Get a 7 Star Project Rating
Delivered by DignusGroup’s Health-Check Programs
|It’s a “must” that know if your project is ‘healthy’ where any problems are and whether they are retrievableA focused Project Health Program is not an audit to check up on the project team it is not to validate compliance with methodologies policies standards per se.|
Essentially it is a structured set of processes that will provide a detailed dissection of the entire project, including its operational capability to deliver the expected value to the customer regardless of that customer being;
- an internal section of an organisation,
- the entire organisation or
- an external commercial customer.
A Project Health Program will investigate and validate:
- In the Business Case, has the entire ROI (Return on Investment) identified and how will validation be assessed and agreed?
- Has the various project elements been successfully aligned to maximise its delivery?
- What is the current state of the project (actual vs. planned)?
- What has been implemented as contingency to ensure successful outcomes and delivery
- Is the project operating at is optimum in efficiency and effectiveness
The primary focus on a Project Health Check is to be Pro-Active NOT Re-Active.
It is an insurance policy for your project investment.
Project Health Checks need to be both natural and independent, done without fear or favour and to deliver their findings ‘warts and all’.
As soon as you have a situation where the reports are “‘managed” or “sanitised” by any party, their value plummets, and that is not compatible with value management.
Stakeholders & Management should know if a project is ‘healthy’, where any problems are, and whether they are retrievable.
- Being a practicing member of the “Ostrich Management Society” (hiding your head in the sand) is not recognised as effective and efficient delivery management!
- There is often resistance to conducting a Project Health Check, as many may see it as distrust by senior management, checking up on other associates within the group or dept.
- Some don’t want their peers or associates looking into their domain or territory.
- Many fail to see the benefits or think it is money NOT well spent.
- More often it is a case where issues are present but management are trying to cover it up to avoid being seen as a failure.
At the end of the day none of these reasons are truly valid points for not implementing a Health Check Program.
Critical Failure Points
In our experience, we have identified that there are 7 critical failure points that MUST BE ASSESSED to ensure project success.
Pre-Approval Assessment: It will give you confidence that your project is ready or not to proceed based on objective analysis of the teams key performance criteria and competencies linked to the stated project objectives. This is essential for an organisation especially when key functions or components of a project are being outsourced.
Tollgate Review Process is a “current state” project review that delivers short, intensive evaluations of your project’s status, validating completion of critical or mandated deliverable in the current phase of stage and approval to move to the next phase or stage. There are usually four to six critical stages or key decision points at the end of each project phase.
Project Initiation Phase: There must be a clearly defined business strategy, properly aligned with your stakeholder expectations, the external environment, and validation of both current and future organisational capabilities
Project Requirements Phase: There must be a detail set of requirements that are agreed by the customer and or key stakeholders. Sufficient detail is required so the team understand each and every deliverable. Key functional requirements need to be reviewed and to ensure that the organisation has the ability and competencies to deliver. Detailed “acceptance criteria” must be agreed and signed off prior to commencement of any design and development. Standards in relation to design and development must be tabled and agreed to ensure acceptable levels of quality and any compliance required.
Project Design Phase: A critical junction in the project, it is essential that there are detailed designs created that clearly identify all levels of functionality of a product or process. It must identify any integration points in detail as these are classified as critical failure points in a projects development and testing phases. Depending on the product or process or service being delivered by the project, it is often required (and recommended) to trial or pre-test / evaluation a design as in prototype.
Project Development Phase: At this point, the project must have a set of approved requirements, designs and initial reviews & assumptions on the product or service it has been mandated to deliver. The Development phase is critically the point of no return for a project and therefore must ensure everyone is fully informed on current activities, tracking against the project schedule and expenditure is actuate. Within the Development phase a project often creates multiple stages to ensure quality delivery; tasks are broken down into smaller components for effective management. Tracking and monitoring of these multiple stages is critical as this also create a higher level of potential failure points within the project. Therefore additional Tollgates or Review points should be in place to ensure quality production and provide mitigation against potential failure points.
Project Testing Phase: Many say this is the most critical point of a project, however in our experience, it is the combination of the previous phases of a project and the Testing Phase that are critical, should the project experience significant failures in its initial testing there is a high probability that the fault stem from either the requirements, design and development phases if not all three. However in the testing phase there must be a clear set of protocols established for testing and approval of a product or service. Testing standards would have been developed and approved in the Requirements and Design Phases of the project. Test Acceptance Criteria is required at these earlier phases to ensure, Quality Assurance in Development and to ensure validation of the product or service meets initial Stakeholder or Customer Requirements.
Project Delivery or In-Service Phase: Many consider a project to be completed or finished when the product or service has been tested and it past. While in some situations this is true; there are still some critical points of failure yet to be successfully managed. The product or service must be delivered and or implemented in its new environment regardless of this being internal to the organisation or external to a commercial customer. Hence critical activities are yet to be completed. Successful delivery is only achieved when the product or service is fully operational, the customer is able to use and gain benefit from the delivery.
The activity called “Go Live” is often viewed as the critical success point of a project. This complimented by beneficial gains achieved by the customer as per agreement in the Business Case and Requirements are generally classified as “Acceptance Criteria” to which, when achieved, you have delivered your project. Finally the actual life-cycle of the product or service is the final component we need to review.
There has to be regular updates or improvements made, often maintenance is required and particularly when a product has multiple integration points, this is often a “in-direct failure point” as the cause flows from actions or activities within another project / product or service, to which there must be a monitoring process to avoid a potentially critical failure.
What Are Health Checks?
A ‘Health-check’ is a snapshot of the “current state” or “status” of a project or programme in order to identify what is going well and what areas need improvement.
It’s a well-known fact that Project managers, sponsors and members of the project team are often so involved in the general day-today activities that they may not recognise a pending failure or serious risk approaching, the true status of a project. The health check’s 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.
Why Use Health Checks?
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 Health-checks on a sample of projects enables common issues and non-compliances to be captured and resolved in a cost-effective way and applied to future projects.
Who Should Conduct Project Health Checks?
Health-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. .It is often the case where the news is not so good, it is better coming from natural independent experts. Along with key recommendations
A good Health Check practitioner will use a Best Practice Framework based on maybe PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) and will align this to the organisation’s unique frameworks for
- Project Management – Delivery Methodology
- Quality Assurance
- Current corporate strategic roadmaps
- Other mandatory policies, e.g. regulatory compliance, OH&S, Finance etc.
When Should You Do Health Checks?
There are two ways you can approach project health-checks:
Primary: As part of the organisations Continuous Improvement process or planned Project Review Process to identify problems before they occur.
Secondary: Perform when the project is in trouble to identify what needs to be fixed.
Remember, undertaking a Health Check at the time where a project has been identified as being in trouble is certainly helpful in being able to diagnose the issue or issues but it maybe to late or at best, a costly remediation process to get back on track
Proactive Health-checks ensure the project begins and runs as efficiently as possible but a reactive Health-check can set an over-budget or late project back on track. Both have their place – depending on the size of the organisation and project complexity.
Project Health Checks – Where do you look?
The following categories are area’s where your warning signs will most likely appear. These should be considered to be the most common for organisations that successfully use health-checks to identify problems:
Business Case validation
Organisations run projects for many reasons. Mostly related to business improvement, facilitate growth, and of course technology upgrades. Projects are also the delivery mechanism for increasing customer satisfaction, enhancing efficiencies, or developing a new product as in R&D.
The health-check both reviews and scrutinises the stated objectives throughout the project life cycle ensuring that the initial requirements are being tracked, developed and on target to delivery within approved time and cost approvals.
There are 2 main areas to be monitored within the “project controls’:
- based on a preliminary schedule (timeline) you can estimate resources required to achieve delivery
- the expected costs to be incurred in a specified period of time e.g. next quarter or next year or overall cost.
Compliance delays with both external and internal needs. Just like other sections or areas of the organisation, there are often regulatory standards that a project must follow and the team may often require specialist advice from legal and finance depts. to ensure a satisfactory level of compliance. With Internal compliance there is a need to have a consistent approach to practicing project management across an organisation and to make sure organisational frameworks, standards, and methodologies are adopted to embody best practice, improve effectiveness, and streamline communication.
Risk and Issue Review
While it’s a common practice for managers to perform the ‘obligatory’ risk management assessment in the beginning of the project, it is often found that overtime the updates and reviews are forgotten or they plan the next review for the next phase of the project but never get around to doing it and while things appear to be running ok, it is not addressed. The health-check examines the risk management plan, identifies key risks and whether they have a mediation plan in place should the risk eventuate during the life of the project.
Successful project management is widely accepted to be a team effort. Accordingly, the project manager needs to be concerned about communications and relationships between the team members. This also includes the various project stakeholders as any issues impacting the team can threaten success. Relationships need constant monitoring, support and often encouragement or nurturing.
An important component of the Project health-check process is to look at how the team is functioning, the level sponsor commitment (often strong at the start but may weaken later), review client satisfaction and into consideration, any other human factors that could adversely impact the project.
A critical success factor for all projects is its governance structure or framework. Projects are run like most organisations as in there is a leader (Project Manager), there is often a small group of senior experts (Team leads) that are experts in unique fields like System architecture, Engineering, Finance, Legal etc. then you will have the main project team that work in some of these specialised fields and other activities.
Everyone needs to know and understand how the project will function, how to conduct meetings, record information, who reports to who, how to obtain approvals, make changes to designs, schedules and budgets etc. Also what standards are being agreed or required by the organisation or even the customer.
The Project Health Check will review the governance framework and its structure to ensure it is functioning well and identify any need for change or improvement
What to look for?
Over time, we have identified a range of issues that often appear in projects with potential to derail or impact successful delivery. While the following list is not ALL inclusive, it will provide a overall view on what to look for and where.
The Health-check review should always include assessment of:
|Area for Review||Activities for review and monitoring|
|Project Scope||initial definition, variation, adjustment of the plan (managed by a change control process)|
|Budget / Costs||tracking processes, reconciliation, projections and variations|
|Time / Schedule||schedule suitability, currency, reflection of scope, use of milestones, tracking, action plans|
|Quality||Existence of quality plan, quality standards, quality review actions, testing, resourcing|
|Resources||sufficiency, competency, time allocation, cooperation, team management, efficiency, team morale|
|Procurement||use of external resources, engagement process, contract negotiation and delivery management|
|Risk Management||approved risk plan, stakeholder involvement, agreed mitigation strategy, review process, issues log, documented resolution and escalation processes|
|Contingency Planning||approved contingency plan, detailed contingency testing, robustness of contingencies|
|Governance||reporting process, management review checkpoints / tollgates, meeting standards, tools, skills and process adequacy, compliance monitoring, company methodology|
|Training||approved training plan, training materials, trainer availability, staff availability, pilot and review process|
|Business Process||documented business processes both current state and future state, implementation requirements, detailed planning and testing documented and approved|
|Roles and Responsibilities||agreement on definition, accuracy, team support, executive support, responsibilities and accountabilities clearly stated & accepted|
|Requirements||approved documentation with sufficient detail on actual functional and non-functional processes or instructions, tracking of changes, record of changes and approvals.|
|Documentation & Records||relevant structure for storage and access, version control, meeting agendas and minutes, signatures, approvals, reports, glossary, decision records|
|Implementation & Acceptance||approved implementation plans, launch / go-live support, relevant approval or authorisation, delivery and acceptance criteria aligned to testing|
|Benefits & Realisation||Post Implementation Review process ( PIR)- review of projected benefits, changes in relevance, measurement of benefits, delivery ownership, lessons learned.|
By making the decision 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 project’s success.
What does it cost?
The cost of engaging independent practitioners to conduct regular health checks is usually only 1-2% of total project costs for large projects & programs and 4-8% for smaller projects, which is considerably less then costs incurred with having to repair or revamp or even restart a project in trouble.
The table below is a “generic and approx.” guide to costs based on total value of a project, end to end timeline. These are costs and estimates based on actual Program & Project Health Checks Dignus Group have undertaken over the past 7-9yrs
|Approved Budget||Project Time||Frequency of Health Checks||Approx. cost of Health Checks|
|$500,000||4-6mths||4-6||$XXX contact us for details|
|$2,000,000||5-6mths||6+||$XXX contact us for details|
|$4,000,000||6-9mths||6-9||$XXX contact us for details|
|$10,000,000||9-12mths||8-10||$XXX contact us for details|
|$20,000,000||12-18mths||9-12||$XXX contact us for details|
|$25,000,000||18-24mths||12-18||$XXX contact us for details|