I recently had the experience of being audited. The very large and complex IT project I was leading had been suffering from numerous delays and excruciating challenges, making it a prime target for critique. The prospect of opening the wounds of our project difficulties was unsettling; despite the full confidence in our efforts and positive progress, there was pain we would be revisiting. Despite our concerns, though, our ending experience was surprisingly positive, and I believe it could (and should) be for any Project Manager.
Statistics abound on the success rate of projects…or lack thereof. One measure has 75% of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects will fail, often ‘doomed from the start’. Some estimated expect 33% of projects to fail due to lack of involvement from senior management. Yet the project success rate can be largely impacted by the organizational structure, where 89% of projects are successfully completed in high-performing organizations compared to only 36% in their low-performing counterparts.
These statistics suggest that the presence of project audits, and the opportunity to participate in one, is a good thing because is demonstrates the desire for business leadership to be positively involved.
Turning an Audit into a Positive Experience
So just how could the audit of our problematic project be considered a good experience? To start, we were fortunate to have an experienced audit team that clearly described the process and timeline. Knowing what to expect is comforting to any project manager, which allows us to prepare.
Secondly, the project’s executive sponsors offered both their continuing support, and expectation for audit success. Our team had been held to high expectations all along, which also came with help getting past our problems. Approaching the audit, we did not feel alone.
Ultimately, though, the audit was about the management of project resources (people, time, money) and communication. That is, the basic, fundamental, core elements of project management. Solid executive sponsorship is definitely a positive. Having strong team members allows for faster progress. The availability of standard artifacts promotes easier communication. Yet these things won’t make your project, or audit, successful. In your role as project manager, you need to remember to stick to the fundamentals and do your job.
Fundamentals of Project Management
What are those fundamentals of project management? The very things that all project managers know need to be done, and know how to do, yet too often let slip while addressing situations that are deemed priorities at the time. I admit that it sometimes is a conscious fight to keep a regular cadence on these fundamentals, and I have to remind myself of the pain felt when problems have arisen due to doing my job as well as I should have. Specifically, what I have found as the absolutes are:
- Status Reports – Always complete on a regular basis, always complete in their entirety to the organizations expectations, always post them in a location for the project stakeholders to easily access. And always include the Issues and Risks.
- Issues – Never be shy in sharing problems with your project, have a named resource who owns resolution, and when the issue needs to be resolved.
- Risks – Clearly state what the risk is, what the impact would be, who owns mitigation of the risk, and when the mitigation is due. Separate risks (i.e. something that has not happened yet) from issues (i.e. something that has occurred), and track their relationship (i.e. a risk is not resolved and turns into an issue).
- Decisions – Track those key decisions of the project; description of the decision, who participated in the decision, and when it was decided upon.
- Steering Committee – Have a routine. Stick to a regular schedule to meet, and include clear meeting minutes and action items.
- Meeting Minutes – Decide which meetings are key for the group and keep minutes, complete with action items, and post in a location in which the entire team has access.
- Project Plan – The format of the project plan can differ between Waterfall and Agile project management, yet having complete planning for the activities based on the project management method being used is a must-have. The plan is a living document to be used for tracking.
This all sounds so easy – being commitments that all Project Managers make upon acceptance of their responsibilities. Adhering to this rigor will help identify and prioritize work, and are the fundamental items that will allow you to have a successful audit. Why, for heavens sake, would these simple items not be completed on a regular basis?
The reality that Project Managers face is that, as simple as these items appear to be, they aren’t always considered important by others. Creating Status Reports does require time, which is often in short supply. Critics have been known to allege that people don’t read them, anyway.
Project Management is fundamentally simple, where you take inputs and plan what is to be done, then use commonly accepted controls to monitor progress through project completion. In practice, it can be extremely difficult due to the dynamics of people, organizations and technical challenges. The trick for a successful project, as emphasized by going through a successful audit, is to focus on the fundamentals. By doing that, you maximize the probability of success.