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Increase Organizational Effectiveness through Project Quality Audit Reviews

airportCorporations throughout the world are losing billions in wasted project spending owing to their mis-management, poor quality processes, lack of knowledge in how to manage projects, etc.   These projects are often not included in the normal auditing practices.  Understanding the process of auditing projects, in addition to their other best practices; will positively impact the organization’s profits, shareholders and customers by ensuring well-informed decisions are made about their key projects.

The outcome of project failure is wasted dollars that steal investor profits and have a negative impact on the organisation’s bottom-line.   A project quality review and audit provides an opportunity to uncover the issues, concerns and challenges encountered throughout a project’s execution.   It affords those responsible for the project with an interim view of what has gone well and what needs to be improved within the project to successfully complete it.  Conducting a project quality review & audit mid-way can help struggling projects to get back on track.  At the close of a project, it can help to develop success criteria for future projects by providing a forensic review.

Why Project Quality Reviews and Audits?

The success of projects is critical to the bottom-line of organizations.  Most projects face a number of challenges in meeting their time, budget and customer requirements.  A project quality review and audit provides organizations an opportunity to create future project success and generate savings.  Project quality reviews and audits may be conducted mid-way into a project or at its close.  Either way, they help to identify the root cause of problems and provide detailed guidance for how to get projects back on track and/or improve project performance on future projects.  In this way, a project quality review and audit has a direct, positive bottom-line impact on the organization.

Timing of Project Quality Review and Audit

Sometimes organizations choose to conduct a project quality review and audit at the close of a project to conduct a forensic review.  In this situation, it generates valuable insights about the organization’s project management capability and helps clarify “success criteria” for future projects.  Organizations use this information to learn from mistakes and make sure that they do not repeat them on future projects.

Who should do the Project Quality Review and Audit?

Regardless of whether the project quality review and audit is conducted mid-term on a project or at its conclusion, the process is similar. It is generally recommended that an outside auditor/consultant conduct the project quality review & audit. This ensures confidentiality but 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 quality review & audit of a badly managed project will find speaking with an outside auditor/consultant provides them with the opportunity to express their emotions and feelings about their involvement in the project and/or the impact the project has had on them.

We have audited projects from a variety of industry sectors including: Manufacturing, Information Technology, Software Development, Insurance, Banking, Mining, Government and Universities.  Despite the differences in their services and products, our approach to completing a project quality review & audit is similar.  It requires about three (3) very intensive weeks to complete the in-depth quality review & audit and deliver the final report.  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.

Project Quality Audit Review Process

The approach is broken down into three phases:

  • Phase 1:  Planning the Project Quality Audit Review
  • Phase 2:  Project Analysis
  • Phase 3:  Report and Recommendations

Phase 1:  Planning the Project Quality Audit Review

During the Planning Phase the project auditor/consultant plans the project quality audit process steps and dates.  As well, they clarify the expectations for the project quality audit by holding interviews with the project steering committee members and/or leadership team and/or sponsors as well as the project manager.

The objective of this phase is to:

  • Understand leadership’s “success criteria” for the project quality audit review to ensure their individual and collective needs will be met.
  • Determine whether or not consistent project management practices are part of the corporate culture.
  • Review any current project management processes, tools and templates that are expected to have been followed in the management of the project.
  • Examine the structure of the project as well as the roles and responsibilities of the assigned resources.

Planning the Project Quality Audit Review Case Study

The Situation

This organization undertook a major project to re-design one of their product development platforms.  This platform accounted for about 1/3 of their business.  It was valued at 200 million dollars and had 50 internal resources working on it.

The project included both manufacturing and software development.  The organization had wasted a couple of years on this project resulting in their competitiveness slipping from being the leader on this product line to number 3 in the marketplace.  This had a serious financial impact on the organization.  The leadership team determined that if they didn’t get this new product platform launched in the next 10 months, the very survival of the company was at risk.

In the past 2 years they had 3 different project managers working on it yet they still had no clear plan on how to launch.  They delayed hiring Business Improvement Architects to do an in-depth project quality audit review for 8 months from their initial point of contact.  It was only when the project was in a complete crisis and it was apparent the launch date could never be met that they finally decided to have the project quality audit review completed.

Bia™ Process and Approach

We started by presenting a number of questions to the project manager.  The answers helped identify who to interview, the questions to ask and the documentation to review.  These questions include:

  • Have competencies been developed for the various project roles i.e.; for the Project Manager, Core Project Team Leaders, Project Resources?
  • How were resources identified for the project?
  • What is the current project structure?
  • Does the organization have a specific project management methodology or framework as well as any specific project tools, templates and/or documents?
  • Are there specific lifecycles that this project must follow? I.e.; software development, new product development, etc.
  • Has a risk assessment ever been done on this project?
  • How are changes to the baselined project managed?

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 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 auditor/consultant identifies gaps in the level of detail in the project plan as well as dependencies, milestones, resources and control.  They 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.

The project auditor/consultant will sit in on selected project team meetings, sponsor meetings, customer meetings and other meetings.  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.

Project Analysis Case Study

During this phase we interviewed the project manager, project sponsor, executive steering committee members, core project team members, key internal and external resources (vendors, suppliers, contractors) and other key stakeholders.   We attended project core and extended team meetings, sponsor meetings and customer review meetings.  We reviewed all of the existing documentation including:

  • Project Structure
  • Issue Logs and action items
  • Scope Statement
  • Business and Stakeholder Requirements
  • Project schedule plans (baseline and re-baselined)
  • Budget plans (original vs. actuals)
  • Vendor, consultant and/or other external resource plans
  • Milestone Reports
  • Project Team Meeting Agendas and Minutes
  • 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

The Report and Recommendations phase results in the presentation of a detailed project quality audit review report to management with specific recommendations for overall performance improvement of the project.

The report includes the findings from all of the information collected; both from interviews as well as project documentation. It identifies all the project’s issues, concerns and challenges and, most importantly, provides specific recommendations and the actions to implement these actions so that improvements to the overall performance of the project can be successfully implemented.

When conducted at the end of the project the quality audit report provides valuable lessons learned for future application and validates that resources were effectively and efficiently utilized.  It also identifies any competency and leadership requirements for a Project Manager.

Report and Recommendations Case Study

Our final report included detailed recommendations and the actions required to get the project on track.  It was delivered to the senior leadership team.  They listened, asked questions and promised to report to us within the next few days.  The executive sponsor contacted us several days later.  He told us that this was the most difficult report they had ever reviewed.  Their initial reaction, after we had left their boardroom, was to discount the report as untrue, unfounded, etc.  Then they thought about it and realized that we had been the first consulting firm they had ever worked with that told them what they needed to hear – not what they wanted to hear.

They embraced our recommendations and asked us to work closely with them to implement all of the recommendations.  They recognized they didn’t have the internal capability.  It took 2 intensive months to implement.  They had originally wanted to launch in 10 months from when we started our audit.  By the time we helped them to implement our recommendations; they were on track to launch on the original date.

Conclusion

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.

About Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. He has been instrumental in helping his clients increase productivity and profits with his innovative approaches and focus on quality. For more information about this article, please contact him at [email protected] or phone, 416-444-8225.

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