Is Your Project Healthy?
What is a project health check and why it is important.
In my previous blog, I explained how gateway reviews can help you achieve better outcomes through independent assessments at key points during your programme or project. Now let’s focus on health checks; what is a health check and why it is important.
What are health checks?
As with the gateway reviews, health checks have been around a long time and are frequently, but not always, incorporated into programme and project lifecycles. In many cases they are inconsistently applied and their full benefits are not achieved.
Many of Australia’s state governments have successfully implemented health checks as part of a mandated ‘gateway’ process for their infrastructure and ICT programmes and projects.
Like gateway reviews, health checks are ideally performed by independent experts; a review team comprised of experienced practitioners relevant to the focus area of the health check.
“The ‘health check team’ are selected for their relevant experience and expertise”.
Unlike gateway reviews, health checks are typically more targeted and can occur at any point during a programme or project, not just the typical phase / stage ends used for gateway reviews. Health checks can either be planned for a deep dive review of a deliverable, or ad-hoc, in response to risks or issues that may arise anytime during the initiative.
When should I undertake a health check?
The appropriate points for health checks will depend on your programme and project methodologies / lifecycles, while their depth and breadth can also vary based on the scale, complexity and risk of the initiative. The important rule is to be proportionate and therefore tailored to suit the situation.
What is a health check comprised of?
Below is a list of example health checks that may be performed:
General project health check:
- Is governance working?
- Is scope under control?
- Is the initiative running to schedule?
- How is the budget looking?
- Is the project where it is mean to be for time and money spent?
- Are the risks being managed?
- Have benefits been defined and is benefits realisation being planned?
- Is the business case still robust and valid?
Procurement strategy focus:
- Is rationale for the selected procurement model robust and valid?
- Has the procurement strategy considered market constraints and opportunities?
- Will the chosen procurement strategy deliver in time?
- Have lessons learned from previous project’s procurement been applied to the procurement strategy?
- What procurement risks have been identified and how will they be managed?
Risk management focus:
- Is there a robust and appropriate risk management process in place that includes a risk prioritisation mechanism?
- Are risks being assessed in terms of impact, probability and proximity?
- Is there evidence of ongoing identification of emerging risks?
- Are risk management plans documented and their effectiveness reviewed?
Stakeholder engagement focus:
- Has a robust stakeholder analysis been completed, and key stakeholders identified?
- Is there a programme or project sponsor / defined sponsorship model?
- Is there a change management strategy or plan and is it being executed?
- Is there a communications strategy or plan and is it being executed?
- Have stakeholder engagement risks been identified and are they being managed?
- Is there a feedback mechanism in place to confirm effectiveness and responses applied if required?
Implementation plan focus:
- Does the plan consider actions and impacts for all stakeholders?
- Has an overall approach been defined and been socialised and agreed with all impacted stakeholders?
- Is the schedule at an appropriate level of detail?
- Are there checkpoints for key decisions?
- Who will make them and how?
Here at 2PM we have several tools (as well as the experience) to guide health checks. Below is a summary page from an example 2PM General Project Health Check Assessment Tool showing the key areas assessed.
Each key assessment area is underpinned by several targeted questions to establish an accurate picture of the health for your project and to identify where action may be needed to achieve better project outcomes.
As with gateway reviews, important features of a health check include supplementing the existing team’s expertise and offering suggestions and / or recommendations on how delivery of the initiative could be improved to increase the likelihood of success. Key principles applied to executing health checks include:
- Relevancy: the programme or project team should be transparent in the information provided for the health check.
- Efficiency and Flexibility: the scale and scope of the health check is appropriate to the programme or project, its stage or phase, and can also target specific known or emerging issues and risks.
- Collaboration and Cooperation: everyone on the team should be focused on identifying issues, risks, and improvements, thereby adding real value to the initiative.
6 Steps to undertaking successful health checks:
- Determine the relevant key and decision points in your programme and / or project lifecycle considering the types of programmes and projects you do. However health checks can be used in response to risks and issues that emerge during the programme or project.
- Consider defining a risk-based approach to the application of health checks as not all programmes and projects will need the same level of rigor (e.g. number of, as well as depth and breadth of, health checks).
- Consider how best to address the need for reviewers to be independent of the delivery. Can this be provided in-house or will you need to engage help from outside your organisation?
- Plan and schedule health checks in your programmes and projects, select your reviewers, engaging from within and outside your organisation as required.
- Undertake the health check; meet with your sponsor to agree on specific scope, documentation review, interviews, analysis, formulate and present recommendations. For continual improvement purposes, also remember to gain feedback on the health check process itself!
- Consider all and apply appropriate health check recommendations to the programme or project to enhance successful outcomes.
Need help to review, set up or run your gateway reviews or health checks? Like to discuss further? We’d love to chat, preferably over a coffee.
1 The Australian Institute of Project Management & KPMG report “Project Delivery Performance in Australia” – Project Management Survey 2020, https://info.aipm.com.au/project-delivery-performance/