~ By Michael L. Young
The health check is a reflective learning exercise, a snapshot of the status of a project or programme in order to identify what is going well and what areas need improvement. Project managers, sponsors and the project team are often so involved in the day-to-day activities that they can fail to recognise the true status of a project.
The checks purpose is to gain independent assessment of how well the project or programme is performing in accordance with its objectives and how well it adheres to organisational processes or standards.
It is well known that in most business arenas, the cost of correcting an issue is many times the cost of preventing it. Looming problems can go undetected or be ignored because the project team has faith that if they just follow the plan the benefits will materialise. At an enterprise level, conducting checks on a sample of projects enables common issues and non-compliance to be captured and resolved in a cost-effective way and applied to future projects.
Checks are best undertaken by independent assessors - free from internal politics - who can provide a balanced view. Recommendations of independent assessors are more likely to be accepted and acted upon. The last thing you want to do in a health check is to wander in and just start poking around in a random fashion. A good assessor will use a structure such as the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) and will take the organisation's unique nature into account and its project management and delivery methodologies.
There are two ways you can approach project the checks:
Both have their place, depending on the size of the organisation and project complexity.
Following are five broad categories of warning signs that are pretty common for organisations that successfully use health checks to identify problems:
This is about the expected costs to be incurred next month or next year, the project's 'burn rate'. From this you can estimate what the costs will be and make resourcing decisions to shape the future and mitigate loss or increase ROI.
Compliance is about adopting a consistent approach to practicing project management across an organisation. It's about making sure organisational methodologies are adopted to embody best practice, improve effectiveness and streamline communication.
Projects are done for many reasons, including increasing customer satisfaction, enhancing efficiencies or developing a new product. The check scrutinises objectives throughout the project life cycle ensuring that the project still has a focus on the big picture.
It's not uncommon for managers to perform the 'obligatory' risk management and leave the plan on the shelf until the project is complete. The check examines the risk management plan, identifies top ten risks and whether they have been appropriately addressed and if not, issues recommendations for action.
Project management is a team sport. Accordingly, the project manager needs to be concerned about relationships among the various project stakeholders, which can either enhance or threaten success. Relationships need constant nurturing. Project health checks look at team functioning, sponsor commitment, client satisfaction and any other human factors that could adversely impact the project.
Once executives and managers have identified what signs of trouble to look for, the next step is to conduct the check and to start turning the project around. The areas of concern below are grouped into logical areas of investigation and action. The health check includes assessment of:
By taking the time to have the project independently 'health checked' organisations can not only avoid any potential risk, but can also confirm that their project managers are on top of all the key elements ensuring the projects' success.
Michael Young is an award-winning project management consultant, trainer and assessor and Managing Director of Transformed Pty Ltd. Transformed works with individuals to develop their project management skills and with organisations to enhance their program delivery and strategic implementation capabilities. Michael can be contacted at http://www.transformed.com.au