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

 

Accountability and Media Featured How To

ELGL RePost: Your department has been selected for an audit

So your department, office, division, or program has been selected for an audit. You and your coworkers might be worried that a team of humorless scolds is coming by to tell you how to do your jobs. But have no fear! As auditors, our job is to work with you to make whatever you do more efficient and effective, so that all of us can provide the best service possible to our residents. Also, we have a great sense of humor.

Sam Naik, who works for the Office of the City Auditor in Austin, Texas, eloquently summarizes for Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) what we as auditors do and what agencies that are involved in an audit can expect before, during, and after an audit. It covers the standards we follow, the planning process for audits, fieldwork, and reporting, as well as follow ups after the audit.

This is a great read for anyone that fears an audit may be coming down the pike for their agency, for those interested in becoming auditors, and for those who just want to have a better understanding of what an audit looks like and what it can achieve.

Read more here.

Accountability and Media Auditors at Work Featured How To

How To: Set Outlook to text calendar notifications

Life is busy. Luckily, there are some tools we can use to help keep track of everything. Take advantage of notification tools built into Outlook to help manage your calendar. My new personal favorite is text alerts sent right to my phone.

Step 1: Log into Outlook Web Portal (Many State of Oregon Employees use https://owa.portal.oregon.gov/owa/, although it may vary by agency)

Step 2: Open “Options” in the top right and click on “Show all Options”

How to - outlook notifications 1

Step 3: Click on the “Phone” tab and select “Text Messaging”

How to - outlook notifications 2

Step 4: Select “Set up Calendar Notifications”

how to - outlook notifications 3

Now you have a dialog box with several options to select. My preference is to get text messages whenever my calendar is changed within the next two days. I also like to receive a daily agenda each morning at 5:30.

With these tools you can help stay in front of your busy life.

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

 

Featured How To

How to: Be a quiet leader

Ian Green examines the difference between being a boss and being a leader, and how choosing to be a leader changes how we interact with those we work with and can lead to more employee engagement and improved workplace performance.

Today’s topic is leadership. More specifically, what you can do to become a better leader.  I was inspired to write this post after reading Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work by David Rock.

What makes a good leader?  In my opinion, they inspire you to achieve more.  Bosses tell you what to do, but as David Rock explains, leaders help you how to think.  They are someone you go to when you need an insight.  Someone you want to follow. Not someone who micromanages your every move.  Below is a great illustration of this concept.

leadership vs management

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/84593672@N05/10141810486

To become a better leader, you need to make sure you are focused in the right areas.  An age-old proverb tells us that if we give someone a fish, they will eat for a day.  But if we teach someone to fish they will eat for a lifetime.  Leaders need to adopt this perspective.

Telling someone what to do is just like giving someone a fish.  It may help them in the short-term, but it does not advance their skills.  It is also time-consuming for the leader. To be a great leader you must teach people how to think and come to their own conclusions. In other words, teach them how to fish.

David Rock illustrates this point in his book Quiet Leadership: “Quiet Leaders are masters at bringing out the best performance in others.  They improve their employees’ thinking—literally improving the way their brains process information—without telling anyone what to do.  Given how many people in today’s companies are being paid to think, improving thinking is one of the fastest ways to improve performance.”

The argument is rather simple: to improve performance we need to improve how people think and process information. Leaders ask probing questions more often than giving detailed instructions. They help guide people to conclusions rather than telling them.

David uses a number of academic studies to make his point that people who develop their own conclusions are more likely to retain that information (and high performance) than those who were told what the conclusions were. Leaders can help guide their staff to these conclusions by using a number of techniques. One of the primary techniques is listening.

Really listen during the next conversation you have with a colleague.  Think about what they are asking you and why they are facing a roadblock.  Ask yourself what struggles they are facing and how you can help guide them past the issue to a solution.  Many times the individual needs to process the information verbally and a few questions will help them resolve the issue they are facing.  Ask questions rather than give direction.  That will help them discover the answer themselves.

Another great point that David brings up is how to improve performance of people who are struggling. When facing a colleague with performance problems, rather than focusing on the problem, try something new. Try to develop a new habit for the individual that will help them succeed.  Studies have proven that it is easier to develop new habits than to change bad habits. By changing their focus away from what was done wrong to what they need to do right, you are more likely to see lasting changes and better performance.

I encourage you to go to your library or favorite book store to read more about Quiet Leadership. There many great concepts and ideas you can adopt to become a better leader.

If you are a State of Oregon employee, you can access this book, free of charge, from safaribooks. Read more about this service and how to register on the Oregon State Library website: http://libguides.osl.state.or.us/safaribooks

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

*Author attempted to contact David Rock for approval to use materials from his book, but received no response. Author’s limited noncommercial use of copyrighted material from Quiet Leadership was done under the fair use exemption: http://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.
 
Featured How To Noteworthy

How To: Use Excel’s Named Cell Range Feature

Developing formulas can be tricky at times when you are dealing with Excel’s built in cell references (e.g. tabname!$J$5:$J$356). You may know where in the spreadsheet this information is and what it describes, but you always need to spend time going back and forth between different tabs to pull the reference in or copying it from another cell. That can take a lot of valuable time.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just call data by its own name? Such as “PayrollHours” or “AR” for accounts receivable. Well you can. Formulas don’t need to look like this:

The first step is accessing Excels named range feature. And as with everything there are a couple of ways to do this. The easiest is to highlight the cell or range you want to name. Then look to the top left of the spreadsheet and you should see a little box with a cell reference in it. It is just to the left of your formula bar and looks like this:

cellrange2a

Click in the box (shown as V8 above) and rename that to anything you want. For example, I renamed this reference “Apple”. Now in the formula bar you can type “Apple” anywhere you would normally put a cell reference and Excel will know exactly what data to pull in there.

Say you are a financial auditor and want to conduct a ratio analysis. You can go through the balance sheets and various financial documents and rename all the important cells to the terms you are used to. For example, call the cell that contains current assets “Assets” and current liabilities “Liabilities”. Now in Excel you can type in the current ratio by just entering “=assets/liabilities”.

The other way of naming references is to use the name manager on the Formula tab of the ribbon.

cellrange3a

Click on new to create a new name. Enter the name and whether it applies to the whole workbook or just that single tab. You can also add a comment to document what it is you are defining.

cellrange4

On the bottom, you can adjust what individual cell or ranges you are referencing. Click the little box with the arrow to select them manually.

Now you have the tools available to change your formulas to look like this:

cellrange5
The formula is now much easier to understand.  It is summing (adding) all payroll hours. The formula breaks out the totals by location, classification, and pay code. To learn more check out this website.

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Enjoy reading our ‘how to’ posts? Subscribe to the Oregon Audits blog through the ‘Follow’ link in the right hand sidebar and keep tabs on the latest data wonk tips and tricks, audit releases, interviews, and more!

Data Wonk Featured How To

How To: use Excel shortcuts to save you time and be more productive

Excel is a great tool for auditors, but oftentimes we do not utilize the shortcuts and other tools available to increase our productivity. This post will focus on some shortcuts I use to be more efficient.

My favorite and most used shortcut is auto filling formulas. Make sure you read the post on relative and absolute referencing or else you might make a critical error when auto-filling formulas.

Data Entry Tips

CTRL_D_1

CTRL+D, =SUM formula

To auto-fill a formula down, you can use the command CRTL + D. First, enter the formula you want to apply in the topmost cell of the column you are working in. Highlight the cell with the formula and all the other cells you want filled in. Now hit CTRL + D and the formula will now be applied to all of those cells. If you are working left to right in a spreadsheet, the same approach can be used with CTRL + R.

A helpful trick when working with big datasets is to use CTRL + Arrowkey to jump to the end of a row or column. To highlight those cells use CTRL + SHIFT + Arrowkey. If you keep holding SHIFT, but drop CTRL, you can modify the selection using arrow keys. For example, you can deselect the row or column label.

Excel has a handy shortcut if you work with dates and times. To enter today’s date simply hit CTRL + semicolon. For the current time hit CTRL + Shift + colon.

For a long time I could never get Excel to work nicely with adding another row of text to a cell. I would turn on text wrapping and add in spaces until the text I wanted dropped down a line. Quite an inefficient process. Save yourself time and use ALT + ENTER to put a return space.

ALT_ENTER

Switch cell formats to currency by hitting CTRL + SHIFT + $. To change it to text/General use CTRL + SHIFT + ~. For Percentages use CTRL + SHIFT + %. For numbers, CTRL + SHIFT + !. For Dates, CTRL + SHIFT + #. Want to switch to accounting format? Send Microsoft an email requesting that a shortcut feature be added, because right now there is no shortcut and you’ll need to use the manual process. The quickest way is to pull up a cell format dialog box using CTRL + 1.

To auto-sum fields you have entered use ALT + =. Select either a cell below a column or row needing summation.

Inserting rows and columns can be done by highlighting either an entire row or column and then hitting CTRL + SHIFT + =.

Editing Cell Formulas

If you select a cell and hit F2, Excel switches you to editing the cell formula. This is a great shortcut rather than having to go to the ribbon each time. One of the most important changes you can make is switching between absolute and relative references using F4.

F3 is handy if you use named ranges in complex formulas. This command will pull up the named range dialog box.

Reviewing worksheets

One of the best ways to review worksheets is to inspect the formulas used to calculate various fields. You can access this option using the ribbon, but a quick CTRL + ` (the one above tab not the ‘ next to the Enter key). Just enter the command again to turn formulas off.

awesomesheet

Use CTRL+TAB instead

You can switch between worksheets by using CTRL + TAB to go to the next worksheet or CTRL + SHIFT + TAB to go back a worksheet.

 Other useful shortcuts

We probably all use CTRL + V to paste, but did you know CTRL + ALT + V allows you to quickly paste special? Paste special is great for removing formatting copied from other documents or transposing data.

Turn auto-filter on and off with CTRL + SHIFT + L.

Auto-updating charts

You can tie charts directly to data ranges. If you compile an annual report, creating charts that auto-update can save you a lot of time. Read more about this process in Stephanie Evergreen’s most recent blog post.

Conclusion

By using one or more of these tips above you will become more efficient in conducting your audit work and before no time you will be the next Excel super user in your office.

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

 

Enjoy reading our ‘how to’ posts? Subscribe to the Oregon Audits blog through the ‘Follow’ link in the right hand sidebar and keep tabs on the latest data wonk tips and tricks, audit releases, interviews, and more!

Data Wonk Featured How To

How to: know the difference between absolute and relative cell references in Excel

As auditors we are often working with spreadsheets. Over the next few months the OAD “How To” blog series will be focusing on some cool tips and tricks to use in Excel.

We will start with a relatively simple, but vital technique to understand: the difference between absolute and relative cell references.

Absolute cell references are used when you want to refer to a specific cell the same time every time. To do this, use the prefix $.  For example, =$A$2 will always refer to cell A2. This can be useful if you want to test transactions to see if they match a specified tax rate as shown in the example below.

cellref1

This example can also be used to show relative references. Relative references change when you drag a formula down or across the spreadsheet. For example, C5 will become C6, C7, C8, etc. The same is true of the D5 reference. As you can see in the screenshot below, the formula maintains the $A$2 reference while the other references change based on the row number.

cellref2

Sometimes you need to develop large tables within a spreadsheet with multiple column fields and row fields. You can use a combination of absolute and relative references to help you develop those quickly and efficiently.

For example, if you want a reference to stay within a column, use $A2. This will lock the reference on the A column as you drag the formula to the right.

If you want a reference to stay constant within a row, use A$2. This will lock the reference on row 2 as you drag the formula up and down.

Now you have the basic tools you need to create quick and easy tables. Just remember to think about what type of cell reference you need when you start developing your formulas.  A helpful trick is to use F4 to cycle through the various types of references (e.g. $A$2, $A2, A$2, A2).  For a more advanced walk-through of creating tables, see this previous post on using Sumifs.

R1C1 Style

Before Excel, Lotus 1-2-3 was the spreadsheet software of choice and it used a different cell referencing style that can be activated in Excel if you want. Just go to File > Options > Formulas > Working with formulas and click on R1C1 reference style.

cellref3

The way R1C1 style works is that you use the R (row) and C (column) to create relative references. So if you were inputting a formula in cell B3 and you wanted to reference A2, you would enter = R[-1]C[-1]. B minus 1 is A and 3 minus 1 is 2 (or cell A2).  This is an example of a relative reference in R1C1 style. For an absolute reference use R2C1 for A2 (A2 is the 2nd row and 1st column of the spreadsheet, hence R2C1).

See the screenshot below for how the formulas from the examples above look in R1C1:

cellref4

In some instances, it might be easier to use R1C1 style to create the formulas you need so keep this trick in mind. Most people prefer to work in A1 style.

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Enjoy reading our ‘how to’ posts? Subscribe to the Oregon Audits blog through the ‘Follow’ link in the right hand sidebar and keep tabs on the latest data wonk tips and tricks, audit releases, interviews, and more!

Data Wonk Featured How To