Project Management Book

...chapter 9 continued

Health checks - report

The health check report contains these things:

When the health check team review a project they may conclude that the project is in great shape but isn't following some of the project management rules because it is different from most of the company's projects. The review team don't recommend that the project should be shoe-horned into the rules but that the rules be modify better to help such projects in the future. This provides effective feedback from the project management coal face to project support who are the custodians of the rules and guidelines.

The health check team form a judgement about how likely they think it is the project will meet its commitments. One way of expressing their opinion is the A, B, C, or D rating.

Health checks - follow up

The follow up will clearly depend upon the rating.

To ensure findings are not simply ignored, following a B, C or D rating the project manager must in subsequent monthly reports to the sponsor report each finding until it has been actioned.

However, after a C or D more urgent action will be needed. Bearing in mind health checks are only done on the larger, more business critical projects, a C or D rating could be an exposure for the company, let alone the project. So the follow up after a C or D might be as follows.

Within 3 working days of the health check the project manager must meet face to face with the sponsor and explain the problems and the actions to be taken. And no doubt the project manager will get help from the sponsor and other relevant senior managers.

Strange though it may seem project managers sometimes positively welcome C or D ratings. Why might this be? Here is one example: A project manager had a resource commitment. The date arrived but the resource didn't. The project manager went to the resource owning manager who told him to go away. The project manager escalated to the resource owning manager's manager who also told him to go away. The project manager escalated to his own line manager for help in resolving the problem, but his boss said: "can't you deal with that?" Nobody wanted to know. The health check happened then to come along and gave the project a C rating. The sponsor received an independent report saying he was the only person with the authority to fix the problem. The sponsor ignored the report. The project failed. An audit was then carried out and the sponsor was asked what he did when he received the report and he replied "er, nothing..." and an audit finding went against the sponsor's name.

This is a rather extreme example but it does make the point that an independent report should be enough to galvanise senior management into action when they might otherwise be tempted to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. In our example, in a perfect world, the project manager would have gone to the sponsor with a clear statement of the problem seeking his support before the review team turned up. Though in a perfect world all projects would succeed and health checks wouldn't be needed.

Project managers may also welcome C or D ratings when they have just taken over a project. The project's in a mess, the project manager asks for a health check a) to get experts to help him identify the problems and b) to make it clear to the world that what he's taking over really is in bad shape.

And project managers may even ask for health checks even if they have managed the project from the start: the project manager is courageous enough to realise he is out of his depth and needs help, so asks the experts to come and do a review and help him identify what needs to be done.

Following a C or D, replanning is usually required and new budget and date commitments will probably need to be agreed with the sponsor. A follow up health check will be scheduled 6 weeks or so later to assess whether the project will at least meet its revised commitments. One hopes this second review will be an A or B - revised commitments will be met. Getting occasional Cs or Ds happens - all part of the fun of being a project manager. But getting two Ds in a row can be a little painful for the project manager.

Health checks - anecdote

One afternoon the project support manager was bumped into at the coffee machine by a developer. After the usual pleasantries the developer asked: "is a review planned of our project?"

What was the developer telling the project support manager? You should come and do a review of our project...

The project support manager spoke to his boss and said that although no health check was planned for that project he thought it would be a good idea to do one. His boss said: "that's what I pay you for, go do it". The project support manager approached the project manager and asked him if he would like a health check done on the project. The project manager was, to put it mildly, hostile. What would you have concluded if you had been the project support manager?

After some discussion with their mutual boss a health check was conducted. It was abundantly clear the project manager had been suppressing the bad news, not addressing problems and misreporting status. The team were all getting thoroughly disenchanted. The boil was lanced, corrective action was put in place. Suppression of difficult reality shouldn't happen but it does. Occasionally project support can in this way be a useful safety valve, releasing the pressure before projects spectacularly explode causing collateral damage to all in the vicinity.

Health checks - audience

Following an A or B rating a one line email goes to relevant senior managers: nothing you need worry about. After a C or D they get the full report or better still a presentation from the health check team. Senior managers should then ensure the project manager takes appropriate action and they will be aware of what they need to do to help get the project back on the straight and narrow.

Having said all of that, the health check report is first and foremost for the project manager, offering constructive and practical advice on how they might improve the project's health.

Informal reviews

Health checks, as described above, take a few days and are only appropriate for larger projects. For medium sized and less critical project an informal review can be valuable to the project manager. One person, maybe a project support person or perhaps another project manager, spends half a day with the project manager at his desk looking at the sort of things a health check would look at and offers advice, guidance, suggestions, etc. No written report, no A, B, C, D rating. Look upon this as a mentoring process.

Informal reviews can sometimes pose a dilemma though. If you did an informal review of a colleague's project and it was obvious to you the project was going to fail but the PM has been hiding the truth what would you do? You'd probably strongly recommend to the PM that he tells the boss and point out that if he doesn't you have a duty to. Otherwise you become an accessory.

Health checks - musts for successful reviews

To return to formal A, B, C, D health checks. The 5 Cs for successful health checks:

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