!

Using Slack for CPA Project Communications
Jan 04

Are You Using Slack for CPA Project Communications?

By Charles Hall | Technology

Do you ever find yourself digging through hundreds of emails to find one message? You know it’s there somewhere, but you can’t put your electronic finger on it. Use Slack to communicate by project–that way, you’ll have all messages (by project, e.g., individual audit engagement) in one place.

Using Slack for CPA Project CommunicationsWhat is Slack?

Slack is software designed to allow project teams–e.g., audit team–to send and store messages. Why use Slack rather than traditional email? Messages are stored by channel (by project), making it much easier to see project conversations.

The Slack website says the following:

Most conversations in Slack are organized into public channels which anyone on your team can join. You can also send messages privately, but the true power of Slack comes from having conversations everyone on the team can see. This transparency means it’s quick to find out what’s going on all across the team, and when someone new joins, all the information they need is laid out, ready for them to read up on.

How CPAs Use Slack

How can you as a CPA or auditor use Slack?

Create a channel for each project, and ask all team members to communicate using Slack (rather than email).

In CPA firms, some activities are year-round such as quality control reviews (we perform several hundred a year). Other activities are a true project, such as an audit engagement. Either way, you can use a separate (Slack) channel to communicate and store all related messages.

Using Slack for Quality Control Reviews — An Example

Below you see an example of how Heather, my associate, and I use Slack to communicate about file reviews in our quality control department. By doing so, we can see who is doing what and when. Also, all of the messages are searchable by channel. So, suppose I’m wondering when we reviewed the ABC Bank engagement. I can search the CPR (cold partner review) channel to see who performed the review and when. Notice, in this channel, Heather and I are posting status comments. We do so for the following reasons:

  • To create a history of each review
  • To notify each other that the review has commenced (Slack automatically sends a notification message to those included in a channel)

To select our quality control channel, I click the CPR channel on the left (where all the channels appear). Once I click CPR, I see the most recent messages for this channel.

 

Slack

Made with Stitcher

Audits – Another Example

Think about a typical audit. You have three to five team members, with some individuals coming and going. To maintain continuity, you need a message board that allows all audit team members to see what is going on. That’s what Slack does when you create a channel for a particular audit. Think of it as a message board in the cloud since the designated personnel can see the audit communications with their PC, iPad, or cell phone.

Other Advantages of Slack

Advantages of Slack include the following:

  • Accessibility from all devices, including cell phones and tablets
  • Shareability of documents such as PDFs and spreadsheets
  • Integration with other apps such as Trello and Google Calendar
  • Configurable notifications of messages to team members
  • Private messaging (when needed)
  • Basic plan is free

Give It a Try

The best way to see how Slack works is to try it yourself. You don’t need any training since it’s easy to use. To see more information about Slack, click here.

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