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A simple health-check tool for project portfolios

Over the last year, project managers across all industries have seen an increasing demand for support in organising projects and programmes into portfolios, as well as mobilising portfolio management offices. In doing this, clients seek to realise efficiencies in their resource and risk management while also keeping closer control of schedules and dependencies.

However, in order to help clients realise these benefits, it is essential to have a firm grasp of the current status of each ongoing project.

When working with public sector clients, to garner a realistic view of projects we often have to make rapid checks of a project’s health through a range of assessments, including risk, dependencies, budget status and resourcing.

In turn, this allows us to model the impact of a range of scenarios that can support our clients to take steps to de-risk their project portfolios and subsequently improve performance.

As part of my work as a P3M consultant working in and around the UK Civil Service, we have used APM’s Conditions for Project Success report to create a project health-check tool in order to determine the overall health of particular portfolios.

Conditions for Project Success is a piece of independent research that seeks to identify the core factors that lead to the successful delivery of projects, programmes and portfolios and was launched at the APM Conference in March this year.

We recognised that a standardised tool – which all project, programme and portfolio managers could use to conduct a rapid health check would be a positive labour-saving asset. By using APM’s Conditions for Project Success, we devised 60 questions around the 12 conditions laid out in the original research. 

The questions were written and peer-reviewed by a group of our fellow project, programme and portfolio management consultants to ensure that any project manager would be able to respond to them rapidly.

For example, one of the questions is: “Does the project have funding approved for its entire lifecycle?” Each question can be answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘partially’ and the entire process is designed to take just a few minutes of the project manager’s time.

Once the full set of questions has been answered, the tool automatically produces an overall score that indicates which projects or programmes are most likely to achieve their objectives and reach a successful conclusion.

It also enables us to identify any common issues within the client’s organisation and helps us to make informed recommendations on the areas where a client may wish to invest in strengthening. These recommendations can be communicated through raw data or via simple visualisation tools that are built into the project health-check tool.

Visualisations
Through visualisations, we are able to identify areas of concern more quickly and, by using the visualisations as a means of communication, we are able to work with our clients in a more targeted manner to resolve issues.

Moreover, by basing the tool on published APM research, our clients can recognise the provenance of our analysis and have often pursued our advice enthusiastically. In this way, not only has APM’s Conditions for Project Success facilitated the analytical aspects of the project health-check tool, but it has also aided in the communication of the results, to ease the embodiment of any recommended changes with our clients.

Using the tool to check the health of multiple projects within a portfolio gives a consistent, impartial view on the comparative health of projects, ensuring that they are measured against exactly the same conditions.

Currently, the project health-check tool is operated within Microsoft Excel, in order to allow for compatibility with as many client sites as possible as well as for ease of data analysis. Many client sites run differing versions of the software, so the tool has been written in a way that is compatible for as many older versions of software as possible.

The use of Microsoft Excel also enables easy CSV file downloads of the raw data to enable output into other systems that are used. For effective analysis of an entire portfolio, it may be necessary to migrate the tool into a database to allow for issue and progress tracking across all of it.

The tool can also be customised for specific clients and the analysis and scoring aspect of the tool could be weighted according to the sensitivities of each organisation. For instance, in a risk-averse organisation, the score pertaining to a project’s level of exposure and management of risk could be given a higher multiplier than issues around the project sponsorship and capability.

Where appropriate, the project health-check tool will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis, and revisited and updated to ensure that our project managers can continue to ask the right questions and consequently help clients gain the best advice and insight possible.


This blog first appeared as an article in the Winter 2015 edition of Project Journal and is authored by Benjamin Wickins and Jannene Osborne.

3 comments

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  1. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 23 September 2016, 08:39 AM

    Benjamin,This I thought a good initiative. Thank you to both yourself and Jannene. For future if you see both see merit when the APM website develops could you consider to upload the health-check tool for projects? Thereon in my own mind when considering P3M there could evolve as a benefit in my opinion for a set of health-check tools in respect of:- projects (as the tool developed by yourself & Jannene)- programmes- portfolios. This would lead onward for health checks for programmes an adaptation of the below:1. Programme Governance Plan2. Strategic objectives3. Commitment to programme success factors and success criterion4. Capable sponsors5. Secure funding6. Programme planning and control7. Supportive organisations8. End Users & Operators9. Capability and Capacity Building of Programme & Projects Teams10. Aligned supply chain11. Proven Programme Framework (such as MSP) and methods12. Appropriate Programme Management national standards.I would be keen for an discussion. Comments suggestions and thoughts most welcome. For others please could you consider to offer up your viewpoint to build robustness as a synergistic exchange. Thank you.RichardE-mailrichard.renshaw1@gmail.com

  2. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 18 September 2016, 11:53 AM

    I concur the tool is a great idea. Being able to argue from a basis of evidence is critical. Unless you are a particular presidential candidate in the USA of course.Such tools are also a double edged sword as evidence must be tempered with professional judgement. E.g. the question about does a project have funding for the whole life cycle? A project/programme may have an approved budget for its life but rarely do programmes especially have funds released throughout.And then there is Agile working - no I DON'T mean Agile software development, but Agile PPM. Does the tool allow for this adaptation of PPM? E.g. use of Gates, delegation, self-organising teams, leadership styles for Sponsors ad project managers........I would also very very intrigued to see how Condition [7] Supportive organisation is defined by the tool. Lots of cultural stuff here which inevitably, is highly subjective.

  3. Roger Hankey
    Roger Hankey 16 September 2016, 11:31 AM

    Bejamin/Richard - I think this a great idea and it is a tool I certainly want and would want to use. How does this fit with the recent work by the Assurance SIG?Richard your sugegsted headings - IMHO - have asimilarity to those used in the Gateway initial risk assessment (we used to call it the RPA), and also work I remember (badly) from SPOCE back around the millenium about small projects and risk assessments.Roger