Advice on Career Transition from Internal Audit to a Continuous Process Improvement Role?

Six Sigma – iSixSigma Forums General Forums General Advice on Career Transition from Internal Audit to a Continuous Process Improvement Role?

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)
  • Author
  • #241309


    Hello All,

    I am currently exploring a transition out of Internal Audit, where I have been for over a decade focused on operational, financial and compliance audits. Over the course of my approximate 15-year career, i have especially liked the aspect of my job where i make recommendations or help with solutions that have a direct impact on processes and to a lesser extent people and technology. I have been itching to get out of audit, where my recommendations usually happen after the fact, if and when we perform an audit, vs. in a role where i am in the fore front and helping design, execute or remediate processes/issues based on management’s strategic initiatives.

    Here lies my dilemna: I am considering pursuing six sigma certifications in hopes that I can get a career that can help achieve the goals i outlined above, but not sure if that is the right way and also wondering if there have been others that may have been from a similar career path as mine and did get the certifications and if that moved the needle.

    Lastly, would like some suggestions on careers/companies that I can explore to help me achieve this goal.

    Thanks so much and look forward to getting some guidance and feedback.




    Audit can be a good starting point.  You do evidentiary studies to find what isn’t being done the way it’s supposed to be done.  That’s a large part of what we do in continuous improvement and it’s a skill that some people find difficult.  My path from project manager to LSS consultant included IT quality assurance and CMMI appraiser, both of which are essentially auditing.  Since you’ve been auditing for quite some time you’ve probably learned to point out that it’s a process failure, and not to blame individuals.  Assigning blame is a sure way to make yourself unwelcome, whether you’re an auditor or a continuous improvement leader.  So you’ve got that going for you.

    You don’t have to have six sigma or any other certification to succeed in continuous improvement.  Some people just do it and develop a reputation with management and colleagues.  Of course that would conflict with audit  so you probably can’t go there in your current job.  To make the career change you’re going to need certification to impress HR and hiring managers.  Six sigma belts aren’t the only continuous improvement certifications so you might want to research related certifications.

    There’s probably an American Society for Quality section in your geographic area that meets regularly.  You might get in touch with them.  You can find out about local sections from their website.  As a long-time senior member I can tell you that ASQ is great for networking, advice, training, and certification.  My section welcomes  non-members at our meetings.


    Oliver Kozak

    I have worked with a lot of people leading improvement projects with an audit background.

    I find it is a challenging transition – not impossible, but it needs a serious change in attitude.

    What I missed from my colleagues is the inner drive to crunch out more and more from a process.


    Three things I find you might need to un-learn from an audit background, especially if you were a great auditor:

    1. Switch from “report attitude” to “result attitude”.

    Very long and detailed analysis of the process, summarised in reports, and then again in a report, and then in a review report. Measurement and Analysis is an important part of DMAIC process, but we just do something good enough to move to the improve phase.

    The output of the work is not a report (like in audit), but a better performing process.

    In the audit world, usually the responsibility to implement the changes lies with the organisaiton. The auditor issues the report, tells the symptoms, and then they leave.

    In LSS, we our main job starts when the issues are identified.

    The measurment is often 1-2 ppt slide, the analysis is another 1-2 ppt slide (depending on project size).


    2. Switch to a flat, “facilitator attitude”, from an “external authority attitude”.

    Attitude of being an external authority, who knows and tells what to do. In LSS, contrary to audit, the SME (the subject matter expert – ie. people working in the process) identify what is broken, they make the decisions, and implement the solutions.

    A common mistake from my colleagues with an audit background that they come “to analyse” the process, and make an “improvement suggestion”. This is contradictory to Lean Six Sigma, where the people in the process must do the analysis, and make suggestions and decide about it.


    3. Switch from a “long list of changes needed” to a “one project a time” approach.

    Audit reports usually contain pages of things to change.

    In LSS, we select usually one critical project to implement. Maybe 2-3. I always prefer first to improve one project, and only then another one.

    The reason is that one change already impacts the process. If we start changing a lot of things in parallel, then we have no control of the process anymore.




    Other changes you might experience:

    In audit, usually the improvement is proposed as common sense, or vs. the regulation, or the “official way of doing it”. In LSS, the improvement must follow the methodology on what is proposed as improvement.

    In audit, the work is usually longer time frame, years, and three years, in CI the projects are usually 3-4 months (or in my best prectice I slice them up to 3-4 months), and otherwise it is a “continuous work”.



    The certification will help you to learn the methodology.

    My advice is to stick to the methodology as much as possible.

    I would recommend to go gradually: yellow belt, green belt, and then black belt.

    Experience of leading projects counts much more then the certification in my eyes.



    Rebecca Mott

    I agree with Oliver’s recommendations, especially numbers 2 and 3.  Lean Six Sigma is all about guiding people who know (knowledge workers) rather than you coming up with great ideas.  If the focus is on you, then you will not be as effective working with a team to develop recommendations that get engagement.  Remember, auditors typically have leverage of some sort (i.e. compliance to regulations or law).  Because of that aspect, stakeholders have a mindset to comply with audit recommendations in order to avoid non-compliance or legal issues.  Ask yourself, what happens when there is no such requirement to follow or consequence to enforce?  In other words, the changes are voluntary.  This is why most LSS programs recommend that leaders be supportive of change and reinforce the LSS program.  Outside of that, you are left with your ability to influence individuals to embrace change.  That is the skill most required.


    Andrew Parr

    @aayanbule You’ve now changed from “Gamekeeper to Poacher” in some respects.  Rather than bring problems that need solving you’re now the “Problem Solver in Chief”.

    Qualifications will get you through some doors but solving problems is your measure of success.  To do that you need to understand them, facilitate the experts (the people working the process) and deliver some tangible benefits.

    That’s all really.  After that, choose your own path but never underestimate the door opening power of certificates that demonstrate your qualifications.  I was always a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt but only when I got the piece of paper did those doors start to open and the price I commanded increase.  I’m not motivated by money, which is handy, but I also refuse to undervalue my skills.  I did that once and quit the job after a couple of months.    I firmly believe that self-esteem is the most important thing you have to bring to an employer.  If you are confident (not over-confident) in your abilities you will bring success to the organisation and that will reflect on you.

    And keep your skills up to date by reading, books and case studies.

    As someone wiser than I am says “Just my opinion”.



    Oliver Kozak


    I like the “Gamekeeper to Poacher”, it captures well the essence!

    I agree with the door opening power of the certification.

    My experience is similar – when there is a track record of success, certification doesn’t really matter. People will ask “Can we get Aby, and whatever was done in the project, to do it for us?”

    But for people who are new to you, and/or to the topic of process improvement, a certification can create trust to start the improvement process. Even when you do have a track record, people who are not familiar with you or the topic, need to know that you are not a fake consultant.


    However, the importance of the certificate depends a lot on the culture/ country.

    Task oriented cultures would build trust more based on your certificaitons and CV.

    Relationship based cultures would trust you more based on recommendation by people they trust.

    culture map trusting

    You can read about it more here:



    Chris Seider

    You’ll be using a different set of skill sets.

    Go for it!  Do your passion.


    Mike Carnell

    @aayanbule I am more in the @OliverKozak camp and maybe a more extreme case. I don’t like auditors and probably never will. Basically you stated you have been in industry for 15 years and an auditor for 10 years so for 67% of your career you have never really contributed anything original.

    Auditors walk around (on their busiest days) urinating all over everyone’s work like a drunken ally cat. If you are serious about this take Oliver’s advice very seriously, close your mouth, listen to people and just maybe you will learn something instead of blowing in thinking with your complete lack of relevant experience everyone has been waiting breathlessly for you to show up.

    Just my opinion.



    @Mike-Carnell Belly laugh.  Auditors do serve a useful function.  But strict auditing tends to suppress innovation – Stop doing that!  You aren’t following the rules.  Fortunately in my audit-like positions it wasn’t strict audit.  CMMI and QA (as defined in CMMI)  places value on recognizing innovation and evaluating whether or not it might become part of the standard process, or an option.


    Mike Carnell

    @Straydog This goes back to 1996 and was a military contract. I have to watch exactly what I say on this. Two parts were glued together and the assembly was 100% defective. Management wanted it fixed and formed a team that one of our people was meant to facilitate. Luckily we chose a very kind and friendly person for this task. After couple team meetings of our 100% engineer team the chart flipped from 100% defective to 100% good and nobody had a clue what happened. Our guy happened upon a very nice woman who had her Xacto knife out and was whittling on one of those long stem cotton swabs. He asked her what she was doing and she was scared. We eventually made her a guarantee she was not going to lose her job for not following work instructions (she was almost in tears because if the auditors saw it she would be fired – so I was ecstatic about getting involved in this based on my love for auditors). She knew the fixture that held the two pieces together when they were being glued was wrong. She knew how to build a shim with a piece of cotton swab stick to make it work. We did a temp change to the paperwork while we got the fixtures modified.

    This is the issue I see with auditors: Audit theory, as I learned it, is a 2 step process: 1. Check for adequacy of the documentation 2. check for compliance to the documentation. Most auditors are fixated on step 2. I think they do that because that is very simple. The document says this are you doing it. You do not have to hire someone very smart to do that. Most people see auditing as a legislated activity so they want to hire cheap labor which is what they do.

    If you want step one you better have someone who has some pretty good process knowledge. I am not talking degree. I am talking experience and common sense so these are not going to be all that easy to find and most people with common sense don’t want to be an auditor.

    Just my opinion.



    @aayanbule @Mike-Carnell  I was a bit remiss in my initial comment.  While CMMI appraisal and QA performed according the Capability Maturity Model are very audit-like they are also very different.  The goal is process improvement rather than strict compliance with policies, procedures, and standards.  As an appraiser, if we find that an organization has an alternate practice that achieves the goals, that may be a good thing.  We might even champion revising the model.  For instance, CMMI was extensively modified to include agile methods, which many IT organizations were using with great success.  If we’d done strict auditing we would have dinged them for not following the rules and let it go at that.

    The purpose of QA, as defined in CMMI, is to provide objective insight into how well the organization’s standards are working and the quality of the resulting products.  Yeah, we note deviations and non-compliance issues in our findings and we track them to closure, but we’re just as interested in understanding why these occur, and whether or not what they’re doing is better in some way.  Unlike the typical audit where closure is either corrective action or management signing off that they accept the risk, it may be a decision to revise the policies, procedures, and standards.

    So the transition was just the next step for me.  It may be a lot more difficult for someone who’s only been a strict auditor, focused on reporting non-compliance and the risks that entails.

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.