Independent Assurance; an Artistic Inquiry?

Independent assurance – who needs it?

We are agile.

Low on formal process, high on creativity.

We are the guns.

Exceeding client expectations.

We don’t need ‘assurance’.

Right?

We are a long-standing branded supplier.

High on process so that we tick the boxes for large clients across global markets.

We are the nuts.

Always meet client expectations.

We don’t need ‘assurance’.

Really ?

An artistic inquiry

This week’s cover picture is from the Espace Zen studio in Josselin, France.

Sculptor Henri-Pierre Thouzeau is a prolific artist, creating a variety of creatures in a range of materials. His ‘garden gnomes’ are the result of blending the features of two or more animals. I wanted to like these figures but they all looked quite ugly. As if the merging of body parts created an imbalance in the natural aesthetic.

The idea that this provoked for me was the difficulty of merging functions and the risks associated with self-assurance. Of being both the Creative and the Critic.

Corporate creatures

I think that one corporate hybrid creature we sometimes see is that of Doer and Reviewer.

The problem with this is that their work will never be better than them.

I suggest that if you seek and engage with independent assurance you will get work that is better than that which you can do alone.

This can be ‘trivial’ in the sense of proof-reading deliverables (business cases, strategies, assessments, specialist reports etc.) Or it can be substantive in terms of looking at context, assumptions, methodology, process and risks.

Myths

One of the common misconceptions about ‘assurance’ is that it is retrospective. It isn’t. In my world it’s forward looking. For example; are the outcomes going to be achieved based on what we see today? The answer is a prediction! And possibly nowhere better to ask the question than of the evolving business case for the investment that is being made.

Another common assumption is that assurance is only negative, highlighting the short-comings of an outcome delivery plan. Not so. In my world, it is about understanding which actions contribute the most to achieving the goals and making sure that they are properly supported to give the team involved the best chance of achieving the outcome.

Do I practice what I preach?

Yes.

I use trusted associates or client staff to keep my work at the right level of quality. Even with these blogs, which I write and edit myself, I have the WordPress Readability tools prodding me in the ribs about passive voice, sentence length, word repetition and link words at every keystroke.

What to look for in an outcome assurance reviewer?

If you buy into the value of independent assurance, what are the important features of such a service?

  • The reviewer needs to be able to ‘stand in the shoes’ of the sponsor of the outcome.
  • They need domain knowledge (I.e. so that they know what they are talking about).
  • A friendly (I.e. constructive) but honest and tenacious critical eye.
  • Integrity and independence; the ability to tell truth to power.

Integrity

On that last point I was speaking with a colleague last week about the cultural issues that arise in some societies about giving feedback. She was facing a back-lash from a senior official for only giving them 95% in an assessment of their capability for the service they were leading. I say; none of us are perfect, we always have scope to learn from others. He seems to say; “I am the leader so I must be perfect. Suggesting otherwise is undermining my position.”

Sigh

I suggest that you don’t bother commissioning assurance services if you cannot entertain any creative ideas about what could be done better.

Our work with both Agile Strategy Design® & Business Decision Design® demonstrates that often this service, of independent assurance, is missing from projects, programmes and whole investment portfolios.

Key point: I commend independent assurance to you as a value-adding investment in achieving your outcomes.

Here comes Autumn

Nigel

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