As we all know, the coronavirus pandemic has turned things upside down. Businesses are having to adapt quickly, and a huge element of that is adopting remote work. Given this change, it’s never been more important to take a moment to evaluate your team’s effectiveness.
Project teams are no exception. With the PMI reporting that 10% of every dollar invested in projects is lost from poor performance, it’s essential that good project management standards are maintained.
A remote project management audit is the perfect way to keep these standards high. We’re going to explore the science behind a project management audit, detailing what it is, why it’s so important, and how you can conduct one yourself.
What is a Remote Project Management Audit?
Let’s start with a quick definition:
“A project management audit is a formal review of a project with the goal of evaluating its performance against governance controls.”
Project management is full of checkpoints but what makes an audit different is that it is conducted by an external team. This team may be from a Project Management Office (PMO), business auditing team, or a third party, such as a consultancy.
Whilst an audit will focus on the project manager and the project sponsor, it is really important to involve all project team members.
To gather all of the information you need, stakeholders are interviewed, artifacts are verified, and process gaps are identified.
Don’t panic! Whilst this may sound quite daunting, the key outcome of a remote project management audit is to check the project is operating correctly and delivering on time and within budget. It can be a great opportunity for people to come together and work collaboratively, especially when projects operate across different geographies and cultures
Why Audit Your Remote Project Management Process?
Now that you know what a remote project management audit is, it’s time to answer the second key question – why do you need to conduct an audit?
Here are some reasons:
- To Uncover Process Gaps – Fundamentally, you want to ensure your project management process is fit for purpose and delivers according to stakeholder expectations. We’ll look deeper into different types of process gaps later on.
- To Ensure Compliance – For those delivering projects in regulated sectors, audits are mandatory to meet compliance standards. It’s important to regularly check processes to avoid any legal or financial implications.
- To Review Project Controls – We covered it briefly but you want to ensure your projects are operating within the correct parameters. These include scope, time, cost, and quality.
- To Mitigate Risk Early – All projects possess an inherent level of risk and it’s best practice to mitigate those risks early. Audits can help identify previously unseen risk areas, allowing you to address them before they become issues.
- To Balance Workloads – An audit is a great way to objectively look at resource requirements and detect any imbalances. As with risk, identifying resource concerns early can prevent greater problems (such as bottlenecks) occurring further down the road.
Now that we know what a remote project management audit is and the value they bring, let’s look at how you can perform your own.
How to Conduct a Remote Project Management Audit
Step One: Plan
As with most things in life, if you want to achieve the best possible results, it’s a good idea to plan. A strong plan will be your best friend in this process, and below are a few essential checklists to help you get off to a great start.
- A checklist of project team members to interview. The usual suspects here will be your project manager and project sponsor, but be sure to include wider team members such as designers, developers, and freelancers.
Remember: When interviewing it’s best to prepare your questions ahead of time. It will help bring consistency and structure to your discussions.
- A checklist of project documentation to gather. Specifically, look out for documents such as a business case, statement of work, project charter, RACI matrix, risk register, and a communication plan.
Remember: There may be some unique, sector-specific documentation to look out for too, such as a requirements document in agile development teams.
- A checklist of processes and policies to review. Most organizations will have a standard way things are done to ensure the delivery quality. Identify the important processes and policies so you can check they’re being followed.
Remember: Checking that the policy or process is ‘in place’ isn’t enough, the audit must challenge that these are fit for purpose and if not, recommend where improvements can be made.
Step Two: Interview Project Team Members
Begin to get to know the scope and current position of the project by speaking with the project team. Remote team members will have different viewpoints so tailor the conversation to suit them and their needs.
Remember that an audit can be unsettling, so try to make the process as collaborative and open as possible. Promote the benefits of the audit to the team members to help them buy into the process.
For example, steer away from statements like this: “The purpose of the audit is to check you are doing the right thing and correct you if you aren’t”
Instead, opt for a benefit-led message: “The purpose of this audit is to identify areas you may be struggling so we can provide assistance” or “We want to help uncover areas where we can improve the way we deliver value to our customers”
Step Three: Gather Project Documentation
With project team members fully engaged, it should be fairly easy to work together and gather the required project documentation.
Especially in remote teams, most of this documentation will be electronic and found within team folders or a project management software tool.
Once gathered, the documents should be checked for accuracy, making sure they have been updated regularly in line with project progress.
Depending on both the project methodology and company culture, the project management process may not be administration-heavy. Quality should always trump quantity so long as what is produced is fit for purpose.
Step Four: Review of Process & Policies
Arguably the most important part of any audit can now begin – reviewing the processes and policies.
The process and policies of a project are the underpinning governance that creates the foundation for success. It’s easy to automatically presume these will just be correct, so it’s extra important to review and challenge them to uncover any gaps.
You may already have an idea of specific challenges from speaking with team members, as many of their day-to-day issues may stem from an incompatible process. This is especially true following the transition to remote working.
How to Uncover Gaps in Your Remote Project Management Process?
Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms of project process gaps to help you uncover them:
- Planning gaps. There are two key indicators that a project may not have a comprehensive planning process – timescales and documentation.
- If a project is repeatedly extending its timelines, it is likely that it wasn’t estimated and planned upfront.
- Creating project documentation, such as a timeline plan or statement of work, is a great way to ensure deliberate thought is given to correctly planning upfront.
- Task management gaps. The key way to spot a task management gap is to review how the project is progressing against timelines and whether key dates or milestones are being missed.
- This can often be addressed through rigorous task management techniques. Software tools can often help with this (especially lists or kanban boards) to give ownership and visibility of what needs to be done.
- Workload management gaps. Identifying a gap in workload management can often be tricky. Most organizations will hold a resource tracking log and team members will likely make it known when they are overworked.
- You can also keep an eye on the quality of the work being completed. A key reason for additional work revision or software bugs may be team members rushing tasks because they are too stretched.
- Tool gaps. As the working world becomes more remote, project management software tools are heavily utilized to keep teams connected. Consider replacing manual processes with slicker online software tools for maximum efficiency and minimal error.
- For processes where tools are already used, review the output quality and usability to see where gaps may still exist. Ultimately, tools should make life easier, so if they are slow and laborious updates should be considered.
Step Five: Final Report & Recommendations
With steps one to four complete, the last thing to do is to wrap everything up into a final report. Depending on your audit criteria, findings should be scored and fed into a pass/fail metric.
Crucially, recommendations for improvement should be clearly identified and communicated, with accountability given back to the organization to manage the implementation.
There we have it, our look at how to run a remote project management audit. You now know exactly what a project management audit is, why they’re so important, and how you can conduct your own to ensure the transition to remote working is a success!