What is a project audit?
A project audit is something somebody is doing, somebody loves, and somebody hates. A project audit, basically speaking, is an activity to review project status, vitality, and probability of delivery.
It’s the informal part. Or it could be focused on more formal attributes like how the project is following standards, doing all necessary activities, how complete and accurate project documentation is, etc.
Project audits can be executed by many different parties ranging from your colleagues, and internal audit to formal audit-oriented companies.
I’ll focus here on more informal audits that help you to understand how healthy the project is and what to do in case of any bad findings.
How to execute an informal project audit?
An informal project audit has to be informal. Right? I always do the audit in a way not distracting people from their work. Not to cancel their project meeting, no preparation, no formal way of interviews.
I do have a couple of areas to focus on during the Project audit:
Project morale and atmosphere
I always want to understand in what position project morale stands. It really makes difference.
Do people understand what are goals of the project? Do they like and are happy doing the project? Do they communicate? Are there real teams working together? How much are they solving daily issues or escalating everything immediately? How many leaders are effective leaders, empowered with the proper level of responsibility? Does everybody understand how the project is organized? Do they feel bored, passive, stressed, or full of energy and properly challenged?
There are many questions you should get answered during the Project audit. How to get the information? Interviews. You should select enough representative roles from different positions.
Does it include the project sponsor, all project leaders, key roles, vendors, and some project team members? Ask them rather a generic question. Let them talk. Listen, listen, listen. You need to observe the body language and feel the situation. This is more social situation information you need to collect rather than hard facts.
Project delivery approach and methods
I always want to understand during a Project audit what is the project approach to deliver. I need to understand what are the project phases, deliverables, quality controls… You need to study project documents like work plans, status reports, and design documents.
Always try to take a helicopter view. Just browse and scan. Don’t read documents in detail. Otherwise, you will get lost in detail.
You just need to understand whether a project is doing reasonable things and not check for all minor issues and gaps. That’s a different exercise.
Just a couple of examples:
What did I tell the Project manager reviewing his work plan? It was nice, detailed, very well formatted, a lot of colors. I told him: “You are focused on planning but not managing the project itself. Project manager usually doesn’t have time for polished project plan preparation”.
What did I tell the Chief architect after a large audience Architecture review board meeting? You are not doing your job properly. You should give the team enough guidance with your Solution Architecture Blueprint, Architecture patterns, and standards. Then they will not come to you with that many questions and requests.
What did I tell Test Team Leader experiencing a high number of unresolved bugs and a long resolution time? You don’t have proper identification of bug sources.
Everything is the same. But you have issues coming from bad designs, bad test data, external deliveries (interfaces), bad test scripts… And you’re handling all of them the same way, trying to assign everything to the implementation team thus overwhelming them with bugs and issues they are not able to resolve themselves, need to do analysis and handover to the proper party.
And therefore they don’t have the capacity to fix bugs, spending all their time on analysis and bug distribution.
Doing informal Project audit always try to catch and recognize issues in setup, concepts, and soft factors. It makes difference.
Project audit output
You have to produce some physical output from the Project audit. Why? You need to communicate your findings and recommendations. The report always serves this purpose, presentation even more. You should present your findings from the Project audit.
One important thing you shouldn’t forget. You should transform your findings into recommendations or even better into an Action plan proposal.
There is one trap you should try to avoid doing a Project audit. Try to understand what is the position of the guy, who called you, on the project.
You might find yourself in the situation of presenting major mistakes to a guy, who did these stupid mistakes and even made your findings public. This guy will not be your friend, will he?
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