Reimagining the Audit Report With Human-Centered Design

Reimagining the Audit Report With Human-Centered Design

If there were a simple practice you could use to provide more value to clients while strengthening relationships, increasing satisfaction, and improving the quality of your work — wouldn’t you try it? Human-centered design (HCD) is a client-focused practice that centers on the human perspective across the problem-solving process. As a Director of Internal Audit at Vanguard and a LUMA Institute Certified Facilitator of HCD, I used HCD to lead a team in redesigning our audit report. By organizing the project around six steps focused on the end-user experience, our efforts yielded all the above benefits. To encourage more audit teams to consider how HCD practices could be applied to their projects, in this article I’ll introduce you to the principles of human-centered design and illustrate each with an example from our audit report project.

What Is Human-Centered Design?

HCD is a practice and mindset focused on creating positive long-term impact for a solution’s users. By identifying users, understanding their problems, and keeping both at the center of decisions, you’ll design solutions tailored to their wants and needs. 

Human-centered design HCD design thinking stages

Source: AuditBoard.

HCD projects are founded in design thinking, an iterative process for creative problem-solving. User feedback gathered at key milestones drives iteration and buy-in at each step. Users feel heard, valued, and motivated to participate. I’ll walk you through each of the steps below — empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and repeat, and how each one helped us rethink our audit report from the user’s perspective. 

1. Empathize

The empathize step steers you in using research to better understand user needs, helping you test your assumptions and gain insight into user challenges.

Example: Our project team conducted interviews and surveys to gather feedback from users (e.g., clients, audit committees, audit team members, and management), capturing insights on virtual sticky notes. In our Empathize Workshop, LUMA’s “What’s on Your Radar?” method helped us group, prioritize, and debate the relative importance of insights until we gained consensus. The closer the insight to center, the higher its importance.

Human-centered design HCD stakeholder radar

For illustrative purposes only. Source: Vanguard.

2. Define

The define step articulates the problem you are going to solve. You can’t solve for every use case, so it’s crucial to set parameters. 

Example: In our Define Workshop, we used LUMA’s “Statement Starters” to develop our problem statement. Breakout teams brainstormed “how might we” statements describing what we wanted to do and how. We then came together to share ideas, vote, and build consensus on a single problem statement to anchor and focus our efforts. The graphic below depicts this convergence.

Human-centered design HCD define problem statement

For illustrative purposes only. Source: Vanguard.

3. Ideate

Ideation helps you brainstorm and refine potential solutions based on the redefined problem. You’ll create more ideas than you can use, but you’ll also hone in on ideas that best solve the problem.

Three phases of human-centered design

Source: AuditBoard.

Example: We brought together a larger group (~30) for the Ideation Workshop and used LUMA’s “Concept Poster” method. By compelling you to use graphics and short phrases to clearly convey your concept and its features, benefits, and timeline, the exercise helps you build out and challenge your ideas. Breakout groups developed posters, voted on favorites, came together into new groups presenting the top three concepts, and ultimately voted on a most-favored concept.

4. Prototype

Prototypes are the first step toward building actual solutions. Since not all features are necessary and possible, user feedback helps you prioritize where to invest your efforts. 

Example: In our Prototype Workshop, LUMA’s “Importance/Difficulty Matrix” — repurposed as “Importance/Satisfaction” — helped us rank features from the winning concept. User feedback drove rankings, and no features could be ranked equally important. 

  • Features ranked as important but low satisfaction in the current state (lower right) became top priority to include and reimagine.
  • We included features that were ranked as already having high satisfaction — whether important (upper right) or unimportant (upper left), but didn’t spend too many resources on reinventing them.
  • Unimportant-and-disliked features (lower left) are excluded. Why include features nobody likes or cares about?
Human-centered design HCD importance satisfaction matrix

For illustrative purposes only. Source: Vanguard.

5. Test

Testing provides a framework for reviewing user feedback on the prototype, prioritizing design changes, agreeing on Minimum Viable Product (MVP) features, and delivering the MVP to users. Again, you can’t solve every problem for every user. So the goal is to design the simplest solution that works for as many users as possible — your MVP. 

Example: First, we shared an early prototype with a small user group. We received positive, constructive feedback that guided decisions during our MVP Workshop, including:

  • Changing colors and fonts.
  • Making content more succinct, including developing a one-page summary that gives ~80% of users all the information they need (see example).
  • Increasing interactivity and facilitating navigation via a tabbed format similar to virtual file folders.
  • Adding more visuals such as a likelihood and impact matrix in findings). 
  • Ordering control objectives from bad to good, addressing user requests to help them prioritize.

We then tested the redesigned MVP with more users, including those from the earlier group. Feedback was very positive, with users assessing reports as more polished, concise, digestible, balanced, and insightful. 

Human-centered design HCD sample audit report

For illustrative purposes only. Source: Vanguard.

6. Repeat — and Look for Other Opportunities to Use Human-Centered Design

Vanguard’s reimagined audit report ended up very different from where it began, and it will continue to evolve. Ultimately, the project yielded far greater rewards. Clients and internal team members felt heard and valued, advancing relationships. They recognized our commitment to innovating and providing more value. Best of all, they became part of the process. There was no need for a roadshow — everyone was already bought-in. 

2024 Focus on the Future Report

HCD is a powerful practice that holds massive potential for redesigning the audit process with the client and user in mind. How might you apply HCD to reimagine deliverables, structures, and processes to better solve other problems? With a small amount of lift, HCD generates potential solutions quickly, which work better for both you and your clients.

©2022 The Vanguard Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be investment advice or a recommendation to take any particular investment action.

Stacy Scott is the Director of Internal Audit at Vanguard, Group Inc. supporting the U.S. Retail and Global Advice businesses. Stacy is a Professional Scrum Master (PSM), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified LUMA Practitioner, and a speaker at IIA and industry conferences. Connect with Stacy on LinkedIn.