The difference between an Audit and a Diagnostic

A Project Audit checks compliance with some standard or expectation. A report or plan is reviewed to see if it complies with the expected standard if it is completed correctly, fully, and is appropriately signed off.

Diagnostic Or Audit? What do you need?

A Diagnostic is a diagnosis of the root causes of the state of a project and an analysis of its likelihood of success.

An Audit assumes that the process, if correctly followed, will lead to the desired result. The focus is on measuring whether or not it is ‘correctly following’ the set approach.

A Diagnostic diagnoses the current status of the project, how it has reached this point, whether this is where it should be, and identifies the resultant and residual risks to the successful completion and delivery of the project and its business value.

An Audit will make comments concerning the quality or otherwise of the documentation.

The Diagnostic will only focus on whether the use of the document adds value and reduces risk on the project.

The results are quite different.

In one case, a project was audited and a one-page report noted that certain documents had not been properly signed off and one document was incomplete.

We then conducted a diagnostic on the same project that found that the project was off the rails, the system's implementer was about to walk off the project, the project and business managers were not cooperating, and the staff was totally unable to accept the output and that the solution design was liable to put the organization out of business!
Audits are for those that want ‘protection’.

Diagnostics are for those that want results.

Yet, most “health checks”, “set up for success” reviews and “post-implementation reviews” are audit-based. Were the right processes followed? Are the documents present and satisfactory? Did everyone who should have signed off, sign off? Were the changes to the project properly authorized?

The Diagnostic approach asks, “Is the project on track to deliver the agreed outcomes? Are there any agreed outcomes? Does the documentation support the delivery of the end states? Is everyone on the same page in terms of what the project will deliver? Is everything aligned to deliver both project and business success? Were any changes to the project assessed for their value and outcomes impacts?

Very different approaches leading to very different results.


In Conclusion

When someone asks for a 2-3 day ‘project health check’ – they’re wasting their time and money. It’s like having a personal health check by assessing your stress and cholesterol levels without assessing your contributing lifestyle and environment. Knowing your stress level is up is not useful unless you know what the impacts of this are, the root causes, and what you need to do about it.

When it comes to health checks, it should be “diagnosis or die”. Now, does that sound like a common project choice?

Topics: Value Delivery, Value Equation

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Mar 2010) as "The Difference Between An Audit And A Diagnostic"

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