Message to Som Gollakota

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Woodinville, WA
Project Management - Quick Health Assessment
June 06, 2009
very time my manager tells me, as they are heading out the door for the day, "I want you to collect some metrics on your projects to assess the health. Oh! Make sure they are on my desk by morning!", I think "Great! I am already engaged at 200%, and you are giving me more work. Now, I will be here all night collecting those metrics. Perfect! Oh wait, you didn't tell me what metrics you want?!!!".  And my manager is already out the door!
There are many ways to collect project health metrics, some easy and some complicated (such as Earned Value). Here are some quick metrics that you already have, and will not take all night to prepare. Probably will take less than an hour (if you don't already have all this information handy).
Typically, a project performance can be measured and health assessed, on six different parameters I call BRReSSQ© - Budget, Risks, Resources, Scope, Schedule, and Quality of the project. A technique I often use to provide status updates (especially quick ones) is Management by Exception (MBE) where you would bring to the management's attention only such information that indicates significant deviation between actual and planned activities around the six BRReSSQ parameters.
However, if you are too strapped for time, you can use the traditional triple constraints to report the project health and performance.
A critical warning though - Skip the project risk register analysis at your own risk (no pun intended!).
Project Financials - Effort 20 Minutes
The first project health indicator is the budget - Is there enough money through project closing? The assumption is that you have a budget forecast and revise it every month updating monthly actual spend (for past months) and forecasting for future months to the end of the project. A look at your forecast answers questions such as
  1. Is your project over or under budget? Total Approved Funds - Actual Spend to Date = Available Funds  (Available Funds < Forecast = Need more money; Available Funds > Forecast = Safe; Available Funds = Forecast = Safe, but watch closely)
  2. What is my average spend on the project (Burn Rate)? Average of actual spend of past months. Gives a decent picture of what your future spend (burn rate) could be.
  3. Is my forecast good/accurate? A quick look at your past months' forecast and actual spend will tell you if you have correctly forecasted or there is a gap (forecast was more or less than the actual spend). The accuracy of your forecast depends on how wide this gap is.
Project Schedule - Effort 10 minutes
Next project health indicator is the project schedule - Is the project delivery making time? Is the project on time, ahead, or behind the schedule? Assuming that you built the schedule at an appropriate level of granularity, you will be able to make a simple schedule assessment by reviewing the schedule work-breakdown structure with your project team. Any project manager with a bit of worth has already collected this information in her/his previous weekly status review meeting. If you have not already enclosed this information in your last weekly status report, open up the Project Schedule and quickly glance at the section listing the tasks of the current project phase. Verify if any of the tasks are running behind schedule or suffering from adequate resource allocations. If they are, quickly assess how far behind they are running, or which key resources are allocated inadequately. Ideally, you should have assessed this information during your previous project status review meeting. If not, contact the project team members (or their managers) immediately (a quick phone call is better, or walking over to their desk, if possible, is the best) and assess their availability. Note these down as issues with the project. Move on to the next item.
Project Risks Report - Effort 10 minutes
One of the first things you do as a project manager, after taking over a project, is to create a project Risk Log (or Risk Register. If you have transitioned into an in-flight project, review existing risk register (if one exists, or create one if it doesn't). The assumption here is that you are at least a theoretically good project manager (even if not experienced), and review the Risk Register with your team in your weekly status review meetings.
It is time to open up your Risk Register one more time tonight. Sort the risks based on the descending order of Priority and Date of Impact. Pick the top three risks that are impacting this week or next week. Another assumption I am making here is, if you have more than three top risks impacting this week or next week, your project should already have the executive level visibility (at least from an FYI standpoint, if you are already executing the response strategy/mitigation plans). If not, this is a very good time to bring that visibility.
Make Your Report - 10 Minutes
Have three sections in your report with each section having a color code (Red = Need Exec Intervention, Yellow = Caution, Green = Thumbs Up). Here is a sample report.
---------- X ----------
  1. Project Risks - Status Red
    1. Expecting three weeks' delay in hardware delivery due to vendor's manufacturing issues. Initiated escalation within vendor company. Need executive help renegotiating vendor contracts and/or identifying alternative vendor to avert schedule delays.
  2. Project Schedule - Status - Yellow
    1. Reason for Yellow - Critical Path task (Abc Task) one weeks behind schedule. Working with Resource Managers for resource augmentation and/or authorizing overtime.
    2. Non-critical path tasks (XYZ Task and LMN Task) one week behind schedule (expected to make up time; no impact anticipated)
    3. All remaining tasks are on schedule
  3. Project Financials - Status - Green (List the three items discussed above)
    1. Project overall forecast is on target with project budget
    2. Current monthly burn-rate is $200,000; Expected to remain the same through end of project
    3. Project monthly forecast vs. actuals within acceptable variance range (+/- 5%)
---------- X ----------
The above report is short, crisp, and provides complete information. It also lists the most important item (requiring executive action) right at the top. Typically, executives don't care about a Green project where everything is going smooth. Nor do they care about items or information that are normal. They, however, want to know if something is going wrong or is about to go wrong, so that they can swing into action and make a difference. Further, they don't have time to go through several pages of a report and/or many lines to "figure out" what is wrong and what they need to do.
The above report focuses exactly on that. The risk item, for example, is split into three parts, each articulated in 15 words or less. It opens with outlining the issue, states the action taken by the project team, and requests for a specific action to be taken by the executive team. Similarly, the Project Schedule section, while calling out Status as Yellow, highlights the reason for Yellow and articulates the actions being taken by the project team to resolve the issue.
Every piece of information must be succinct, complete and useful. To provide such information, one need not spend many hours or write many pages (or a book). All you need is information about your project, effective communication skill and presence of mind.