Conducting A More Effective Project Health Assessment

It all seems fine. Your project is clicking along, everyone is doing their jobs, and you’re coming in at budget and on time. Until suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, something takes the project completely off the rails.

If only there was a way to catch onto problems before they started.

Well, luckily enough, there is. Project health assessments are a proactive way to spot potential problem areas before they get out of control, and diagnose ways to keep your project on track.

The only problem is that these checks can themselves slow down or throw off your project’s flow. To fix that issue, Visor has devised a method of integrating project health assessments into your process. Here’s how we recommend you tackle it so that it feels like second nature.

If you need a better way to gain end-to-end insight into your team’s projects, way before you need to check their health, try Visor. This free tool is an intuitive, easy to use spreadsheet that pulls data from your other tools to create a single source of truth.

What is a project health check? When do you need them?

A project health check is a process of assessing if a project is meeting objectives and adhering to best practices. The purpose is to help make sure a project is clicking along properly, and to ID problems before they grow big enough to impact your overall project.

You ideally want to go through with a health check before you’ve seen a problem, though they can also serve as the first step of management and mitigation once a problem arises.

The problem, of course, is the same as any other element of a process that’s intended to be used “before it’s needed” – they’re easy to de-prioritize. And when you de-prioritize these types of tasks, you won’t have the best opportunity to use them, so they seem useless when an actual problem surfaces, and then you’re so busy fixing the problem that you’re less likely to use the process next time and so you de-prioritize using it and then…

You get it. It’s a vicious cycle. But it’s one you can break by breaking the health check procedure down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

We recommend you think of it like “micro-cleaning.” Instead of tackling every task all at once, you spend a little bit of time doing a small task each day or week, then repeat. It forms a habit while feeling like much less effort.

A table in Visor showing regular micro-clean health checks

Let’s start with what you’ll want to be checking, then get into Visor’s methodology. We won’t be getting into what to do when an item falls short on an audit in this article, but we’ll publish more on that soon.

What to Check and What to Look Out for

There are as many different elements to assess for project health as there are projects. Here’s a few examples, along with some of the questions you might want to explore.

  1. Goal progression
    1. What were the original goals of the project? Is the project on track to meet those goals?
    2. If not on track, where is it falling short?
    3. Do the goals need to change, or does the project?
  2. Risks
    1. Are there any identified risks you need to be concerned about?
    2. Are there new potential risks that have arisen over the course of this project?
    3. How can you mitigate risks at this stage?
  3. Budget
    1. Where is the project in terms of budget expenditure?
    2. Has the budget changed?
    3. Does the budget need to change?
    4. If the team is coming in over-budget, what can be done to help?
  4. Resource management
    1. Is the flow of resources healthy?
    2. Does the team have everything they need to do the work?
    3. Is anything missing?
    4. Do you have the tools you need for these tasks?
    5. Are there tools you’re not using?
    6. Are all tools being used correctly?
    7. Do you need new or different tools?
  5. Quality control
    1. Is all work being produced up to the quality standard expected?
    2. If work is falling short of the bar, what can be done to improve the quality?
  6. Stakeholder engagement and approval
    1. Are all stakeholders up to date on necessary information?
    2. Are stakeholders appropriately informed and engaged?
    3. Are there areas where stakeholders have expressed concern or feel changes need to be made?
  7. Team responsibilities
    1. Are team members working on the right tasks for their job?
    2. Is team bandwidth being utilized effectively?
    3. Should tasks be re-allocated? How?
  8. Best practice adherence
    1. Is this project sticking to chosen methodologies?
    2. Are all other aspects of this project in line with known best practices?
    3. Is more education needed for the team on best practices and, if so, where and how?
  9. Communication
    1. Does everyone know who to go to for various needs?
    2. Is everyone communicating in the right ways?
    3. Are communications happening in the right places?
    4. Is everyone following the same communication guidelines?

How to Conduct the Health Assessment

Remember what we said about this being like micro-cleaning? The idea is that you don’t need to run a complete and full project health assessment in one fell swoop. Instead, you’ll bit off small Chunks, Spread Out According To 

Step One: Identify What You Actually Need To Check

Not every project needs every element checked. Sometimes you’ll already know that particular things are going according to plan, like a budget where the money is already spent and there’s no way to spend more. Sometimes certain elements won’t be relevant, such as resource management if the only “resource” is time that can be rolled into personal checks.

Create your own list of the areas you need to check, and customize as part of kicking off each new project.

Step Two: Build A Schedule

How long is this project expected to last? If it’s a short-term project, maybe you check on one element every day. If it’s longer term, maybe you do one check per week.

Just like with your list, you’ll want to set up a new schedule to reflect each project’s needs at kick off. Consider making each check item a task or milestone item in Jira or Visor to help you stay on top of the plan.

A Gantt chart in Visor, showing a health check milestone item

Step Three: Run The Check 

You want to go line by line and do an active problem elimination. For each area you’re checking, note what you’re looking for and what counts as falling short of the bar and have a plan to follow up on places where you’re not pleased with the results.

If you’re checking the health of a team’s responsibilities, what is it you’re looking for? Perhaps it’s bandwidth and stress. In this case, you’ll want to offer each team member the opportunity to assess their own bandwidth and report back to you on a standardized scale, such as rating their workload from 1 (too light) to 4 (too heavy). Before sending that assessment, you’d want to know that 2 (light but productive) and 3 (heavy but manageable) are the bars, and have a plan for following up with team members who list a 1 or 4.

Each check will likely need to be done in a different way, which is another benefit of separating them out. Some methods of assessing project health include:

  1. Questionnaires – A short series of questions that turns conversational data into measurable numbers. These are great for team temp checks, stakeholder involvement, and quantifying qualitative information.
  2. Meetings – They might be informal, formal, 1:1s, or group workshops. Meetings are ideal for interpersonal information gathering like team stress assessments, but they’re also a good fit for ephemeral line items that cannot be formally measured, such as stakeholder approval.
  3. Data reviews – Perhaps the most simple method, this involves reviewing existing hard data. Best used for concretes like budget, timelines, and progress metrics.

Keeping in mind that problems are often inter-connected, don’t let yourself get too bogged down. Because you’re only checking one area at a time, you don’t need to set aside problems as they arise in favor of continuing to look for other issues. This method is more agile, because it allows you to tackle one issue at a time, as they arise.

Step Four: Repeat

The beauty of method, and the reason it’s so habit-forming, is that you never truly stop checking. 

Thus, in spite of the fact that you aren’t running comprehensive checks, you’re more likely to spot problems, because you won’t treat checks as one-and-done, but as an ongoing, continuous system. You’re also more likely to catch smaller discrepancies earlier, because you’ll notice patterns and changes over time.

Wishing You An Easy, Smooth Project Health Assessment

Less effort, better results? Sounds too good to be true, but it’s just a different way of approaching the problem. Handling a project health assessment this way can speed up your process, reduce stress, and ultimately make health checks a regular part of every project.

If you’re looking to build ground-up project visibility, Visor can help you achieve crystal clear alignment and stop problems before they start. Try today, totally free.

If this article was helpful, considering reading these related articles:

  1. Words and Numbers: How to Make Your Data Speak for You
  2. 6 Ways to Manage Jira Projects Better with Visor
  3. The Easy Way to Color Code Your Gantt Chart: Color Presets & Tips

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