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Auditing in 4/4 Time: Find the Rhythm, Set the Groove

Acceleration is a musical term…

Acceleration is a musical term used to describe an increase in tempo. Scientific explanations are available, but in layman’s terms it can be linked to the energy generated by both the performers and audience. A bit of acceleration is normal, but it can reach the point where it interferes with the quality of the delivery.

Using a rock band as an example, it is the role of the drummer to control acceleration. The tempo he or she sets is established by the “kick” of the bass drum, which happens at the beginning of each bar. The bass player takes the lead from the drummer and that, along with support functions such as the rhythm guitar and backup singers sets the “groove.” The more solid the groove, the more flamboyant the lead singers and guitarists can be.

So, what does this have in common with auditing or quality management systems? Quite a bit, from my view.

Before I get into that I’d like to suggest you watch a YouTube clip by Dr. Russell Ackoff. Dr. Ackoff was a long-time friend and colleague of W. Edwards Deming. They met in the 1950s when they both worked at the U.S. Census Bureau and according to the person introducing him on this clip, Dr. Ackoff the only one to call Dr. Deming “Ed.” The talk is available on YouTube under the title “If Russ Ackoff had given a Ted Talk.” It’s worth looking at.

Dr. Ackoff explains the interdependencies of systems within a larger entity with a specific purpose. One of the examples he uses is the human body. The purpose of that human entity, he explains, is “to live.” To do this, the person depends on organs, hormones, and skeletal systems, etc. He argues that none of these parts can live on their own—it is only when they are interacting effectively that they can create and sustain life. The corollary to this is that should any individual part of the system fail, it can have a significant effect on the overall environment. To try to address one part of the system without understanding how it affects other parts can be a dangerous practice.

Dr. Ackoff argues organizations are systems—each with a specific purpose—which is usually described in their mission statement. Like the human body, no part of that system (e.g., production, suppliers, support, sales) can achieve the mission on their own. It is only through their interaction that this can be accomplished.

So, back to our rock ‘n’ roll band. I use the following exercise during training courses I provide to illustrate Dr. Ackoff’s point. Any band is an organization with a purpose. It may not articulate this as a mission statement, but the band members are there for a reason, which is to promote their music and careers by performing. To achieve this they need support, not just from other band members, but other entities such as lighting crews, wardrobe, choreography, venue selection, crowd control, licensing, ticket sales, promotion, stage setup, and, of course, the audience. A failure of any one of these moving parts has the potential to derail the whole performance.

During the course I select a video clip from YouTube to show on the screen. I try to find one with a live performance, with plenty of shots of the venue, and the crowd itself. I select a volunteer from one of the attendees to audit the drummer in terms of his ability to manage acceleration. To do this I give he or she a metronome, which provides a reading of the tempo in terms of beats per minute. The task is to align the speed of the metronome with the “kick” of the bass drum, then monitor and record changes. The “auditor” is provided with an “assistant,” who records any changes in tempo.

Other attendees are provided with different assignments. For example, one may be asked to look for potential health and safety issues, another for legal areas. Based on their observations they are asked to form a list of open questions in areas where they would be interested in learning more. For example, if the venue is crowded, is there an evacuation plan and has it been tested? If it is legal, do they know the legal capacity of the venue? Do they have a license to sell liquor or food? Have the proper permissions for holding the event been granted? They are also tasked with forming questions relating to the interaction of these separate processes. For example, what is the interaction between marketers and venue operators, between lighting crew and health and safety advisors, the sound crew and the performers?

By the end of the exercise the participants have usually created a solid list of leading questions and a good idea of who they need to direct those questions to. They have unwittingly not only created the foundations of a basic audit plan, but the components that contribute to the success of the performance itself have started to emerge. They are now ready to consider an overall audit program for the whole production, which could be conducted during practice prior to the next tour.

Unlike the rest of the class, the team auditing the drummer has focused on one specific area. As a result their perspective of the performance is limited. And unless there are obvious flaws in the drummers’ results, it would be difficult to assess its effects on the overall production.

It has not been uncommon for me to be presented with the equivalent of drummer type audits when conducting third-party audits on organizations. They concentrate in a specific area, with little or no attention to how the findings impact on other parts of the organization. To get better value from your internal audit program, I’d suggest looking at your own organization through the eyes of Dr. Ackoff.

About the author

Richard Saul is an Exemplar Global Registered Lead Auditor and Skills Examiner for quality, environmental and health and safety programs. During his career, he has conducted more than two thousand audits in Australasia, Korea, China, and India. He became a registered auditor with the China Certification and Accreditation Association in 2012. He has provided auditor training since 2006 and trained dozens of auditors over that period. On two occasions, he was a National Evaluator for the New Zealand Business Excellence Awards program. This experience has evolved into the delivery of consulting services, which he has offered since 2011.

As well as publishing numerous articles, Richard has been a speaker at three World Quality Congresses both in New Zealand and Canada. He holds a Master of Management degree and a Graduate Diploma in Business, both from the University of Auckland.

Outside interests include outrigger canoe racing, in which he still competes at a national and international levels. He has twice represented New Zealand at the Outrigger World Sprints at the Elite level, most recently being May 2016 in the singles events at the Sunshine Coast in Australia. He was part of the six-man crew that won a gold medal at the 1998 World Sprints in Suva Fiji.

He has also maintained a lifelong interest in music, and has received royalties from one of his compositions.

He has been married to his wife Roberta since 1981, and has three adult children.

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