Are audits useful?
Let’s be perfectly clear: Audits are a means, not a goal.
Lean management is based in 3 main elements: “Visual Controls”, “Daily Accountability Processes” and “Standard Work for Leaders” (you can find all you want to know about this topic in the worderful book “Creating a Lean Culture” by David Mann). Audits, in a sense of monitoring both the process and the results, fit best in the “standard work for leaders” category.
Audits main purpose is to find problems: checking visual controls, finding gaps, holding people accountable to complete their improvement actions. They help create good habits and change behaviours that drive improvement. Audits will not work if they are used as punishment. They will fail if they are considered an end in itself. They are useless unless they are fair and encourage an appropiate behaviour that everybody understands and shares. This is very important and has to be done in this order: first agree how to do the work with those who really do it (the standard), then agree what is “wrong” and how to monitor it (the audit).
If they are used simply to catch and punish the offender, you will get the “radar on the highway” effect: everybody slows down to pass the checkpoint, but speeds up right after it. This is useless and will kill the motivation of those who really want to improve their work.
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