How to Undertake a Project Quality Review that will Increase Your Bottom-Line
By Michael Stanleigh
A project quality review helps to identify the root causes of problems on a flailing project and provides detailed guidance for how to get it back on track. It has a direct, positive impact on an organization’s bottom-line. When undertaken at the end of a project it provides valuable “lessons” for project teams working on future projects.
In my consulting work in project management I am often called upon to audit projects or undertake project quality reviews of problem projects. Bringing in an outside auditor/consultant to conduct the project quality review is a good practice; it provides project team members and other project stakeholders with the opportunity to be candid and share their opinions and feelings about what is happening or happened on the project without risk of lash back.
The process for conducting a project audit or project quality review is similar regardless of whether one conducts it mid-term on a project or at its conclusion. And the process is pretty consistent regardless of the organization’s area of industry or services. Often the project is in crisis and the organization is eager to get the project back on track quickly. Therefore it is important to get the project quality review & audit completed quickly. It requires about three (3) very intensive weeks to complete the in-depth quality review & audit and deliver the final report.
Project Quality Review and Project Audit Process
There are three phases to a project quality review:
- Phase 1: Planning the Project Quality Review and Audit
- Phase 2: Project Analysis
- Phase 3: Report and Recommendations
Phase 1: Planning the project quality review and project audit
In the Project Planning Phase, the project auditor/consultant plans the project quality review and determines the audit process steps and dates. As part of this planning process it’s important for the project auditor to be clear about the expectations for the project quality review or project audit. To do this, he or she will most likely hold interviews with the project steering committee members and/or leadership team and/or sponsors as well as the project manager to gain clarity about the “success criteria” for the project quality review so as to ensure that the project quality review is able to meet their individual and collective needs. Aside from achieving this important objective, during the planning phase the project auditor will also:
- Determine whether or not consistent project management practices are part of the corporate culture, and if not, what’s lacking.
Determine whether or not consistent project management practices are part of the corporate culture, and if not, what’s lacking.
Examine the structure of the project as well as the roles and responsibilities of the assigned resources.
Phase 2: Project analysis
The Project Analysis phase is comprehensive and involves a review of the entire project. In this phase, the project auditor/consultant gathers information from the project manager, core project team members, sponsor, vendors, consultants, suppliers, etc. to assess the issues, challenges and concerns with the project and to get to the root causes of any problems.
The focus of this phase is for the auditor/consultant to identify gaps in the level of detail in the project plan as well as dependencies, milestones, resources and control. The project auditor will check to see:
- How well the project plan incorporated the vendor plan.
- How the project team managed the project budget.
- The overall quality of the project processes.
- The extent to which external resources such as suppliers, consultants, contractors, etc. are on track in the management of their portion of the project schedule and budget.
- How well risk has been managed.
- The extent to which change has been correctly managed.
To gather this information, the project auditor/consultant will sit in on selected project team meetings, sponsor meetings, customer meetings and other meetings as well as review all existing project documentation and the project plan. This will help them identify the process and outcomes of these meetings and get a first-hand understanding of the process that the project is following. The project documentation may include:
- Project Structure
- Scope Statement
- Business and Stakeholder Requirements
- Project schedule plans (baseline and re-baselined)
- Budget plans (original versus actuals)
- Vendor, consultant and/or other external resource plans
- Milestone Reports
- Project Team Meeting Agendas and Minutes
- Issue Logs and action items
- Change Orders/Requests
- Change Logs
- Risk Logs and Assessments
- Sponsor reports
- Customer and other Stakeholder reports
- Other relevant project documentation
Phase 3: Report and recommendations
In the Report and Recommendations Phase the project auditor writes a detailed report with recommendations and presents it to senior management. The report includes specific recommendations and actions for overall performance improvement of the project.
The report incorporates the findings from all of the information that was collected; both from interviews as well as project documentation. It identifies all the project’s issues, concerns and challenges facing the project. And, most importantly, the report provides detailed and specific recommendations and actions for how to get the project back on track and improve overall performance of the project.
For forensic project quality reviews; conducted at the end of the project, the report and recommendations will outline recommendations for future application and provide information to validate whether or not resources were effectively and efficiently utilized on the project as well as provide guidance on what competency and leadership requirements would be necessary for a project manager.
In my experience, senior management may not always find it easy to accept the report findings; particularly if there is a lot at stake for them and their resources to make necessary corrections are limited. They will likely require further assistance to implement the recommendations and this can mean additional costs. Or they may not have the internal capability to make the necessary changes. At the end of the day, management will have to decide if they will listen to the auditor’s findings or not. It will take both commitment and effort to turn things around.
Project audits not only uncover problems, issues and challenges that may be preventing projects from succeeding but also contribute “Lessons Learned” that can help to improve the performance of future projects. They are always highly beneficial to an organization and pay back the investment many times over. Management must be prepared to act on the recommendations and demonstrate commitment and effort to turn things around.
Michael Stanleigh is the President and CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with executives and senior managers around the world to help them improve operational effectiveness through strategic planning, leadership development, project management and quality management. Michael has been instrumental in helping his clients reduce waste and increase efficiencies and profits with his clear processes and quality approach.
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