When I was a junior consultant, I viewed project assurance with more than some trepidation. The scrutiny poured on my work by the manager felt like a school examination (which I was not passing). I had been cramming the previous night, checking project descriptions, ensuring documentation was signed-off and noting the status of dependencies. Despite this effort I still faced an extensive cross-examination.
At the time, it appeared that the manager was determined to catch me out with exhaustive and overly-rigorous oversight. However, she was incredibly experienced and allowed me to walk her through my narrative of how deliverables would be completed, and milestones achieved. And then she neatly dissected the bits I thought I had successfully glossed over.
While not always welcomed, a diligent project assurance manager enables better and more informed decisions, reducing failure and promoting best practice which improves the conditions for success.
Quality Management Tools
On a recent project, where I undertook an assurance role, the expectation placed on me by the project board was significant, in part because of a misguided perception that I was the “delivery insurance” allowing them to abdicate responsibility. Fortunately, the executive was not so naive and she understood that the assurance role has to be more nuanced than being an enforcer of good practice. Rather than making her job easier it actually made her more effective.
I use quality management tools in situations like this and a strong working relationship with my client, the sponsor. Two tools I use constantly are the Quality Management Plan (QMP) outlining the responsibilities and execution of project assurance, and the Quality Management Framework (QMF).
The QMF is populated with a description of the products throughout the project lifetime and detailing the quality standards, measurement processes and responsible individuals. These people are identified as ‘Doers’, ‘Reviewers’ and ‘Approvers’ and they are responsible for ensuring products are delivered within tolerance in the agreed time. I then support the project manager by ensuring there is no significant variation from specification. Using this knowledge, I can advise the project board, and specifically the project executive whose trust I have worked hard to gain and maintain.
Comprehensive Project Audits
On occasion, a comprehensive audit process can help reframe the discourse where it becomes clear that the board is not seeing or accepting the status of a project. The audit gives a comprehensive snapshot of the function and can be a positive experience where boards are losing faith in a competent manager. It demonstrates their capability and illustrates the benefits expected relative to those achieved. Where there are deficiencies it offers the opportunity for them to be aired, offering catharsis and allowing remedial action.
Not all projects need this much assurance input and the value added by the role can vary.
The experience I’ve had on both sides of the discussion has given me a better appreciation: meetings have become significantly more relaxed, whichever side of the table I’m sitting on, and I hope the project managers I work with do not feel nearly as grilled as I felt as a rookie.