Other than the failure to properly implement Change Management, probably the second-most systemic reason for IT project failures is the reluctance to institute and perform a checkpoint. Every major PM methodology subscribes to this process. Sometimes called stage-gate, or interim reviews, these are specific activities, not just a date on the project plan.
A checkpoint is designed as a period within the project plan to review the previous steps and evaluate the stage’s achievement and success, to analyse any failures, issues or delays and to reflect on the continued viability of the project. It also provides the opportunity to revise the project plan, and indeed, the project mandate and budget, if warranted.
It is not ‘slack time’ in the project schedule to allow catch-up or to get a head start on the next phase. Most project and business resources assigned to the project should be involved at some level in this review. At the very least they should be considering whether they are under- or over-resourced and whether their future planned activities need adjustment or rethinking. It provides an ideal opportunity for a 360 degree assessment of the project so far. A chance to challenge previous assumptions, re-affirm commitments and, if necessary, re-set expectations. It is critically important that this review be open, forthright and non-judgemental.
Maximum benefit from a checkpoint is obtained if it is conducted by an independent third party. The objectivity gained this way is well worth the modest cost and can deliver, in our experience, inestimable benefits. At a minimum, an effectively executed checkpoint will provide a renewed sense of security. And while nobody wants to anticipate problems, finding them early is better than letting them deteriorate over time, perhaps to become intractable later on.
At this early stage in the project, an external review of the project foundations should provide you, the CEO, with renewed confidence in the whole project team. It may indicate points of weakness to be addressed, in which case it should provide recommendations for your action and the engagement of the Project Steering Committee.
This review may, of course, conclude that the project does not realistically measure up to previous expectations. This need not be seen as a bad outcome. Perhaps the expectations can be adjusted; the project scope should be revised; or alternative approaches to achieve the project’s objectives might be undertaken. Or perhaps corporate resources are best used elsewhere.
Even with a good bill of health, further project activities should not resume until the recommendations of the review are adopted and implemented. This will be contentious! There will naturally be enthusiasm to address shortfalls and get on with things. But without attention to the details there is a risk that resources will be wasted.
Our Ten Step Guide is the CEO’s insurance policy against project failure. This checkpoint is your first premium. Don’t skimp.