As organizations continue to look for immediate ways in which to save money and time, a good place to start is with a project audit or project health check to uncover immediate opportunities for savings.

A project audit or project health check is a great opportunity to uncover the issues, concerns and challenges encountered in the execution of a project. It provides the project manager, project sponsor and project team with an interim view of what has gone well and what needs to be improved with the project to successfully complete it. Project audits have a multitude of beneficial outcomes:

  • Use a project audit to develop success criteria for future projects by providing a forensic review at the close of the project. Apply these “Lessons Learned” on the project to both the organization and its vendors.
  • A project audit can help you develop strategies, which if implemented within the organization, will increase the likelihood of future projects being managed successfully.
  • Project audits can help to determine relevant success criteria for future projects in your organization such as: on-time, on-budget, meeting customer and other stakeholder requirements, transition to next phase successfully executed, etc.
  • By their nature, project audits or project health checks will often uncover the risks associated with your project and leads to development of contingency plans so that your organization is prepared to deal with risk.
  • Project audits are a perfect process to learn how to deal with change in your organization. You will uncover success criteria which might include: how staff is involved, how customers are impacted, how the organization is impacted, transition to next level of change to be initiated, etc.
  • Ways to continue to improve the relationships between the organization and its vendors, suppliers and contractors regarding the management of projects.

Overall, a project audit or project health check will provide an opportunity to learn what elements of the project were successfully managed and which ones presented some challenges. This will help the organization identify what it needs to do so that mistakes are not repeated on future projects.

Regardless of whether the project audit is conducted mid-term on a project or at its conclusion, the process is similar. Generally, it is preferable to use an outside facilitator to conduct the project audit or project health check. This ensures confidentiality and also provides the team members and other stakeholders with the opportunity to be candid. They know that their input will be valued and the final report will not identify individual names, rather it will only include facts. It is common that individuals interviewed during the project audit of a particularly badly managed project will find speaking with an outside facilitator a good opportunity to express their emotions and feelings about their involvement in the project and/or the impact the project has had on them. This “venting” is an important part of the overall audit.

A project audit consists of three phases:
Phase 1: Background Research
Phase 2: In-depth Research
Phase 3: Report Development

Phase 1 – Background Research

Background research consists of interviews with key people such as the project sponsor, executive sponsor and project manager to identify both their individual and collective needs and how they will measure success for the project audit. There are various research methodologies possible for this research depending on the type and depth of information you are seeking. This includes: one-on-one interviews, survey questionnaires, focus groups, etc.
If you conduct project audit interviews consider forwarding the questions in advance of each interview. It helps the interviewees to focus their thoughts. Arrange all of the interviews including project team members, customers, vendors, suppliers, consultants and other external resources.

The easiest way to identify who to include in the interviews is to identify whether or not they are directly impacted by the project or during the project’s execution. These are the individuals and groups of individuals you will want to include in your interviews.

Phase 2 – In-Depth Research

Once you’ve gathered some background information about the project and the needs of sponsor and project manager, it is time to conduct in-depth research to assess the project and identify opportunities for improvements. This phase is an intensive forensic review of all aspects of the project. It will likely require:

  • In-depth research interviews with the Project Sponsor, Executive Project Sponsor, Project Manager and Project Team Members in order to identify the past, current and future issues, concerns, challenges and opportunities.
  • In-depth research interviews with stakeholders including vendors, suppliers, contractors, other project internal and external resources and selected customers who are directly impacted by the project and/or the project’s execution.
  • Review of all historical and current documentation related to the project including: team structure, Scope Statement, business requirements, project plan, milestone report, meeting minutes, action items, risk logs, issue logs, change logs, contracts, purchase orders and designs and any other documentation.
  • Review the Project Plan to determine the level of detail and to identify how the Vendor Plan has been incorporated into the overall project plan.
  • Review the Project Quality Management processes and the Product Quality Management standards to identify the organization’s project management processes, project quality processes and tools and templates in order to determine the extent to which this project was managed according to standard practices.
  • Review the Project’s Transition Plan in order to identify how the closure of this project transitioned to on-going maintenance, training, etc. as well as benefit realization.
  • Assessment of the issues, challenges and concerns in more depth to get to the root causes of the problems.
    Identification of the Lessons Learned that can improve the performance of other future projects within the organization.

Phase 3 – Report Development

The final report will include all the information gathered throughout the project audit as well as a summary of the project’s major issues, concerns and challenges and opportunities for improvements. It may also include any other project issues, concerns and challenges that the auditor foresees. A thorough project audit report should include lessons learned as well as a “road map” with detailed recommendations to get future projects to the “next level” of performance.

Conclusion

The purpose of a project audit is to uncover problems that you want to avoid in the future. Through this process you will identify “Lessons Learned” that can help improve the performance of a project either currently in place or that you plan to implement in the future. In my experience they are always highly beneficial to an organization and pay back the investment many times over.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca