How to Plan an Effective Operational Audit

Plan an efficient operational audit to enhance your business’s effectiveness.

two people working on an operational audit

What is an Operational Audit?

An operational audit is a comprehensive review of an organization’s internal operations and processes to assess their effectiveness, efficiency, and compliance with established policies and procedures.

It’s a systematic and objective evaluation that aims to identify improvement opportunities and optimize the use of resources. The audit can cover various areas such as finance, human resources, IT, and supply chain management.

An operational audit aims to enhance organizational performance, reduce risks, and ensure the achievement of strategic objectives.


Identify Growth Opportunities

Analyzing current operations and processes can assist businesses in identifying growth opportunities to increase efficiency, decrease expenses, and promote growth.

For example, an operational audit may reveal that specific departments or functions within your business aren’t operating optimally. By addressing these inefficiencies, you can free up resources and improve productivity, which can help drive growth and profitability.

Improve Business Efficiency

The efficiency of any business operation is crucial to its success, as it helps to reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve overall performance.

You can better understand your business processes through an operational audit and identify areas with inefficiencies or bottlenecks. It can include anything from outdated technology or equipment to inefficient workflows or redundant tasks. You can implement changes that will streamline your operations and improve your bottom line by identifying these areas.

Boost Motivation and Productivity

An operational audit can improve employee motivation and productivity by examining current processes and identifying the inefficiency or struggle hindering their effectiveness.

For example, if you discover that specific tasks are taking longer than they should, you can look for ways to streamline those processes and reduce the time it takes to complete them. It can help employees feel more productive and accomplished, increasing motivation and job satisfaction.

Analyze Risks and Opportunities

An operational audit can provide businesses with insight into their processes, procedures, and systems, allowing them to identify potential risks and areas for improvement. This analysis can help recognize potential risks that may have negative consequences for the business, such as inefficiencies in production, gaps in employee training, or inadequate financial controls. Addressing these risks can reduce the probability of adverse outcomes and promote the business’s long-term prosperity.

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What is the Difference Between a Management Audit and an Operational Audit?

Management audit primarily focuses on the management team’s effectiveness and decision-making processes. It includes evaluating the organizational structure, leadership style, and overall strategic direction of the company.

On the other hand, operational audit focuses on the efficiency and effectiveness of the company’s operational processes. It includes evaluating the systems, processes, and procedures used to produce goods or services.

What is the Difference Between a Compliance Audit and an Operational Audit?

A compliance audit ensures that a company follows laws, regulations, and policies. In addition, it prevents legal issues or penalties from occurring to the company.

In contrast, an operational audit evaluates the efficiency and effectiveness of a company’s operations. It examines how the company’s processes and procedures work to identify areas for improvement to help increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve overall performance.

Different Types

Businesses can conduct several operational audits depending on their specific needs and goals. These audit programs can help identify inefficiencies, opportunities for improvement, and potential risks within a company’s operations. Below are some of them.

Compliance Audits

External auditors or regulatory bodies often conduct compliance audits to ensure companies comply with legal requirements and ethical standards.

Auditors will review a company’s policies, procedures, and documentation during a compliance audit to ensure they align with applicable laws and regulations. They may also interview employees and review financial records to ensure the company accurately reports its financial information.

Department Audits

These audits focus on a specific department within an organization and evaluate its effectiveness and efficiency. It aims to identify areas for improvement and ensure that the department’s objectives and goals align with the organization’s overall goals.

Department audits can be conducted in any department, from finance and accounting to human resources and marketing. They can conduct interviews with department staff to gather feedback and insights.

Investigative Audits

Auditors will gather and analyze evidence during an investigative audit to determine if illegal or unethical activities have occurred. It may involve reviewing financial records, interviewing employees, and examining company policies and procedures. The goal is to identify any areas of weakness or vulnerability that may have contributed to the alleged misconduct and make recommendations for improvement.

Follow-up Audits

A follow-up audit aims to determine whether the company has implemented the recommendations made in the initial audit report. This audit is essential to ensure that the company complies with the audit findings and assesses the effectiveness of the corrective actions.

Different Challenges

While an operational audit can be invaluable for improving a business’s efficiency and effectiveness, it’s not without its challenges. Some of the most common operational audit challenges include:

  • Resistance to change – Employees may resist changes in processes or procedures identified during the audit. It can lead to pushback and a lack of cooperation, making it challenging to implement necessary changes.
  • Limited resources – Conducting an operational audit requires time, money, and workforce. Small businesses may struggle with limited resources, which can make it challenging to conduct a thorough audit.
  • Lack of expertise – Operational audit requires a certain level of knowledge in the relevant areas of the business. If the audit team lacks this expertise, it can be challenging to identify and address all areas of concern.
  • Data availability – The effectiveness of an operational audit relies heavily on the availability and accuracy of data. If the necessary data is unavailable or incomplete, it can be challenging to conduct a thorough audit.
  • Unforeseen issues – Unexpected problems can arise during an operational audit despite careful planning. These issues may require additional time, resources, or expertise, which can delay the audit process.

Operational Auditing Procedures

The typical audit procedures involve the following steps:

Determine the Auditor

It’s common for a company to perform an internal operational audit. The organization could have an internal auditor or audit team overseeing internal or operational audits. In some instances, companies may opt to engage the services of an external specialist to carry out audits if they lack an internal audit team or an internal auditor with the required expertise and experience.

Plan the Audit Process

Before starting the actual audit, it’s essential to establish a clear plan and framework for conducting the audit efficiently and effectively. The planning process involves several key steps, including meeting the relevant stakeholders, defining the audit objectives, identifying the audit scope, determining the audit methodology, and selecting the audit team.

During the planning phase, the auditor can identify areas for process improvements and establish the scope and timeline of the audit.

Conduct the Audit

During the audit, the auditor will gather data and information from various sources, including interviews with key personnel, observing operations, and reviewing documentation such as financial statements, policies, and procedures. The auditor will also conduct tests to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information collected.

Report Audit Findings

Following an operational audit, the subsequent step involves reporting the audit findings. This step is critical as it communicates the audit outcomes to the stakeholders and management of the audited organization. The report should comprehensively depict the audit results, identifying deficiencies or weaknesses in the organization’s operations.

The report should also include recommendations for improving the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the organization. The suggestions should be practical and achievable and focus on addressing the weaknesses identified during the audit.

Perform a Follow-up

Performing a follow-up is an essential aspect of the operational auditing process. It ensures that the management team has implemented the recommendations and corrective actions outlined in the audit report.

During the follow-up phase, the auditor will review the progress made by the management team and verify that the corrective actions have been taken. It may involve reviewing documentation, interviewing staff, and observing processes to ensure the implemented changes work effectively.

Leverage Audit Tools and Platforms

Using audit tools and platforms is essential to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of operational auditing procedures. These tools can help automate many of the manual tasks involved in auditing, such as data collection, analysis, and reporting.

One of the key benefits of using audit tools and platforms is that they can help auditors to identify potential issues and areas of risk more quickly and efficiently. For example, by analyzing large volumes of data, these tools can help auditors identify patterns and trends that may indicate fraud or other irregularities.

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FAQs About Operational Audit

An operational audit aims to improve business performance by identifying areas for cost reduction. It can also decrease turnaround time for business processes, positively affecting service delivery and customer satisfaction.

Internal audit staff typically perform operational audits, although outside specialists may be brought in to conduct reviews in their specific fields. The management team, mainly the managers of the reviewed areas, are the primary users of audit recommendations.

Operational auditing evaluates an organization’s processes, procedures, and systems to assess efficiency, effectiveness, risk management, internal controls, and compliance with policies, regulations, and industry best practices.

Yes, an operational audit is a performance audit that evaluates an organization’s operations to determine whether they are efficient, effective, and in compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and standards.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
SafetyCulture Content Contributor
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. Before joining SafetyCulture, he worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade. Rob's diverse professional background allows him to provide well-rounded, engaging content that can help businesses transform the way they work.