Making the case for project assurance is difficult and can be seen as a distraction from delivery, however post-implementation reviews can deliver real value in future projects.
The case for investing in project assurance is often a difficult one to make. There are many reasons an organisation may be reluctant to invest in an internally run or independent, external assessment of how well they are delivering projects.
Project assurance is often seen as a cost overhead that does not always add value or, as is more often the case, a needless distraction to the project team who are involved in the earnest task of delivering the project.
The latter excuse is often used as a reason not to review a project i.e. the adverse impact assurance can have on project momentum. This does not hold true, however, for what is potentially the most important review of them all: the Post Implementation Review (PIR).
PIRs take place some time after a project is complete and its name is somewhat a misnomer. While a Post Implementation Review does look backward at projects recently completed, its real value is the positive impacts it can have on taking project delivery lessons – both positive and negative – into future projects.
PIRs: Identifying the Common Ailments in Failed Projects
Outgoing New South Wales auditor-general, Peter Achterstraat, recently published a brief white-paper outlining the major causes of project failure in the state government and what can be done to address the issue, specifically calling out IT projects as having a bad track record.
Of most interest was the identification of the critical need for Post Implementation Reviews to be a fundamental component of any project execution if systemic failures within a delivery process are to be identified and addressed.
In the white-paper entitled ‘Why large public sector projects sometimes fail’ (PDF) which has applications for all businesses Mr Achterstraat wrote:
“Governments at all levels across Australia spend hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure and IT projects. Some projects are very successful and have delivered positive outcomes. However, many projects fail. They are often over budget, late, not completed or completed with reduced outcomes. My audits of hundreds of NSW Government agencies and many major projects over the past seven years have identified a number of common issues.”
According to the auditor, the “common ailments” of failed projects could be grouped around three key themes: Poor governance, inadequate project management, and a lack of effective leadership.”
These findings have equal application to the private sector.
Making the Case for Post Implementation Reviews
The auditor-general noted in relation to the case to execute PIRs:
“Projects should not commence without a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis, and greater use needs to be made of participative quality assurance, as well as post implementation reviews to ensure mistakes aren’t repeated in the future.
“All too often project teams are more interested in commencing the next project rather than reflecting on what went right and what went wrong with the project they recently completed.”
Without this opportunity to identify and reflect upon success and failures of a project that a Post Implementation Review affords, systemic issues within an organisation’s delivery process will typically remain invisible to the executive and continue unchecked, causing issues for all future projects.
This inability to identify and address these systemic issues will ensure an organisation is locked in to repeating the same mistakes over and over, impacting project execution and the delivery of benefits on an on-going basis.
Putting the PIR Findings into Action
However undertaking the Review is only part of the story. Fundamental to unlocking the benefits from a Post Implementation review is what is done with the findings after the review is completed.
Too many times the recommendations can be left on the shelf to gather dust. The PMO should play the pivotal role here, to ensure that Post Implementation Review findings are:
- Completed under suitable terms of reference
- Captured, stored and reflected upon
- Disseminated within the wider project delivery audience and
- Tracked for future adherence to best practice.
All types of project reviews have a place but the Post Implementation Review is unique in that its focus is less so on the project that has just gone but what is to come in the future.
If an organisation is serious about continuous improvement in its project delivery capability, it is the one review that must be on the menu.
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