What’s the different between audit and assessment?

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 10-22-13

I recently wrote a column for IndustryWeek titled Get the Most from Your Assessments. This was in part inspired by the several assessments I had just completed for clients in the weeks preceding my column due date.

But there is also a pet peeve that I wanted to correct: there is a big difference between an audit and an assessment.

When I am doing an assessment, I often correct people when they introduce it as a lean audit. The reason is that the purpose of an audit and assessment are different, and people react to them differently. The purpose of an audit is to compare against a specific standard, and find specific gaps that should be corrected. Assessments are about understand where you are for the benefit of improvement.


Accountants audit a firm’s financials and their financial processes to assure investors there aren’t any concerns. OSHA audits to ensure there aren’t any gaps that will cause people to get hurt. Process audits exist to ensure that a process is working as desired. 5S audits find failures in sustaining 5S. Audits are meant to find pre-defined problems that then must be corrected.

Assessments have a different purpose. They are meant to help define current reality – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It may not be pre-defined problems. It should paint a picture. It should reveal new insights. It should provide direction for improvement efforts. It should provide a measuring stick towards the ideal state.

Assessment and audit have different purposes. You should be clear of your purpose before embarking on any strategy that engages these methods. And ensure that the assessors, or auditors, are clear about the difference as well.