The project manager is responsible for establishing a viable project workplan (schedule) and making sure that the project is progressing appropriately against this schedule. However, in many cases it makes sense to have an outside party double-check to make sure the project is progressing as expected. This is especially true with large, critical projects. If you have a two-month project that takes twice as long as expected, you may be upset, but it won't materially effect your organization. On the other hand, if a two-year program budgeted at 100 million dollars takes twice as long and double the budget to complete, it could have a devastating impact on your organization.
It's not unusual for larger projects to be subject to periodic audits. The sponsor might call for a project audit if there's a concern about the state of the project. In some cases, periodic audits may be called for as a part of the overall charter. (In some organizations, these audits are referred to as Internal Verification and Validation or IV&V.)
For larger projects, the person performing the audit should be an experienced project auditor — either internal of external to the company. A project audit focuses on quality assurance — asking questions about the processes used to manage the project and build the deliverables. The audit can follow this process:
- Notify the parties. The auditor notifies the project manager of the upcoming audit and schedules a convenient time and place.
- Prepare for the audit. The auditor may request certain information upfront or ask the project manager to be prepared to discuss certain aspects of the project. This ensures that the actual meeting time is as productive as possible.
- Initial meeting. The auditor asks questions to ensure the project is on track. These questions are quality assurance related, verifying that good processes are being used, and then checking some of the outcomes of those processes. For instance, after verifying that the project manager is using good processes to update an accurate schedule, the auditor could review the actual schedule to validate the current project status against the schedule.
- Further analysis. On many projects, the investigative aspect of the audit might culminate after one meeting with the project manager. If the project is large or complex, the auditor might need to meet with other team members and clients and review further project documentation.
- Document the findings. The auditor documents the status of the project and the processes used on this project. The auditor should also make recommendations on areas that can be improved to provide more effective and proactive management of the project.
- Review draft audit report. The auditor and the project manager should meet again to go over the initial findings. This auditor describes any deficiencies and recommendations for changes. This review also provides an opportunity for the project manager to provide a rebuttal when necessary. In many cases, the initial findings of the auditor might be modified based on specific, targeted feedback from the project manager.
- Issue final report. The auditor issues a final report of findings and recommendations. The project manager may also issue a formal response to the audit. In the formal response, the project manager can accept points and discuss plans to implement them. The project manager may also voice his or her disagreement with certain audit points and explain his or her reason why.
Project audits are very helpful to get an outside opinion on the status of a larger project. In many cases, experienced auditors can point out potential problems with projects much quicker than the project manager might communicate them.