Performing a Project Health Check

As the project begins to gain traction and move along briskly, there is often a tendency by the project managers and the sponsors to just assume that things are progressing well. This complacency is not unusual, especially in situations where the team has demonstrated an aptitude to deliver in the past. Metrics and dashboards that are being leveraged by the project manager could also further reinforce the notion that ‘all is well’.

Regardless of outward appearance, subtle and underlying problems in the project could exist that are not easily discernable from a simple review of the metrics or discussions with the team. As such, it is often advantageous for the project manager to perform a rudimentary health check of the project at one or more times during its lifecyle.

With that being said, what are the key particulars of an effective project health check and how should it be performed?

Review the Business Case

Every project, as part of its overall project plan, should have some business case associated with it. Usually, this will become part of the project charter and will often be in the form of a Business Requirements Document. (Note: for additional reference, please read the post: The Project Charter – What is it and Why is it Needed?)

At its core, the business case and the high level business requirements document should give a holistic view of the project’s primary reason for being. By reviewing the business case with the stakeholders and sponsor, one can ensure that the current project progress and the deliverables being produced match up with the expectations as dictated by the business case and the Business Requirements Document. Deviations that manifest or are realized by the team should be addressed as soon as possible to ensure the project does not begin to move tangentially from its original goal.

Review the Project History

A quick refresher on the history of the project is also warranted as part of the overall health check. In many cases, an idea is pitched to the upper brass prior to the inception of the project which is eventually morphed into the business case for the project. However, as with any game of telephone, things can get lost in translation. So it is often a good idea to revisit the various things that brought the project to fruition and ensure that the orignal reasons for engaging the project align with the project’s current implementation.

Research and Discovery

This stage is often part in parcel with the Monitoring and Controlling process group. To a certain degree, some of these discovery items will already be heavily monitored by the project manager to ensure that the project is on track. As a rule of thumb, from the standpoint of the health check, the following items should be reviewed:

  • Performance against baselines
  • Ability to meet forecasts and key milestones
  • Benefits analysis
  • Overall project governance
  • Level of stakeholder involvement and engagement
  • Risk mitigation strategies
  • Contingency plans

Additional criteria can also be added by the project manager at their own discretion.

Health Check Report

The final step in the overall health check is to draft a full report based on the findings yielded from examining the aforementioned criteria. The health check report should include at a minimum, the following key items:

  • A list and summary of all key issues that were discovered
  • A root cause analysis with causal indicators listed
  • A Gap analysis
  • Key suggestions and ideas on corrective actions, if any are needed
  • A fix-it strategy with mitigation ideas provided

The health check report should be made available to the project stakeholders and sponsor once it is drafted. Any more severe issues discovered should be addressed immediately in a forum to ensure they are not left to simmer without resolution.

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Managing Your Meetings

meetingAny project manager in the industry is going to spend a fair amount of their time both attending and organizing meetings. They are a quintessential component of any project manager’s day-to-day duties and will likely consume a large portion of their time.

Yet despite the staple nature of meetings, often times, project managers can be surprisingly inefficient when it comes to how they set up, structure, manage and control their own meetings. This can become a very problematic issue, resulting in lost productivity and frustration for meeting attendees who may be required to attend follow-up meetings due to the manner and way the original meeting was handled.

With that being said, what are some policies and best practices that a project manager can and should employ to facilitate the best possible meetings for their given projects?

Come Prepared

This may seem like a no-brainer, yet it is quite surprising how many times a project manager will step into a meeting with little to no inkling of having things prepared up front. This can be as simple as ensuring that teleconference passwords are correct, the meeting room is functional in the form of having projection and display capabilities or that the WebEx, Live Meeting or Cisco Telepresence information was sent in advance. The more time that is spent having to wade through technical gaffes in meeting setup, the more time is wasted. Additionally, it sets a bad tone at the offset and gives the impression of unprofessionalism.

Have An Agenda

Somewhat of a carry-forward from being prepared, having an outline of what will be discussed in the meeting should be itemized up front. This will help encapsulate the meeting in an effective way and also give a better impression of how to manage time. In many cases, project managers can be too aloof in how they approach a meeting, many times underestimating how much time is available and how many discussion topics to cover. This can lead to situations where time essentially runs out because too much was spent on certain discussion topics at the expense of others. In many cases, certain discussions can be ‘shelved’ for the time being pending a follow-up meeting to ensure that all main topics are covered in ernest during the existing meeting.

Have Meeting Outcomes Itemized

This will be part of the agenda to a degree, but it is important to ensure that the meeting itself has some tangible outcomes that it yields. Otherwise, it is essentially not achieving anything. Meetings need to have some end result, whether it be simple status updates, architecture and design discussions, or general project related task overviews. Whatever the case, the meeting should be in place to achieve some goal and that goal should be understood up front, even if it is only the project manager that understands the outcome.

Keep Control of Your Meeting

Herding cats is a concept most are familiar with. And this concept is exemplified in spaces when it comes to controlling your meetings. As we all know in life, not all of us are created equal. Some are quiet while others are more boisterous. Some are reserved and others are opinionated. Whatever the case, it is important to recognize that in a meeting setting, you will have all these personality types often contained in one area, or connecting virtually. And if one is not careful about how things are being handled, a meeting can easily start to go off on tangents with the more dominant personality types driving the conversations in directions they want it to go.

As the project manager, the meeting is yours and it is up to you that it not only stays on topic, but that everyone is allowed to provide the necessary input. Having the agenda and a specific set of time constraints built into it can help tremendously in focusing the energy of the meeting on the tasks at hand. But you will also need to take steps to ensure things do not go too far off course. For issues that cannot be resolved easily in the meeting, shelve those for discussion later.

Start and Finish the Meeting On Time

A great way to ensure the future effectiveness of your meetings is to be diligent about time management. If you as the meeting organizer are complacent about when a meeting starts and how it ends, that will reflect on how people operate when attending your meetings. Someone who has a reputation as being prompt with start times, being focused to stay on course and being diligent about ending at the appropriate time will give attendees confidence that subsequent meetings will be dealt with just as efficiently.

Publish Action Items and Follow-up Immediately After the Meeting

This is probably one of the most overlooked yet extremely important aspects of meeting management. Generally speaking, when people leave a meeting, the ideas and discussion points are at the front of their minds. That goes equally for the meeting organizer, the project manager in this case. To ensure that momentum remains amongst the meeting attendees, it is important that all issues that were raised and all action items are itemized and published as soon as possible once the meeting has concluded. That will give meeting attendees the opportunity to review your meeting notes and provide any additional feedback while things are fresh in their minds. Waiting to publish meeting minutes and actions can degrade the quality of the notes as well as give too much of a gap for meeting attendees between meetings, thereby reducing the likelihood of staying ‘fresh’.

Do Not Hold a Meeting Just for the Sake of Holding the Meeting

In many cases, meetings become a recurring phenomenon. Especially for projects that have a long lifetime. However, there are times when a meeting is actually un-necessary and holding the meeting for no other reason than it appears in your Outlook calendar can actually detract away from  project momentum. Recurring meetings are fine in and of themselves but if you are struggling to find agenda topics or follow-up items for your meeting, than in all likelihood, the meeting is probably not required. By being smart about when to hold meetings and when to cancel them, your meeting attendees will actually be able to be more productive with regards to contributing to the overall project. It will also give the impression that you are not a creature of habit and are instead being pragmatic about how and when discussions need to occur in regards to the project.

Conclusions

Meetings are a general necessity when it comes to effective project management. Being smart about how you organize, handle and follow-up on your meetings is a major contributor to the success of the project as a whole. Understanding that meetings are meant to yield a specific outcome and are supposed to contribute to overall project success will give you incentive to be as diligent as possible in creating and structuring the best possible meetings that you can to achieve the desired outcomes you need moving forward.