Project Management Institute

Preventive medicine

Quick checkups can keep your projects healthy


VOICES   In the Trenches

By Kathy Bellwoar and Elizabeth Martens

WE KNOW THAT a regular physical exam at the doctor’s office is a great way to monitor health and identify problems in time to take action. But the same principle applies to the projects in our portfolios.

Projects are typically significant investments, yet most organizations face staffing challenges—few PMOs have the bandwidth to conduct full and regular audits of all projects. This creates the risk that unresolved or unseen issues could derail a project or cause substantial rework. Enter the “project checkup,” a simple approach to monitoring project health and compliance with the organization’s standards and goals.

The idea here is to define a straightforward set of characteristics to check, allocate a small amount of time from experienced project managers, and perform quick checkups throughout the year. It’s a good strategy for reinforcing key standards, developing staff and raising the overall level of project management. Here are some tips for implementing this approach:


What to check? First, define what should be evaluated as part of a project checkup. The key is to focus on what truly drives success without getting overwhelmed by details. The list might include items such as: Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined and understood by team members? Are risks and issues being surfaced and addressed? Is governance in place to set business direction, resolve issues, manage scope creep and approve key deliverables? Are regular status meetings being conducted? Are status reports issued? Are project milestones and spending being tracked against budget? Note that PMOs tend to have standard tools and templates useful for all of these, but these questions are more about how well team members understand and leverage them, rather than simply whether or not a standard format is being used.

As project managers and team members become familiar with the project checkup criteria, they start to apply them without waiting for an official checkup.

How to check? Next, it’s time to assign experienced project managers to perform a checkup for a project outside of their domain. This involves getting an orientation to the project and reviewing key deliverables. Then the evaluator should briefly interview team members to learn how the project is going in terms of the agreed-upon project checkup criteria. After this, the evaluator summarizes his or her findings and reviews them with project leaders, the sponsor and the PMO leader. The results should be one or more of the following:

  • An action plan for the project to address issues or investigate further
  • An action plan for the PMO leader and/or the project manager to improve skills, clarify standards or share tips for success with other project managers
  • Recognition for things that the project team is doing well

How to launch? A project checkup should take no more than a few days. This may mean that each project manager can do only one or two per year. However, it is still a tremendous developmental experience for project managers, allowing them to step outside of the day-to-day issues of their responsibilities and focus on what it takes to be successful—perspective that can translate back to their day-to-day load. It may not be possible to cover all projects, but ideally the organization will be able to touch enough projects to have a real impact.

How does this make a difference? Over time, this practice becomes self-reinforcing; as project managers and team members become familiar with the project checkup criteria, they start to apply them without waiting for an official checkup. The upshot is that all projects benefit even if it is not practical to check up on all of them. This positive behavior can be reinforced by making the project checkup process and results transparent across the organization, where practical. The project checkup process should not be treated like an audit (where findings can be negative) but rather as an important continual improvement tool that raises the level of success for everyone contributing to projects and project teams. PM


Kathy Bellwoar is the president and founder of PPT Consulting, an IT and management consulting firm in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, USA. Elizabeth Martens is director of client services at PPT Consulting.

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