Many projects go through difficult times. An occasional health check or project review can prevent such projects turning nasty and requiring a full blown rescue plan. A small investment in a health check conducted by a Solidus “Critical Friend” will often save money over the life of a project.
It is an exercise that Solidus is well placed to inform as it has extensive experience of projects of all sizes and complexity. Even on large projects a health check is usually less than a week’s work with informal recommendations being made at the end of the first day. The Solidus approach majors on deliverability of the project rather than simple compliance with a project recording and reporting methodology; Solidus will however comment on the use of standards.
There are several points at which a project should be routinely reviewed and other times when an ad hoc, or even emergency, health check is appropriate.
A project has a lifecycle with clear transitions between stages. For example both construction and IT projects will go through design, build and handover stages with other stages in between. Ideally there should be a review at the end of each stage as there will often be a change in the funding commitment at that point, especially between design and build. A review helps avoid throwing good money after bad.
If there are problems that are becoming persistent then there is a need for independent review of the project. The potential causes of such problems are many and an objective analysis by a “Critical Friend” should be helpful to the organisation and the project manager.
A project sponsor may concerns that all is not well or there may be underlying issues that are not being addressed. That is a good time to do a health check which will hopefully allay those fears or if they are well-founded bring them into the open where they can be addressed by the wider project team.
When there is a change of leadership on a project the incoming manager or sponsor would be well advised to undertake a health check or project review to establish a new baseline from which to manage.
A Solidus “Critical Friend” will usually work from a checklist but will also apply their experience and sixth sense. Often an experienced project consultant will instinctively know that something is not right but will still need to gather evidence to justify their recommendations.
Unfortunately a purely mechanical process can miss behavioural and other issues on a project as the team put on show for the assessors. So Solidus seeks to combine instinct based on considerable experience with formal methods to ensure all aspects are covered.
Solidus aims to share its findings at the end of each day on site with informal recommendations. We would then follow up with a brief report focussing on recommendations positive and negative with an action list to address any issues.
For many projects this might only be one full day on site with another office based day writing the report. Usually the aim would be to have two consultants undertake the work to seek different views on the evidence.
A Solidus Project Health Check would be tailored to specific client needs so it would normally start with a planning meeting. Broadly a Project Health Check would cover the following aspects:
A project needs to have the support of the business and a Solidus Project Health Check would ensure that effective business support and active sponsorship was in place. A review would need to check there is:
Governance is about the wider oversight of the project by the business and appropriate stakeholders. It has two main purposes. First is to hold the project sponsor and project manager to account for achieving the original business objectives of the project and to support them in areas outside their responsibility.
The second is to ensure that the project continues to make sense in the changing circumstances faced by the organisation. If the strategic plan changes then the project should be reviewed – an essential time for a project review but of a slightly different nature to a health check.
The group, usually called a project board in PRINCE 2 terms, should represent the main customers for the project and should require the project manager and main suppliers to provide evidence that the work is being properly managed and is meetings its commitments. The challenge by the governance group of the project team should be firm and supportive.
In that regard the topics that would need to be considered by the Project Health Check include:
A formal project plan, probably maintained on software such as Microsoft Project, is current and actively used to manage the project. It should include key milestones against which the project sponsor and governance group can monitor progress. The project manager should use a more detailed version of the same plan for day to day management. It should be
No project can deliver without the correct resources. A Solidus “Critical Friend” would want to see that the project had adequate and appropriate:
Managing all the groups external to project is usually a key role of the Project Sponsor with more detailed aspects falling to the project team. A Health Check would examine whether:
For many projects there will factors external to the organisation that will have an impact on the project Some will be picked up through risk management and others may be a key part of the project itself. A Solidus Project Health Check would want to consider the impact on the project of:
The final outcome of a Solidus Project Health Check would be a brief report. A Solidus Project Health Check report would be no longer than absolutely necessary and it would concentrate on the actions needed to get the project back into good health. It would be honest and when necessary would pull no punches.
The report would not be a typical thick consultant’s report. It would be a justified set of recommendations and a high-level action plan that should be built into the project plan.