How becoming an amateur baker taught me to be a better auditor

This past spring I took on a new hobby: baking homemade bread. I have long been a home cook, but I had never baked a loaf of bread.  One of the key differences between cooking and baking is the balance between art and science.  Cooking is much more art than science.  In cooking, there are underlying techniques and key steps that must take place, but a cook has tremendous flexibility in how they make a dish, just as an artist has tremendously flexibility in how they paint a picture (Think Van Gogh vs. Picasso vs. Manet).  As a cook, you can deviate quite significantly from a standard recipe and get a great result.  In baking, the key to success is being precise and scientific.  Deviation can bring failure.

Where a cook might take a pinch of salt, a baker measures out an exact ratio of salt to flour. This is known as a baker’s percentage (it really should be called a baker’s ratio IMO, but we will leave that for another blog post).  Deviating from a recipe will have tremendous consequences in bread making that are not typically seen in cooking.  Add a percent too much salt or too little yeast and your bread will not rise.  A bit too much water and the bread will lose structure and be flat (and the dough will be super sticky).  Too little water and it will be dense like a bagel.  Bake it until it reaches 150 degrees and it will be gummy and undercooked inside despite looking golden brown and delicious on the outside.  However, bake it past 160 degrees and it will have that beautiful crumb inside we all know.  The reason behind this? Chemistry. Gluten gelatinizes around 160 degrees.

The crumb structure inside bread is due to fermentation and gelatinized gluten

I am not trying to say there is not an art to bread making, there certainly is, but in general, it is a more scientific pursuit than cooking. Just like auditing, is a more science than art in my opinion.

So what does this have to do with being a better auditor? Well actually a lot when you start thinking about it. Results in both bread making and auditing come from good planning and implementation of your plan.  If we invest the right time into planning and implementing our plan, we will get a good audit.

What else has it taught me? Patience.  Bread making is a long ordeal (well not as long as auditing, but do not expect to get something on the table in 10 minutes).  Most artisan breads require a long fermentation.  From start to finish, a nice flavorful loaf takes 3 to 4 days to make.  Over time, the dough develops and builds flavor if the right ingredients are mixed together.  Just like our findings are slowly developed over time using the right mix of condition, criteria, cause, and effect. In the end, we strive for ‘flavorful’ findings. One of the important stages of bread making is “proofing” or proving the bread is alive and rising. Proofing is the last step before baking. With proofing I see some similarities to our quality assurance processes. QA is the stage of an audit where the findings are proved out.

This ciabatta was well proved, with a nice rise and airy texture

Lastly, control is critical. Bread making is all about controlling ingredients, temperature, and time.  With good controls in place, you can achieve the same results every time.  Every professional baker knows this and that is how they churn out delicious bread every day.  Bakers control ingredients by precisely weighing them.  Good bread makers never measure by volume, as no two cups of flour are the same and by weight can vary by 25% or more.  Auditors should do the same and measure using precise tools. Bakers also control for time and do not try to rush or delay.  A baker aims to get the dough into the oven at the right moment. If it is put in the over too early flavor development through fermentation and rising has not occurred. If put in too late after fermentation has ended the bread will lose all the air that was made and the bread will be flat and dense.

This ciabatta did not go into the oven at the right time and came out flat because it was overproved

We should strive to do the same thing and get our reports into the ‘oven’ at the right time by auditing what is relevant now and issuing our reports timely.  Lastly, bakers control for temperature to produce a bread with the right characteristics (baguettes only get crispy and crunchy in a hot and steam filled oven). We should consider our tone (e.g. temperature) that we use when ‘baking’ our reports.  Sometimes we need a hotter oven and other times we can cool it down.

Peter Reinhart has been a valuable resource for me as I learn about bread making. You can listen to his TED talk or get any of his great books on baking if you are interested. He likes to give what he calls his bakers blessing “May your crust be crisp and your bread always rise”. In his honor, I am ending with an auditors blessing: May your findings be impactful and your recommendations always implemented.

First attempt at a Miche, a whole-wheat sourdough loaf

 

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Principal Auditor

 

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Evergreen Data ReBlog: Color Psychology

As I usually do in my workshops, I talked to a group in Warsaw, Poland about how we should use color intentionally in our data visualization and that, in fact, the color choice itself can help us tell our story. I prepared a little activity around this issue, in which I asked them to generate a list of the words, phrases, feelings, memories, etc that come to mind when seeing this color:

 

Apart from “very yellow,” what words and phrases come to mind when you see this color? Do you have a positive or negative association to it?

You may be surprised to learn that auditors themselves don’t see the world in stark black and white, and we enjoy a dash of color just as much as the next person. Within reason, of course. (And for the record, our words are ‘sunflower,’ ‘sparky,’ and ‘neon sign.’) But what influence does color have on our perception, and how does that apply to our work?

Stephanie Evergreen explores the influence of colors on our psychological state, and ponders how they can best be used in data visualization. Read more here, or explore the psychology of color in more in-depth here.

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Oregon Office of Economic Analysis: Summer 2017 Economic Recovery Scorecard

Top level economic measures never tell the whole story. Knowing how many jobs have been added is important but it alone cannot tell you if job growth is enough to keep pace with population growth, or about the types of jobs being added and so forth. That is why a few years ago we introduced the Economic Recovery Scorecard which showed the progress made across nearly 40 different measures.

Josh Lehner at OEA examines Oregon’s post recession recovery, using indicators from the proportion of 18-34 year olds living at home, to bankruptcy filing stats and SNAP usage. Read more here.

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Data-Smart City Solutions RePost – From prosaic to personal: transforming city data through art

Through media like visual art, fiction, and even food, artists have sought to transform static data points into vibrant and immersive experiences. In some cases, governments have commissioned these artists to produce pieces that promote resident engagement with data and other works that leverage data to bring residents into the physical city. In others, artists have independently produced data-inspired works that governments would do well to publicize and examine as potentially valuable sources of information. These works have given data another mouthpiece, made digital engagement an active experience, and provided governments with critical information on their data practices.

Importantly, art that uses data as a subject has a different goal than data visualization, which seeks to display data in a more digestible format to facilitate easier analysis. Art moves past first-order insights from data to establish an emotional connection with viewers and unlock personal, embedded meanings not accessible through quantitative analysis.

Chris Bousquet with Data-Smart City Solutions shares some vivid examples of how impersonal quantitative data can intersect with art to connect with the audience on both logical and emotional levels. Read more here.

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ALGA Repost: Trust, these days

Auditors know how difficult it can be to muster facts to develop findings, workpaper by workpaper, and draft after draft, to get the language right. In contrast, someone can easily broadcast misinformation or, worse, distrust and skepticism about others’ information. Mark Twain had a good quote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.”

What should auditors do in these times of fewer reporters holding local government accountable, and less public confidence in facts?

Our very own auditing sage Gary Blackmer discusses the nature and necessity of trust as it pertains to government auditing. Read more here.

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Audit Scotland ReBlog: Audit Scotland goes global

Scotland’s financial devolution settlement is complex and ever-changing. Our health and social care services have gone through a sustained period of reform, and they continue to face demographic challenges. Community empowerment legislation is changing the way local decisions about services and public spending are made. Add in Brexit and talk of a potential further referendum on Scottish independence, and Scotland makes a fascinating case study for the people charged with tracking public money from our fellow audit institutions overseas.

 

Learn more about how our compatriots ‘cross the pond are handling the ongoing social and economic changes in Scotland here.

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Internal Auditor Repost: How to audit culture

Enron, Worldcom, FIFA, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Wells Fargo are just a few examples of scandals caused by organizational cultures that encouraged inappropriate behavior. The reputation risk cries out for audit coverage, yet only 42 percent of internal audit functions are auditing their organization’s culture, according to The IIA’s 2016 North American Pulse of Internal Audit study.

Auditing an organization’s culture can be challenging because of its complexity, its subjectivity, and the potential resistance of key players. However, approaches and techniques pioneered by some internal audit functions can help auditors successfully enhance coverage of culture.

James Roth, president of Audit Trends LLC, explores the difficulties and potential rewards of auditing organizational culture. He also highlights some of the possible methods and techniques that can be used to measure a topic that is notoriously hard to pin down, and even harder to influence with audit recommendations. Read more here.

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