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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PROJECT AUDITS

When you complete a major project, it is a good idea to conduct what is called a "Project Audit." The idea is to document what went right and wrong during a project and, hopefully, learn something beneficial from the experience. Surprisingly, few companies take the time to perform such an audit. If the project was successful, they want to move quickly to the next assignment. If the project was a disaster, they want to bury and forget about it as quickly as possible. This is a shame under either scenario.

If the project was successful, the elements for success should be clearly identified and become a part of a company's "best practices," thereby others can emulate and achieve similar success. If the project was a disaster, the elements leading to failure should likewise be documented so others can avoid similar pitfalls. Either way, a Project Audit is a valuable document, which is why I'm puzzled when companies avoid performing them. It is certainly not a waste of time and money. As the old saying goes, "We learn from our mistakes as well as our successes."

Frankly, I think people are more inclined to feel embarrassed about a Project Audit, as you hear of too many project failures in corporate America these days, particularly in the I.T. sector. It seems people have trouble finishing projects on time and within budget. In fact, project overruns seem to be the norm. Consequently, people do not want to have their name associated with a disaster and will go out of their way to cover it up. I guess it is human nature to think this way.

Companies avoid performing Project Audits so much, many of them have forgotten how to prepare one. First, the person performing the audit should not be the project manager or lead designer. Rather, it should be a neutral observer who doesn't have any problem judging both right and wrong. The Project Auditor should analyze the following:

1. Estimated versus Actual schedules and estimates (both costs and time).

2. A final Cost/Benefit Analysis should be prepared which, hopefully, can be compared to one prepared in the initial Feasibility Study.

3. If the project is product oriented (to design and develop something), an analysis of the finished product versus its design specifications should be prepared.

4. Conduct interviews with project participants to gather insight as to what went right and wrong.

The final report should be professionally prepared and presented to pertinent managers and executives to study. The presentation should be somewhat clinical in nature as the presenter should avoid both disparaging and complimentary remarks as they may offend someone. Just be matter-of-fact in the presentation and let the reviewers come to their own conclusions.

Years ago, we were asked to perform a Project Audit for a company in Wisconsin, it's part of what we do as a consulting company. Two projects were observed; Project "A" was executed smoothly and professionally, so much so that the project team wasn't recognized for their accomplishment, thereby creating a morale problem. Project "B" was the antithesis of "A" and went out of control almost from its inception. Remarkably the Project Manager and team leaders of Project "B" were well recognized and often complimented for their ability to put out fires during the project. We made note of this in our Audit report but went on to say that the only problem with rewarding their "fire fighters" was they also happened to be the company's chief arsonists. Whereas the "fire fighters" were recognized for screwing up, the Project "A" team went virtually unnoticed for doing a good job. In other words, our report revealed shortcomings in how people were rewarded in the company.

Maybe that's the real reason why people don't like to perform Project Audits; they plain and simply don't want to hear the truth.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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