Why is the health check important to projects & programmes?

Two colleagues performing a health check to projects & programmes

Projects are dealing with change and uncertainty and sometimes, under pressure, it’s not possible for project managers to think about the countless activities happening.

Therefore, it’s vital to know what’s been done, how it’s been done, that it’s documented and where it’s located. This is where the “health check” in PRINCE2® is invaluable.

This process-oriented checklist is there to ensure the project or programme is adhering to the method or framework; giving the relevant manager greater control in leading a team, working towards objectives and giving the organization confidence in the way projects are running. This is important when stakeholders ask for information and is likely to have support from the PMO.

The health check in action

The PRINCE2 health check follows the project lifecycle and gives a status update at any point in the project.

When running PRINCE2 projects for real, it’s a good idea to have the health check on a board where it’s visible to the team and electronically to share with stakeholders.

This should give project or programme managers confidence – especially for audits, whether internal or external – when they need to justify what they’ve done.

In fact, I’ve known auditors to use health checks as a reference point to ensure an organization is adhering to its project management method.

A health check example: Starting up a project

Of the 121 questions contained in the PRINCE2 health check, the Starting up a project check list contains the most questions. This is because project start-up is vital to get right.

The checklist begins: Have project management team roles been allocated for the executive, project manager, senior user, etc. Why start here? Without an executive who represents business stakeholder interests, there is no decision maker with the authority to get anything done in the project while a project manager is needed to manage activities day-to-day, etc.

From there, the checklist asks: Do the project board members have sufficient authority, availability and credibility to direct the project?

This is essential for the project manager to understand and be able to navigate possible issues. For example, a CEO might have authority but no availability. Equally the project manager can impress on the project board the importance of being visible and ensure they’re involved in relevant meetings.

From a senior executive perspective, their involvement in high level projects can be problematic if things go badly wrong. Therefore, they should understand how the PRINCE2 method works to make the right decisions.

Another vital question on the checklist is: Have lessons from previous similar projects been identified and applied?

Looking at the lessons log is not – as some might think – just project management theory. Basing your decisions on what has been done before avoids people “running blind” into a project, builds lessons learned into the next change initiative and should avoid repeating similar mistakes.

The same applies for lessons learned from comparable projects elsewhere, if the type of project is completely new to the organization.

Making the health check routine

Getting value from the health check needs a certain level of PRINCE2 experience.

Therefore, an organization with a PRINCE2 “champion” or a proactive PMO means there should be sufficient instruction on how to use the health check, plus internal audits to ensure it’s happening.

Project managers worth their salt should really be making the health check part of their normal routine.

Health check templates are available online via MyAXELOS.

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