Project management audits are rarely welcome and often contentious, but when done correctly, they offer unparalleled opportunity for process improvement and project rescue. It all depends on the process, the people and the purpose.
Project auditing encompasses multiple goals depending on organizational requirements and project needs, including assessing project progress, evaluating adherence to project management standards, and resolving project problems. In order to meet these needs, project audits can vary by type, purpose and timing. Verification audits are pre-planned, used to evaluate project progress and measure adherence to established project management standards. In this case, the project to be verified is selected according to established criteria. On the other side of the equation, problem response audits are unplanned and self-selecting, initiated in response to the pressing needs of a troubled project. (Also Read: Planning for the IT Operations Audit)
Every effective audit operation will be defined by these four characteristics - alignment, independence, transparency and institutional support. Reality dictates that audits will never be welcome, and audit staff will always be looked upon with skepticism. Can they be truly independent? Why are they always picking on me? How can I get this project done with all these interruptions? These are the natural thoughts that come with external scrutiny and it's quite understandable. Negative audit results, particularly as part of a pattern, can damage one's career, or even bring about dismissal in more extreme cases.
On balance, audits are essential, and legally imperative. But just having audit capability is not enough. Audit staff must be able to cut through the fear, negativity and skepticism to bring about positive results. The only way to achieve this is to empower auditors to do their job, and allow project managers to share in the audit process through training, communication and feedback.
What will you need to make project auditing a standard part of your approach to managing successful projects. To realize expected benefits, every element of the project audit, from staffing to process, should be clearly defined and openly communicated, including:
The goal of the standardized audit process is to provide pre-defined practices to be adapted and applied as needed to multiple "audit situations". Standardized practices should incorporate the elements above, organized into executable steps and structured into a defined timeline. Above all, effective auditing practices require depend upon communication - to provide the "informational" basis for the audit and to set expectations for what will happen, when and how. When the stage is set is correctly, audits bring clarity and structure to the “project management process”, which in the end, can only help the overworked project manager. The goal of the auditor and the project manager should be one and the same - to continuously improve project results and performance.
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