An Approach To Project Assessments

Every IT leader at one point or another will be asked to conduct project assessments.  Sometimes it is a project that was initiated by your department and others it is a project that was started in a different part of your organization.  Rarely are successful projects reviewed (even though we should, as we are missing opportunities to find out why they are successful).  More often than not, we are asked to review a project that is in jeopardy of failing or has failed.  Either way, it is important to provide a project assessments that are based on facts and provides a way forward for the project team and the project sponsor.

Here is an approach and standard format that I use for project assessments:

  1. It is critical to get a senior level/executive mandate to conduct project assessments.   By getting this level of support, all parties involved in the project will recognize that the assessor has a mandate to get access to information and to conduct meetings.  The end goal must be to get  the project to a successful business outcome.
  2. The next step is to conduct interviews with all the parties involved with the project.  Getting all the viewpoints is important so that your project assessments account for all the perspectives of the people involved.  Don’t forget to talk to any external parties if they had a role in the project.
  3. Gather all the project documentation you can find.  Read it!  Distill all the information into a timeline noting key milestones of the project.  Identify any points where the project deviated from the original plan.
  4. Clarify any questions you have by holding meetings with the people involved.  You may need multiple meetings to resolve any areas that are not clear to you as the assessor.
  5. Once you have all the information, write the project assessment report.

The format of a project assessments is important.  You need to consider the audiences who will be reading the project assessments to ensure the level of details your provide are appropriate.   If senior staff  or executives will be reading the project assessments, ensure you provide an Executive Summary that distills the essence of your assessment and your recommendation.

Here is a sample list of sections for your project assessment (I am providing them in the suggested order below):

  1. Executive Summary – mandatory if senior staff or executives are reading the report.  Ensure that you provide a Recommendation section.
  2. Project Overview/Background – details the information about the project from the initiation until the time of the project assessment
  3. Project Assessment Meetings – detail all the meetings and methodology you used for the project assessment
  4. Project Finances – especially if the project has run over budget, it is important to quantify all the costs to date
  5. Project Options – this is a critical section that provides guidance for how to proceed with the project.  Typical responses are:
    1. Continue with the current plan
    2. Create a new plan to get the project to a successful outcome
    3. Cancel the project
  6. Project Risks – describing the risks of each project option above.  This risk based approach will you make a recommendation for how to proceed.
  7. Project Recommendation – provide a recommendation for how the project can proceed to a successful outcome based on your assessment information.
  8. Appendix – provide any supporting documentation as required

I hope this guideline helps you with a high level overview of how to conduct a project assessment.  I welcome your feedback and suggestions on how I can improve my approach.