Too often the term ‘project audit’ has negative connotations, which in some ways is understandable given that an audit is usually put into action when something has gone wrong on a project. Despite this negative context, it’s worth remembering that a project audit can help to bring about a hugely positive outcome on a derailed project. When conducted during a project, an audit can help to identify any issues and implement remedial action before it’s too late.
Once a decision has been made to carry out a project audit, a number of considerations need to be taken into account. Here are four major elements to take into account when conducting a project audit.
1. Internal vs. external audit
Should you conduct an internal or external project audit? While large organisations may have their own internal audit teams or departments, employing an external auditor has many benefits. For one, project team members often feel much more comfortable having a candid conversation about the history and status of a project with an external facilitator, and this can greatly increase the depth of information gathered during the audit interview process. In addition, an outside and impartial auditor will bring a more objective and unbiased perspective to the audit process, and can bring a wealth of specialist experience and a tried-and-tested audit methodology to your project.
2. Project audit objectives
Before launching into the audit, it is important to define the success criteria and objectives of the audit itself so that all stakeholders have equal expectations around the outcomes, and so the success of the audit can be measured. Typically the project audit objectives will read as follows –
• Accurately assess the state of the project and identify any issues across two key areas:
i. The quality of the products/services being delivered.
ii. The quality of project management processes, procedures and outcomes, including project budget and timescales.
• Present options for remedial action. For example, is it viable to fix the issues identified and proceed in the direction originally planned, or is new approach required? Is discontinuing the project perhaps the best option?
• Identify the business risk and feasibility of each of the options identified.
• Present short, medium and long-term recommendations, along with how they can be implemented as part of the project recovery plan.
3. Project audit methodology
There are two primary components to collecting information during a project audit. Firstly all documentation, logs and artefacts produced during the project will be collected and examined. Following that a series of interviews with relevant stakeholders, both internal and external, will take place. The topics normally reviewed during the research phase of a project audit are:
• Project alignment to business strategy – review of the project business case, and whether each deliverable can be justified against the business strategy.
• Project organisational structure and resourcing – are project resource levels aligned with project objectives and timeframes, and do the people involved have the right qualifications, experience and skills?
• Project governance processes and tooling
• Key project artefacts, including:
o Scope statement
o Business requirements
o Design documents/technical specifications
o Project plan & test plan
o Meeting minutes & action items
o Risk logs, issue logs & change logs
o Project status reports
• Solution architecture, both physical infrastructure and logical business process mapping.
• Technical review of code base and server logs.
4. Putting the recovery plan into action!
Once the audit research phase has been completed the auditor will produce the audit report outlining the audit results and recommendations. Work can then begin to make a decision and put the chosen plan into action. This may to include measures to re-align the project against business strategy and restructure internal and external teams for successful project delivery. It may be that a redefinition of scope and new project plan is required, as well as a revised budget. Whatever the outcome, even if that ends up being the cancellation of the project, by conducting a thorough external audit an organisation can proceed with the confidence that they have evaluated all possibilities and made an informed, considered decision. Very often this act of drawing a line in the sand, reevaluating and then implementing a positive plan of action can re-invigorate a project, motivate and refocus the project team and provide them with the right formula and tools for success.