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Audit or Assess? Understand the Difference

Jane Alexander | October 14, 2017

Eliminating variability and deviation from established standards, processes, and procedures is essential to a reliable, sustainable organization.

randmThe solution, according to Keith Mobley of Life Cycle Engineering (, Charleston, SC), is both simple and complex.

Periodic audits, especially when unannounced, help ensure compliance with established standards. Such audits are the easy part of performance management. The complex part is creating well-defined standard processes (what must be done) and procedures (how it will be done) for all recurring activities, tasks, and work essential to reliability and performance management.

Understand, however, that “audits” are not the same as “assessments.” While both add value, they differ in form and function. Mobley provided the following details, starting with a brief summary of the performance-management process. 

A reliable performance-management process depends on two forms of standards:

• The first form is standard processes and procedures. They must be clear, systematic definitions of how critical activities, tasks, and work shall be performed. The intent of these standards is to eliminate variability and inconsistency, as well as ensure universal adherence to best practices. Standard work also defines roles, responsibilities, and accountability, creating transparency throughout the organization.

• The second form of standards, work standards, defines the timing, duration, and cost for each of the procedures developed as standards above. Where standard work ensures that recurring work consistently follows a best- practice sequence of tasks or activities, work standards ensure each of the tasks are performed effectively and efficiently. Work standards should be established for all critical procedures that have a direct or indirect impact on reliability and performance.

How/When to Use Audits

By definition, an audit is designed to verify and quantify actual performance versus an established standard. Without both standards described in the previous bullet points, one cannot effectively audit performance. When these criteria are met, almost anyone in the organization can effectively audit execution of the covered tasks, activities, or procedures.

Audits are limited to procedures or discrete tasks that can be defined as activities that are performed in a unique sequence and within quantifiable boundaries. They are used to measure how specific, well-defined activities, procedures, or tasks are performed. Generally thought of in terms of finance, audits are effective for standard procedures that have systematic-execution directions and work standards that define timing, duration, labor hours, and cost.

Remember: Audits are not useful for evaluating processes and more abstract definitions, i.e., activities that are also essential for a reliable, sustainable organization. This is when assessments are required.

How/When to Use Assessments

Assessments are evaluations or estimations of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something to meet objectives. They come in many forms, each designed to quantify specific environments or operations. Conversational assessments use open-ended questions that, when answered by a cross-section of employees, create a mosaic of prevailing culture, organization, and performance.

Assessments are more abstract than audits. They are effective in quantifying organizational behavior, culture, philosophy, and overall performance.

Remember: Unlike audits, effective assessments rely on assessors with the expertise and experience, i.e., subject-matter experts, to interpret and quantify input, compared with best practices. EP

R. Keith Mobley, CMRP, is a consultant with Life Cycle Engineering (LCE), based in Charleston, SC. For more information, visit or email




Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander

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