"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
THE audit season is officially over (at least for 2023).
As we enter the slack season, it's beneficial to reflect on the past audit season for each CPA (certified public accountant) firm, evaluating what went well and what didn't, considering those lessons learned and incorporating these in the audit engagements moving forward. Today, we are pleased to share some of the efficiency tweaks our firm implemented, which may prove helpful to others planning for next year's audit season as well.
Our firm concluded the audit season on a notably positive note. We executed our tasks with greater speed and efficiency compared to previous seasons, marking significant improvements for the firm. We attribute this success to our strong belief in Kaizen, the art of small but continuous improvements, and these four different factors:
We made significant improvements to our dashboards through the improved data structures we built, which tracked all critical progress milestones in the audit process. This allowed the management to effectively identify the overall progress of the audit season, progress per client, progress per employee and all other relevant information. In turn, this helped management identify most of the bottlenecks, detours, delays, relatively unnecessary and irrelevant activities that need to be cut, and all other critical indicators that require management decisions. Staff also gave feedback stating how they can better see their progress and plan their work to make sure they accomplish all their deliverables within the established timeline. Some even stated that it motivated them to work harder since they can see how well they are doing compared to the firm's average.
Management actively participated in the audit season, prioritizing careful and efficient handling of each engagement be executed. Whenever things didn't go as planned, we promptly acted and offered alternative solutions, ensuring the engagements avoid any bottlenecks. Most of the delays from the clients were also immediately addressed by a timely heads-up by staff to the management, who subsequently ensured the prompt delivery of the audit requirements within the timeline. The staff was also encouraged to employ the 15-minute rule: if the staff cannot find a solution to a problem within 15 minutes, then they should immediately seek help from experienced associates, seniors and even managers. Even during demanding periods, upper management remained accessible, enabling timely decision-making by engagement partners when significant judgment calls, as per the standards, are required.
In many small and medium auditing firms, it has been a common practice for the staff, particularly those who are relatively new, to stay overnight in the office due to heavy workloads and impending deadlines. However, we have learned from past audit seasons that pulling all-nighters to finish a task did not significantly impact the overall progress of the audit in any positive manner; in fact, it even reduced employee productivity. Additionally, sleeping in unfamiliar places negatively impacts the quality of sleep. Research conducted by The Sleep Foundation has shown that staying up all night with minimal sleep is "detrimental to effective thinking, mood and physical health." This, in turn, hampers an employee's ability to think clearly and work efficiently, potentially leading to unintended errors and decreased productivity.
As a result, we have actively promoted a different approach. We encouraged the employees to prioritize getting at least five hours of sleep and concurrently discouraged all-nighters in the office. We also encouraged the employees to take power naps, especially when they encounter challenges while analyzing data or reconciling items. By emphasizing the importance of sufficient rest, we aimed to enhance employees' cognitive abilities and overall well-being, ultimately improving their effectiveness and productivity in the workplace.
Prior to the start of the audit season, we carefully mapped out the activities that would be carried out throughout the engagement. This involved identifying both value-adding and non-value-adding activities. Our focus was on streamlining the non-value-adding activities, aiming to eliminate unnecessary steps and simplify the execution of specific tasks. Essentially, we made various administrative tasks easier and faster for both staff and management. By doing so, we gained a significant number of hours that could be dedicated to value-adding activities during the audit season.
Once the audit season was underway, close monitoring of every activity was maintained, employing a risk-based approach to identify and minimize any unnecessary tasks, whether they added value or not. The saved hours were then reallocated, enhancing the overall process' efficiency.
There's still room for improvement in speeding things up. We can find many areas where we can trim down excesses and save costs if we take a proactive approach. Imagine a future where audits are smooth and stress-free, thanks to process enhancements and soon, machine learning, large language models and other cool tech tools. In that scenario, perhaps the words "overtime" and "stress" won't be associated with the audit culture anymore. Instead, maybe the public might see us more as guardians of truth and heroic figures who contribute to fostering a more favorable business environment — a role that I firmly believe we fulfill. It's not too far-fetched to think that way, right?
Manuel Guilius Pamorca is an audit supervisor of Paguio, Dumayas and Associates, CPAs (PDAC)-PrimeGlobal Philippines, an institutional member of Acpapp. The views and opinions in this article are his and do not represent those of PDAC and Acpapp.