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How to Build Effective Project Quality Assurance and Project Office In Organisations
What is the role of project assurance?
Project assurance is not a new concept and has been around in many organisations for years. The primary role of a Project Assurance function is to assure the quality and health of a project through independent quality reviews of a project and to provide project management recommendations and guidance. Essentially Project Assurance is there to ensure the right things are being done at the right time
Project Assurance is a key role in any project, programme or portfolio environment and can often be performed by the Project Office function or by an individual Project Assurance team.
The following are the key elements to any project assurance function:
- Centre of excellence
- Project guidance, procedures and process
- Project Quality Reviews and gateways
- Project health Checks
- Lessons Learned
- Knowledge management
Centre of Excellence
A Centre of Excellence (COE) is a project assurance authority that spans the organisation to coordinate initiatives and ensure quality is driven in standard ways across the organisation. The Centre of Excellence will capture best practice both internal to the organisation and from the industry and disseminate this information throughout the organisation and and integrate it into internal processes.
Very often the Centre of Excellence and The Project Office function can be managed by the same team through the Project Assurance function. The project assurance function and centre of Excellence may well contain experts in a variety of areas of project management such as risk management, benefits management or project planning. If those experts don’t exist within Project Assurance they should ensure they at least know who those experts are within the organisation so they can be referenced if required.
Project guidance, procedures and processes
Despite there being a large amount of project management best practice, most organisations tend to have their own processes and templates for managing projects. The project assurance function is responsible for understanding these processes and ensuring all project teams work to those procedures and guidelines. The Project Assurance function ensures that all templates and guidance is up to date and fit for purpose and easily accessible. Here Project Assurance assures the quality of the project management throughout the organisation.
Project Quality Reviews and Gateways
At distinct stages of a project the Project Assurance function can undertake quality reviews or gateways to ensure that the right things are being done and have taken place before progressing to the next stage of the project process. This could include reviewing plans, risk registers, benefits realisation plans, dependency logs and ensuring all control mechanisms are in place and being followed. The quality reviews may be technical and look at how the designs are being progressed and whether the product or service will work and how it will be tested, or they can be more general, looking at the project management or business requirements of a project.
Here Project Assurance provides assurance to senior management and end users that the right things are being done. It will also provide a checklist of requirements to be in place before the project progresses and will ensure that the project has met the points on this checklist before progressing. The Project Assurance process here reduces the chance of end users ending up with a product or service that is not fit for purpose.
At a Quality or Gateway review all key stakeholders to the project would have the opportunity to voice their concerns over any issues that could affect the success of the project. Some key stakeholders would also have the authority to stop the project. Here the Project Assurance function would be responsible for facilitating the meeting but not making the key Go / No Go decisions.
Project Health Checks
The Project Assurance function will constantly monitor the health of a project to ensure that it is doing all the right things. One tool for doing this a Project Health Check, these can be as formal as a Project gateway review lasting for several days for a large project or a less formal health checklist identifying the key criteria for the success of the project. These could take hours rather than days. The Project Assurance function would be responsible for facilitating the health checks whether gateways or meetings to run through the checklists and for assessing how the project is performing against those Key Performance Indicators using RAG (Red, Amber, Green) indicators. The actual health of the project however, is the responsibility of the Project Manager. Health checks can provide a key source of data for management reports.
Lessons Learned Reviews
At key points in a project such as the end of a stage or project closedown, Project Assurance should conduct lessons learned reviews with the project team and other key stakeholders. Here Project Assurance will capture elements of the project that went particularly well, to ensure that the good things are captured into process and repeated, and things that went badly so they can ensure that it is done better next time.
The Project Assurance function would facilitate these meetings to ensure the key lessons are captured accurately. Project Assurance would initially circulate a Lessons learned Questionnaire to all key stakeholders, collate the initial lessons and then run a workshop using the initial lessons to start off the discussions.
A key role of Project Assurance is to ensure that all lessons learned are captured and embedded into process within the organisation and that they are stored for future access. This knowledge can be disseminated through social media functions such as Blogs / intranet or by presentations / workshops and captured in a knowledge base that is accessible to the whole business.
A key issue with the lessons learned process is that often lessons are identified, but because the organisation doesn’t learn those lessons they repeat the same mistakes again and again. Project Assurance and knowledge management should be used to ensure that this does not happen by giving people access to the knowledge and ensure that individuals are put in touch with other people who have this knowledge.
The Project Assurance Team
The choice of team members for the Project Assurance function is important as it should be staffed by people with a combination of all types of project experience and those with management and leadership skills. It should be led by someone who has managed projects and has experience of implementing and embedding processes across an organisation. Communication skills, approachability and connections within the organisation are also key requirements for those working in Project Assurance.
The Benefits of Project Assurance
If implemented effectively, a Project Assurance function can add much more value than the cost of the few resources that it takes. However to succeed they must have authority to challenge senior management and be given the appropriate support to call on senior management and stakeholders to attend health checks and gate reviews. If used correctly the project Assurance function will ensure greater project success throughout an organisation for a minimal cost.