Project Management

The PMO should perform audits and assessments to validate progress

While it's easy to tell if your client is using a new technology that you helped implement, it's not so apparent whether they're following the project management processes you helped put in place. Here's how to make sure everyone is on the same page.

It’s one thing for a project management consultant to provide training and coaching and have appropriate processes and templates defined. It’s another thing for the new processes to actually be adopted and utilized by the project teams. If you want to change an organization’s culture and make sure that the new processes are sticking, you must make sure that the project teams are using them correctly.

Project audits are one way for an organization’s Project Management Office (PMO) to validate whether the project teams are utilizing the appropriate project management processes. Auditing can also be an opportunity for coaching by helping the project managers understand how the methodology is applicable to their project.

Consultants who help their clients establish a PMO may later find themselves helping the same clients determine whether the PMO has “taken.” In this column, I’ll cover a couple of important ways that the PMO can validate—through a combination of project auditing and organization assessments—whether all this work is effective.

Sixth in a series
This is the latest installment in a series of articles that explore the establishment of a Project Management Office. Previous articles have discussed training and coaching your clients, the basics of a PMO, customizing a PMO for your client, deploying a PMO, and project management methodology.

Project-level audits
During the project audit, a member of the PMO asks a series of questions to ensure compliance with the required processes and procedures. For example, the types of questions would include:
  • Did the key stakeholders participate in the planning of the project?
  • Have the sponsor(s) and major stakeholders formally approved the project definition?
  • Is the work plan being used to manage the work performed by the team?
  • Does the work plan accurately reflect the remaining work effort?
  • Can the project manager clearly explain where the project is vs. where it should be at this time?
  • Will all the deliverables specified in the project definition be completed?
  • Is the project on track in terms of cost, duration, and quality?
  • Are old risks being managed and new risks being identified?
  • Are issues being addressed and resolved in a timely manner?

Although the internal PMO will handle this service in most companies, project auditing is a stand-alone service that service providers can also handle. In fact, there are consultancies that have special expertise in auditing.

In some cases, having an outside party perform the audits gives the process an extra air of legitimacy that will cause senior management to pay attention.

If your organization is set up with the project managers reporting directly into the PMO, the adoption of project management processes is within the control of the PMO. However, in most organizations, the project managers continue to report into their functional organizations.

In any culture change initiative, middle management plays a key role in overall success or failure. Middle managers can be a huge asset if they are behind the culture change. They can also be the biggest obstacles to overcome if they’re not totally on board. (Unfortunately, this is more typical of the general role that middle managers play.)

To help reinforce the responsibilities of the managers, the results of the project audit should be documented and sent back to the project manager, as well as the manager of the project manager. The results should also be summarized and sent to the project sponsor and other management stakeholders.

If a team is not using the processes that have been championed by the PMO, the senior managers and the sponsor ultimately need to ask questions in an effort to bring the middle manager into compliance.

Don't audit all projects
The auditing process can be time consuming. It may take 20 or more hours per project to identify the right initiatives, schedule the meeting time, and document the detailed and summary findings. If there are follow-up action items, or multiple meetings, the audits can also take a lot of calendar time. Just as it isn’t possible to provide coaching for all projects, it is also not practical to audit all projects. Actually, you don't need to. Much of the push to implement standard project management processes is going to come from senior and middle managers. For example, if you audit a project in a certain department and they come out pretty well, it is likely that the other projects in that same area will come out well too, since the functional manager is probably helping with the push.

On the other hand, if you audit a project and they are not following the standard procedures, it is likely a sign that the manager from that area isn’t being supportive of the methodology, and other projects in that area will probably have problems. Raising visibility of the problem projects should bring organizational pressure to bear to make the proper changes.

Organizational assessments
In addition to project-level audits, the PMO should periodically look at the entire organization and assess how well the project management processes are being integrated into the work routine. This is a similar process to what was done at the beginning of the initiative in the Current State Assessment, the first deliverable that defines the pre-PMO organization, although the follow-up assessments are not nearly as detailed or rigorous.

The assessments can consist of feedback from project audits, interviews with key managers and stakeholders, anecdotal feedback, and any available metrics. These assessments are compared to the prior assessments to gain a sense for the progress being made. This information is especially interesting to the sponsor and other management stakeholders who need to understand how the implementation is going and whether it is successful.

For example, if more projects are completing successfully or if the project audits are showing that people are using the new processes, you’ll get the sense that things are heading in the right direction. On the other hand, if survey results show that the organization is resisting change, or if project audits are pointing out substantial noncompliance with the new processes, you’ll know you’re probably not moving the organization in the right direction.

If you’re implementing to a large organization, you’ll probably find that some areas are implementing the processes more effectively than others. For that reason, the assessment must cover all major departments or divisions.

By performing a number of assessments over time, the PMO can gain a sense of whether project management processes are being successfully integrated into the organization. Assessments also offer the opportunity to take corrective actions if the new processes aren’t being successfully integrated.

It would be nice if you could develop a common methodology, train everyone, and then sit back and let the magic happen. Unfortunately, this rarely happens in a culture change initiative. The PMO must look at this project management implementation in a holistic manner; including following up in certain cases to validate that things are progressing according to plan.

On a project level, this verification includes ongoing project audits to validate that project teams are utilizing the new methodology as expected. On a wider basis, the PMO should conduct periodic organizational assessments, and compare the results against the original Current State Assessment. These comparisons will point out the progress (or lack of progress) that has been made.

Tom Mochal is president of TenStep, Inc., a project management consulting and training firm. Recently, he was director of internal development at Geac, Inc., a major ERP software company. He’s worked for Coca-Cola, Eastman Kodak, and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. Tom has developed a project management methodology called TenStep and an application support methodology called SupportStep.

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