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Project Audits vs. Project Controls

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 12/3/2010

As a manager, you need to know the similarities and differences between project audits versus project controls. If you don’t, a project audit will reveal you don’t have acceptable project controls. On the other hand project controls can be evaluated through an audit.

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    Project Audits and Controls: What’s the Difference?

    Confused2 Wikimedia Commons I like to compare project audits versus project controls to my car. When I'm inside my car, I can make it go, play music, and even call someone hands-free all by using the controls that came with the vehicle. Every 3,000 miles or so, those controls need to be looked at or “audited" to ensure I’m safe and everything’s working fine.

    If I skip the auto checkup service or audit, the controls within my vehicle may fail and I’d most likely be utilizing public transportation to get to where I needed to go.

    With projects, it’s sort of the same thing. You may use similar processes on each project, but how well they work within the project can only be discovered when those processes are audited.

    Image Credit: Confused2 / Wikimedia Commons

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    What About Monitoring?

    On the other hand, you may say, “If I monitor my project controls, isn’t that an audit in and of itself?" The answer, according to project management experts, is no. Why? Monitoring and controlling your projects is part of the project management process where audits analyze and reveal acceptable and unacceptable levels of the processes utilized.

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    Control Tools and Audit Tools: The Same But Different

    You can use control charts as a way to monitor and control project deviations and for auditing purposes you can use audit checklists for individual projects or company-wide audit guides if needed, but what about control charts?

    If you utilize a control chart to find out if your project is within acceptable levels or are at risk can’t you also use control charts to audit a process?

    A control chart can be used to audit project management processes or tools utilized. On the other end of the spectrum, however, a control chart to measure project performance can’t really identify if a process is working correctly, it can only tell you if the task you are using the control chart for is working. As your head spins with all of this, why do you even need a project audit?

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    Using Audits to Control

    Confused Wikimedia Commons When considering project audits versus project controls, think about a project you’ve recently worked on. You probably know what worked and what didn’t work, no matter what project management methodology you used right? But do you know why something didn’t work?

    Some elements of projects can be identified along the way with set controls such as risk management and control plans. Other elements of your project may need a more in depth look to determine why your processes or set controls didn’t identify the problem, hence the need for project audits from time to time.

    Project audits also give a new perspective to project processes and controls because they’re usually completed not by the project manager, but by another internal or external source. You may look at something 1,000 times and see no problems where an audit could find it quickly.

    When you consider the world of project management and the old saying you can’t manage what you can’t control, you also can’t make improvements to processes or controls that aren’t audited.

    While project audits versus project controls can be very similar, they are different and audits should be implemented from time to time to ensure your processes are correctly controlled.

    Image Credit: Confused / Wikimedia Commons