"Have your say – what is Project Assurance?"

With project failure rates inherently high, both public sector and private organisations are looking to support their activities through Project Assurance but the term is widely used and variously interpreted. We asked twenty five blue chip organisations to share their thinking...

What is Project Assurance in your organisation?

The basics….

  • Having the right building blocks and resources in place to deliver my projects successfully.

Checking the process….

  • A model and good structure that covers all of the important components about governance, everything that should be in place, risk analysis, compliance and organisation, everything is in there.

Ensuring it’s doable….

  • Kicking the tyres of your car and doing an MOT.  Is it fit for purpose?  Helps you to get to where you need to go.  Gives me an MOT and warning signs that can be sorted out.
  • Independent review of a project looking at everything, risks, plans, deliverables, indentifying problems, if necessary coming up with a rescue plan.
  • Spot checks against best practice to help the project succeed. Different from auditing which is binary.  Project assurance gives us options.
  • Reviewing the status of projects, certain timelines in the project plan, issues and risks (whether being addressed and mitigated), projects managed, project timescale is doable with the right elements.

Turning it around….

  • Specific expertise to get very quickly to the heart of the problem and provide clear recommendations to us; also to keep a watching brief….. 
  • It helps us sort out projects that go wrong ….. maybe it should also be about increasing the probability of projects going right?

What do you use Project Assurance for?

Skills uplift….

  • We have uplifted our skills in the area of project management - we didn't have a dedicated pool of project managers, we didn't see a need for them, instead we planned to get myself and others up to a certain standard and set up the programme to fully understand the impact on the business of what we were looking to do.  We were introducing new products so we thought that they would impact heavily on what we normally did. Project Assurance enabled us to structure the programme correctly and give us an objective view of what the considerations should be. It enabled me to be more skilled and able to communicate requirements of the business better than before. 

Programme correction….          

  • We had a major programme of work that had missed deadlines twice and was heading for a third with budget overspend.  Project Assurance gave us direction and analysis on how to find the way forward.  It wasn't necessarily a solution that we wanted from them.  We wanted a reality check.  We wanted Project Assurance to tell us where we were going wrong, how we are going wrong, fresh thinking and direction, which is what we've got from it.
  • We used Project Assurance to re-establish governance on a programme that wasn't running properly. This was down to a combination of factors: suppliers not capable of delivering, teams skill set and capabilities internally not up to the job and didn't recognise and deal with the situation properly and programme governance just wasn't strong enough. The chain of responsibility - IT director and cross business function, reported into the board. The programme  had been running for over a year.  Originally a two year project, but got to a position that it wouldn't deliver. We needed guidance on appraising the situation.

Injection of experience….

  • We didn’t have enough quality people ourselves.  Wanted an independent review and looking to have someone more cost efficient.
  • Quality assurance reviews of key change programmes. Acting as independent advisor with recommendations. We didn't have the right quality people to do it.

Method definition….

  • We used it to support a refresh of our programme and capability framework.  We suffered from a lack of a programme method and cost controls/governance.  Are all of the required processes and the controls in the organisation in place?

Project start up….

  • We ensured a significant programme was set up (started up) correctly.  While we have very good business managers, they hadn't run any programmes of this size.  Our main challenge was setting up the programme on the right footing at a price we could afford.  As we had had a bad experience previously, we wanted to have confidence that the project would succeed.  We don't have a lot of project managers around, so we wanted to use our project manager resource as effectively as possible.  Our decision to train our people who are subject manager experts and prop them up with project manager's expertise was a good one.

Independent review….

  • We had a regulatory requirement to have an independent assessment.  We applied for an exception and were required by the FSA to sponsor an independent audit. Needed to validate an exception for a piece of regulation.

What is critical to the success of Project Assurance in your organisation?

  • It must be conducted in a supportive manner – we know it works best that way.
  • The earlier we introduce it – the greater the benefit. 
  • An impartial, objective, external view. 
  • Capable of turnaround. Expertise, knowledge, people, understanding of programme governance and reporting mechanisms, and knowing whether a programme is on track.
  • Tell it as it is.  Don't want it massaging and dressing up.  Open, honest and frank.
  • Pragmatic approach - picking out the things that really matter.  Not just a tick box, but understand things that make a difference to a programme. Grounded in reality.
  • Tell the truth, don't pay lip service.
  • Deliver on time, which isn't always true of big consultancies.
  • Independent, professionalism, use people who've done it, pragmatism.
  • Senior people working on my business.

What are the key project challenges in your organisation?

  • Too much to do – too many projects, not enough time
  • Not enough quality people – inadequate team skills
  • Establishing a programme management framework and method
  • Cost control and projects over budget
  • Establishing governance in a project
  • Managing suppliers effectively
  • Meeting project delivery timescales
  • Too much bureaucracy and paperwork – not enough action
  • Inadequate risk analysis and critical thinking within the organisation
  • Poorly planned and unstructured testing.


Assurance, 2010Katie MayerComment