If your health check process is asking the wrong questions, you'll get the wrong answers and that is unhealthy

Understanding the Questions to Be Asked

A major international consultancy showed me their project health check checklist. It wasn’t a ‘health check’ at all, it was really a project audit.

What’s the difference?

An audit checks the existence of the necessary documents, reports and sign-offs. Do you have a change management strategy? Yes, tick, move on.

This approaches assesses the existence and, occasionally, the content and assumes that, if we have all the right documents, we will have a successful project. Not so.

A true ‘health check’ doesn’t ask, “Is the project under control?” so much as, “Is it set up and aligned to deliver the agreed business outcomes and benefits?”

This business value delivery perspective adds another dimension to the review. For each document the questions are

  • does it exist?
  • is it known to exist?
  • is it relevant and appropriate?
  • and, is it being used effectively?

A couple of real life examples to illustrate.

Change Strategy

One project, being managed by one of the brand-name consultancies, had a Change Management Strategy of 36 pages. Exist? Yes, tick.

The change management team was using it as the basis of their planning. Known? Yes, tick.

One paragraph at the bottom of page 27 actually talked about making change. All the other pages talked about the theories of change, approaches to change, causes of resistance to change, problems with change programs, etc. Relevant and appropriate? No, not really.

Because the strategy was not appropriate it was not effective. The strategy had no positive impact on the project and its delivery of the outcomes and benefits. The change strategy may have cost $60K to develop but it was effectively worthless. For all intents and purposes, the project did not have a change strategy.

Communications Strategy

Another example, this time a Communications Strategy.

It existed, was known to exist, was relevant and appropriate. Indeed it was one of the best communications strategies we’ve seen. It actually focused on addressing the stakeholders’ agendas rather than the project team’s agendas. So, Exist? Tick. Known? Tick. Relevant and appropriate? Tick.

Unfortunately, the person who developed the strategy had left the project and been replaced by a more conventional communications strategist. They had either not read the Strategy or had decided to ignore it and had gone back to a conventional project team-oriented communication approach. So, Effective? No.

In Conclusion

In both these examples many conventional ‘health check’ approaches would have given the project a green light. The documents existed. But in both cases, for different reasons, no effective strategies existed in operation.

And, as it only matters ‘in operation’, this is a cause for real concern.

So, when you next look out your health check approaches, look to see if they actually evaluate the impact of the document on the outcomes of the project. If they don’t, the health check itself is unhealthy.

How healthy is your health check?

Topics: Project Controls

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Feb 2008) as "How Healthy Is Your ‘Health Check’?"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections