It’s an all too familiar scenario, busily running an organisation while managing the day to day operations. All tasks seem a priority and your customers and sponsors have growing expectations. Alongside this, you are a sponsor for several critical projects. The juggling act just got a lot harder and doesn’t seem to be letting up.
You know where you want to be though. You dream of that end destination, that place where key project milestones are being met, benefits are visible and delivering on their promises while project teams and suppliers are working harmoniously to make it happen. From a sponsor and assurance point of view, you are involved in the really critical parts but are not continually pulled in to guide, direct or douse the flames.
When you are called upon, how do you go about tackling assurance on these key projects, where do you start and how do you target for most value? How can you make effective use of your time and delve straight into the key issues? Our ultimate, 5 point checklist is here to support you and get you heading in a positive direction.
Governance in action
How is the project being governed? Without clarity on key stakeholder roles, the project can lose momentum due to slow decision making or actions remaining incomplete. Ensuring that the team and client are both aware of their roles is crucial. What governance is in place to ensure actions are completed and project roles are recognised?
Regarding progress reporting, is it clear how and when it is shared and tested? How do the key stakeholders view progress and how often are they engaged?
Challenge the schedule
Review the plan and key assumptions to really understand how it is broken down. Understanding the variables that can be flexed, the vital requirements or nice-to-have items is essential. Are the team aware of all of these? How are you doing on the critical path and how are you mitigating any risks? Ask yourself honestly if you need to make resources available from elsewhere? Are there alternative options for delivery and what are the likelihood of these being needed? Ensure that changes are managed and approved and that the team has set out regular reviews.
Test the team
The team is everything. How is your project lead doing and are you fully confident in their ability to get you where you want to be, when and how you intended? In project environments, unlike business as usual, there often isn’t time to develop and build capability, you need it now and the timeline is relentless. Make changes early, consider skills for different phases and do everything to get the A team in place throughout.
It is highly likely that your project relies on third parties and other teams or departments to deliver successful outcomes. It is essential to work closely with your supplier leads and focus your assurance on their commitment to success. The fit of their team to your needs and the quality of their delivery is essential. Ask yourself what are they doing to ensure you get the best outcomes? Challenge and test this and ensure regular communications at the right levels are in place to drive success. Ensuring that you jointly review key risks and find solutions together helps to test their wider knowledge – how would they improve the project? Often your suppliers will have a critical eye that can offer a lot of value, but you need to ask and listen!
Hearts and minds
It is crucial to remember that hearts and minds underpin successful change. A project team should not be entirely technically focussed but should be addressing change from the outset. The practical benefits of a change strategy should be being demonstrated to stakeholders to win them over. Are they clear on the benefits for them? To roll out a successful change programme it is essential to know who has overall responsibility for this and how they are measuring progress. Do you have KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) in place to illustrate success?
So, what next? – why don’t you set up a health check session for your top 3 projects? Ask the team to score where they are against these 5 checklist areas by rating them on a scale of 1 to 5. Any area that scores under a 4, prioritise and take action. For any area that scores 4 and over, test if this is really the case! The filter to apply is ‘what can be done to get us to a 5?’ Remember that it is very rare for projects to score perfect 5s across the board, but this pragmatic assurance approach can get you to the key areas fast.
By making time, asking questions, listening and testing, you can work with your delivery teams to make positive changes enabling you to deliver critical projects and maximise benefits for your organisation. For more information about project, programme or portfolio assurance, contact Huw Jones firstname.lastname@example.org.