Assessment Requires Observing The Process!

Assessment Requires Observing The Process!

Shakespeare wrote “to be or not to be” but when deciding whether a project requires intervention, we might paraphrase the quote a bit to say “to act or not to act”. In each case we need to decide whether a project warrants or needs intervention. Not all projects we viewed as troubled are in bad enough shape to require an intervention and by intervening we might waste resources or a learning opportunity. For example, does a project that is two weeks behind schedule after a year and with an estimated duration of an additional year of duration warrant an intervention? What if the implementation date has been committed to in the marketplace?  All of the indicators of a project under duress need to be interpreted as part of entire organization and at the same time through the lens of known set of tolerances.

Assessments can be done using a variety of methods.  Each method has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.  The overall strength in using a method (any method) is that the results become less about opinions and feelings and more about facts.  There are three basic forms of assessment: model, process and quantitative.

Three Types of Assesments


Quantitative assessments are easily the most common of the three approaches used to identify troubled projects.  This method is the most common because a majority of projects have a known budget, timeline and acceptable level of quality (even if not stated) that are reported against on status reports.  The assessment process is fairly simple, has the project spent (or planning to spending) more than the budget, if yes, then it is in trouble.  The same comparison can be made to the promised date, or the number of defects the project has found and logged into the backlog. The bigger the difference the bigger the hole the project will find itself in. What the quantitative assessment does not answer is why the project is in trouble and what to do about it.

Model based assessments use industry standard frameworks such as the CMMItm to look for process gaps. The process gaps can be used to explain why the project is having problems and suggest areas that need to be implemented or tuned to help the project recover.  Model based assessment are generally very formal in nature which can require substantial effort and be quite invasive.

Process assessments look as the qualitative attributes of the targeted process. Targeting generally done based on interviews with project leaders and stakeholders.  These interviews and later qualitative process appraisals require skilled interviewers that are experienced in project rescues.  These methods are generally less invasive than formal model based appraisals and be deployed faster, however, they can be skewed by the biases of the interviewers. I suggest combining qualitative and quantitative assessments to help minimize potential biases.

Once the assessment has been completed, the final step is to determine an overall direction for the course of action. We suggest that if an intervention is required that there are only two possible strategies. The first is to reset the project (build on what has occurred using new techniques and team structures) and the second is to blow it up and start over. Again a set of criteria should be leveraged to lessen the passion around the decision process.  The following table shows an example of a set of decision criteria:


Is there a coherent vision of the projects goals? If Yes, then reset
Does an external estimate to complete indicate that humans can actually deliver the project? If Yes, then reset
Can the organization afford what is required to deliver the project?

If Yes then reset

If the answer to any of the criteria is “No” then stop the project. Every organization will have develop specific criteria that meets the organization’s culture. However, recognize that trying to turn around a project that is either not feasible or is not pursuing a coherent goal will generally lead to throwing good money after bad which is why assessing the project using a process will help an organization to make a less emotional decision.