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Project Audits Work

by Michael Stanleigh


A project audit provides an opportunity to uncover the issues, concerns and challenges encountered in the execution of a project. It affords the project manager, project sponsor and project team an interim view of what has gone well and what needs to be improved to complete a project successfully. If done at the close of a project, a project audit can be used to develop success criteria for future projects by providing an analytical review.

Whether the audit is conducted midterm or at the project’s conclusion, the process is similar. It’s generally recommended that an outside facilitator conduct the project audit. This ensures confidentiality and also provides the team members and other stakeholders with the opportunity to be candid. They know that their input will be valued and the final report will not identify individual names—it will include only facts. It’s common that individuals interviewed during the audit of a particularly badly managed project will find speaking with an outside facilitator allows them to express their emotions and feelings about their involvement in the project and/or the effect the project has had on them. This “venting” is an important part of the overall audit.

A project audit consists of the following three phases:


Phase 1: success criteria and questionnaire development

Interview the core project sponsor and project manager to determine their “success criteria” for the project audit. This ensures that their individual and collective needs are met.

Develop a questionnaire to send to each member of the core project team and selected stakeholders. We find that individuals will often complete the questionnaire in advance of an interview. The actual interviews provide the facilitator with the opportunity to gain deeper insights into the interviewees’ comments. The questionnaires help them to reflect on the project’s successes, failures, challenges and missed opportunities.

Develop open-ended questions for the interviews. These questionnaires can be used for team members and/or other stakeholders who cannot attend an interview. Develop the questions so that they will help to identify the major project successes; the major project issues, concerns and challenges; how the team worked together; how vendors were managed; how reporting and meetings were handled; and how risk and change were managed.


Phase 2: in-depth research

Conduct individual research interviews with the project sponsor, project manager and project team members to identify the past, current and future issues, concerns, challenges and opportunities.

Conduct individual research interviews with stakeholders, including vendors, suppliers, contractors and selected customers.

Assess the issues, challenges and concerns in more depth to get to the root causes of the problems.

Review all historical and current documentation related to this project, including:

— Team structure

— Scope statement

— Business requirements

— Project plan

— Milestone report

— Meeting minutes

— Action items

— Risk logs

— Issue logs

— Change logs

Review the project plan to determine how the vendor plan has been incorporated into the overall project plan.

Interview selected stakeholders to determine what their expectations of the project had been and how well they were met.

Review the project quality management and the product quality management to identify the issues, concerns and challenges in the overall management of the project and to identify the opportunities that can be realized through improvements in project and product quality.


Phase 3: report development

Compile the information collected from all the interviews.

Compile the information collected from individuals who only completed the questionnaire.

Consolidate the findings from the project documentation review.

Identify the issues, concerns and challenges presented through this review and isolate the opportunities you believe can be realized.

Identify all the project’s opportunities that can be realized through this report’s recommendations.

Identify the lessons learned that can improve the performance of future projects.

Finalize the creation of the report and recommendations based on the findings and present this detailed report and recommendations, including the roadmap to get future projects to the “next level” of performance.


The purpose of a project audit is to identify lessons learned that can help improve the performance of a project or to improve the performance of future projects by undertaking a detailed review.

About the author
Michael Stanleigh is president of Business Improvement Architects ( www.bia.ca ), a consulting firm that guides organizations in aligning their business strategies with their culture, performance systems and projects to reduce waste and increase profitability.