In today’s business world, it is vastly important to track the progress and health of a project as you are executing it. This quick check can help you determine if you are on track to delivering successful results. Otherwise, you can only assume progress is being made. You are stuck assuming that the workplan developed early on in the project was good enough to account for those unknowns – which of course always pop up during the course of a project.
A project health assessment, or project health check can give you the visibility you need so that you have a good sense of what’s working, what’s not, and what may need to be improved to meet your desired end goal.
Think back to a time when you were at your doctor’s office. This may have been a while ago since most of us are Teledoc’ing it with the outbreak of COVID, but just go with it. As you were escorted back, the nurse would stop at the weight and height station to take your measurements. Then they would lead you on to the examination room to perform the next set of checks: your temperature, oxygen, and blood pressure levels.
These checks, commonly known as taking your vitals, allow medical professionals to measure your current health levels and to assess their ranges. The results are logged as inputs that eventually factor into your overall health assessment. The goal of which is to determine where your health falls and what care plan, if any, should be developed and administered.
Checking your medical vitals is a lot like checking your project’s vitals. It will either assure:
You may be wondering how exactly one can measure project health. Only once you have identified your key project health check metrics can you then set out to assess them. There are five project health metrics that you can use to report to your project stakeholders:
For an in-flight project – one that is already underway – you should start with reviewing the project schedule. This is because this constraint is the one most likely driving the project. Key stakeholders (like your project sponsors, project owners, and product owners) need to know when they can expect delivery.
For those newer to schedule management, the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) developed a robust set of guidelines known as the DCMA 14-Point Assessment. This thorough assessment will guide you through conducting an in-depth analysis of the schedule so you can identify and shore up any weak points.
In order to complete your schedule analysis, you will need to ask these questions to assess the logic within the schedule:
If that sounds like a lot, it is. Schedule Management is a specialty area. It’s also typically a dedicated role within the Project Management Office, as within large complex engineering initiatives. The integrated master schedule could be several hundred to a thousand line items.
Here is a more simplified approach that I often use to review a schedule:
Using these five questions, you may get a good read on the viability of your project schedule. Based on your assessment and impact on the project, you will assess red, yellow, or green status, and then review options with your key stakeholder team.
Assuming proper project planning is done, the budget would be able to withstand a certain level of additional cost that contingency funds and management reserves could address. This also assumes that you have a contingency set aside (see question 4).
Here are five actions in your project health check checklist to assess your budget performance:
Again, you will assess red, yellow, or green status and review options with your key stakeholder team.
After the budget comes Scope. The assumption here is the scope statement has been made clear, and the project team understands what needs to be delivered. It assumes that the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) or product backlog contains all the necessary elements to deliver the right product to the sponsor and ultimately the organization.
Here’s how I review project scope:
Within the scope review, you should look for delays and roadblocks that need to be tracked within the issues log. Issues are current problems within the delivery system (scope, budget, schedule, quality) that put the project at risk of adhering to the baseline project plan. All issues must be identified, assessed, and resolved. If you don’t, then the product probably won’t be delivered on time or budget – equaling project failure.
Here is a simplified approach to review your project issues:
Finally, you want to go back to the scope and look for possible failure points to add to your risk management plan. Without mitigating these risks, these failure points will degrade the health of the project.
One of the most effective tools to conduct this type of analysis is the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) commonly used in engineering. Here is a simplified approach to reviewing failure points using FMEA:
This diagram is typically comprised of four (4) levels: complex, system, subsystem and element:
The critical-to diagram will give you a visual of the critical components that are necessary to complete the project work which produces the final product for delivery. Review this critical-to diagram with the project team to elicit failure points.
Look at your critical-to diagram and walk-through each component with your team looking to identify the impact if the failure were to occur.
Use an “if, then” approach. If this component fails, then the product cannot be completed as was specified by the sponsor.
Once the failure modes have been recorded within your risk log, establish controls to prevent or detect the cause of the failure mode
Review the FMEA list often to ensure it is up to date and to control negative impact to delivery
The FMEA analysis allows the team to view the critical components that make-up the final product. This level of analysis can decrease the probability that a critical component was omitted, overlooked or was incompletely recorded.
While we recommend beginning with assessing the schedule, ensuring each vital sign is recorded at all is more important than the order. Some project sponsors view the schedule as top priority while others see the budget as the most critical. However, assessing schedule, cost, scope, issues, and reporting on each is universally accepted.
Just as a medical health assessment examines a patient’s current health state, a project health assessment is conducted to understand the health of a project delivery system, the quality of what the project is producing, and any necessary corrective actions to bring a project back to a healthy state.
We hope this quick project health check checklist can help you conduct your next assessment and ensure that you have positioned the project for successful delivery.
Brandon L. Coleman
Senior Principal Consultant
@ MI-GSO | PCUBED USA
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