ITtoolkit Article Collection


Project Audits: Verify Compliance and Validate Performance


Read more in the full article below.

Project management audits are rarely welcome and often contentious, but when done correctly, they offer unparalleled opportunity to learn from mistakes and rescue troubled projects.  Like every other sensitive management process, success depends on planning, execution and communication.  Read on to learn more about it.

What is project auditing? Project auditing is a formal type of "project review", most often designed to evaluate the extent to which project management standards are being followed.  Audits are typically performed by a designated audit department, the "Project Management Office", an empowered Steering Committee or an external auditor.  The audit "entity" must have the designated authority to conduct the audit and make related recommendations.

Going beyond practice verification, project audits are also performed as a "check and balance" to evaluate project quality, necessity, value, and to examine the root cause of known project problems and reported failures.  In order to meet these varied uses, audit scope may vary based on type, purpose and timing. Verification audits are pre-planned, with the "subject project" selected according to established criteria.  On the other hand, quality assurance and problem response audits are initiated in response to the pressing needs of a troubled project, and in that sense, the project "selects itself". 

Also Read:  Planning for the IT Operations Audit

Whatever the driving force may be, project audits should follow standardized guidelines, to ensure that they are properly planned, executed fairly, and that all announced results and recommendations are given appropriate weight and deserved credibility.  The audit is a tool, and like any other tool, proper usage is the key to effective results.

4 Keys to Project Audit Planning

Every effective audit operation will be defined by four (4) key 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.

Get an illustrated view of the project review and lessons learned process in our informative infographic: The Road to Continuous Improvement.

Audit Policies and Activation Procedures

What will it take to make project auditing a standard part of your approach to managing successful projects? To realize expected benefits, every step, element and deliverable of the audit process must be clearly defined and openly communicated, including:

  • Auditing Mission Statement. The audit organization mission statement must clearly define the goals, objectives, authority, and boundaries of the audit operation, as well as the type of audits to be conducted.
  • Audit Skills Specification.  A detailed specification of auditor skills and experience, demonstrating that audit staff have sufficient expertise in project review, project standards, and if required, technical experience with the project subject matter.
  • Stakeholder Roles and Responsibilities. A detailed specification of all audit related roles and responsibilities, for both audit staff and project staff (to include project managers, team members, project sponsors, customers and other stakeholders as needed). 
  • Audit "Trigger" Criteria. A full listing of all criteria by which projects will be selected for an audit. You cannot audit every project - it would be too costly and time consuming, defeating the purpose of the audit process itself.  Specific criteria should be established to identify projects for auditing according to risk, complexity, internal value, cost, and the past "record of results" of the performing organization.
  • Audit Initiation Procedures. A detailing specification of audit initiation procedures, including the process by which individual project managers are notified of a pending audit and related preparation requirements.
  • Audit Execution Procedures. A full listing of audit execution procedures, covering the methods and procedures to be employed during the audit itself. Audit procedures mat vary based upon the type and timing of any given audit but can include, personal interviews with project staff, review of documents, questionnaires, and other related techniques.
  • Audit Reporting Procedures.  A complete specification of audit reporting procedures, covering the manner and method by which audit results will be reported and reviewed. In order to minimize the threatening nature of the project audit, all parties should be fully aware of how results will be reported and used within the organization.
  • Audit Appeal Procedures.  A full specification of all procedures to be followed to appeal and/or challenge reported audit results.

Realizing Audit Goals Through Planned Action

The goal of the standardized audit process is to provide pre-defined practices to be adapted and applied as needed to multiple "audit situations" (projects).  To realize all of the intended benefits, related practices must incorporate the elements listed above, organized into executable steps and structured into a defined timeline.  To succeed, you must have access to sufficient resources, have sufficient time to plan and act, have sufficient management support, and sufficient cooperation from all stakeholders involved.

Above all, effective auditing practices depend upon open and honest 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.  Further, it is important to "keep an open mind". 

When one or more projects "fail" to pass an audit, that is not necessarily the fault of the project manager or the team.  Perhaps project management standards are not suitably sized and scaled to project or organizational needs?  Perhaps insufficient training or lack of communication of standards is a root cause?  Above all, auditing needs to take a global perspective and examine all variables to make the most effective judgements and recommendations.

Download our new handbook for 2015 - Fundamentals of Project Fast Tracking.  Free, no registration required.

Find more on this subject in Project Reviews and Lessons Learned and Defining Realistic Criteria for Project Success.

About Us - ITtoolkit.com has been around since 2001. We started with a few articles about IT projects, and since then have developed our own series of time-saving practices and Toolkits for managing projects and IT services. The article above is part of of our full catalog of "how-to" articles, filled with these techniques (which you won't find elsewhere) to help you get better results in less time.  We cover all the basics and then some - including projects, IT services, team building, disaster recovery and more. You can continue with our recommendations above, browse the articles catalog, or download free templates and whitepapers.  And, visit our home page to learn all that our Service Strategy and Fast Track Project Toolkits can do for you!

Subscribe to the ITtoolkit newsletter for the latest articles and updates.

See the latest in our collection of IT Management Infographics. Visualize I.T.!

Get the "Value of a Vision" with the IT Service Strategy Toolkit

The IT Service Strategy Toolkit, from ITtoolkit.com, is the ultimate how-to guide for managing IT according to a strategic vision.  And what's the value of a vision?  Maximized IT value, optimized service capabilities, satisfied end-users and lasting IT/business alignment.  And it's all so easy to achieve with our downloadable Service Strategy Toolkit.

The Top 10 Uses for a Strategic IT Vision

Make Projects Possible with the Fast Track Project Toolkit

What's a manager to do when faced with an important project and a big problem - namely, not enough time, resources or funding?  That's a big (and all too common) challenge, but there is an answer.  All you need to do is to "fast track" your way around every obstacle with our FAST TRACK PROJECT TOOLKIT, (and it's available now at fasttrackmanage.com).

Take on the Challenge of the Project Constraint!
Learn how to use strategic fast tracking to deliver on-time projects when time is short, resources are stretched thin and funding is limited.
Negotiate.  Define.  Meeting of the Minds!
Learn how to quickly define projects for action and approval, using (16) must-have "terms" designed to secure stakeholder acceptance and ensure relevant results.
Make the Process Fit the Project!
Learn how to "size" governance practices to optimize resource capabilities, covering all the key steps for managing risk, project status reporting, communication, change control and more.
Always Look to Improve!
Learn how to perform effective "project reviews" to evaluate project results, and use the resulting "lessons learned" for continuous improvement.
Available for Download in 3 Editions!
And, when you get the "Bundle Edition" (the best value!), you also get a complete set of organizational practices for running successful PROJECT COMMITTEES.

Fast Track Project Toolkit

Featured article series dedicated to the use of strategic fast tracking in project management: