A paper presented to the International Seminar on Project Management for Developing Countries, September 4 to 6, 1991, in New Delhi, India. The audience was made up of mostly construction people, but much of the following content could equally apply to large projects in other areas of application.

Executive Summary  | Index | Part 1 | Part 2 | Conclusions | References

How Should the PMA be Conducted?

Perhaps the overriding consideration is that the PMA should be conducted, and the resulting report written, in a truly constructive vein. Failure to follow this basic precept can so undermine project morale, that it will be difficult to obtain the required information for PMA purposes, and any potential benefit will be totally negated.

The PMA, whether carried out formally or informally, regularly or one-off, is essentially the development of a set of questions and answers obtained through the examination of data or through personal interviews, and which provides a current snapshot of the health of the project. In this respect, however, it is rather like a company's annual financial statement. It may contain a lot of interesting information, but does not serve its full purpose unless compared either with similar previous reviews, or more importantly, with the governing project management plan.

In developing the set of questions, it is suggested that each should be cross-referenced to the relevant section of the governing plan or procedure, the potential concerns identified and the persons to whom each question will be addressed. The questions can also be most conveniently grouped according to the project management function as outlined in Part 2 of this paper.

Essential to the success of the process are three considerations, namely:

  • The reporting level
  • A future orientation (not past), and
  • A perceived net benefit to the members of the project team themselves

The PM Appraiser should not report to, i.e. be responsible to, any of the individuals who may be referenced in the report. That is not to say that the draft findings should not be shared with those involved. Indeed they should be. Early acknowledgement of this basic factor will not only be in the interests of accuracy and honesty, but will encourage cooperation and ideally earlier implementation of the recommendations. Conversely, the final PMA report must be presented to those who are in a position to act on the advice, or ensure that the recommendations are effectively executed.

The PMA must focus on the project's goals and objectives to be achieved in the future, through the work still to be done and the means of achieving it. Therefore, close scrutiny of projections and forecasts are much more appropriate than historic records reflecting what might have been done wrong or differently in the past.

Theoretically, the cost of conducting PMAs should be justifiable on the basis of benefits received. However, this is not always easy to demonstrate in hard accounting terms, because the benefits derived are obtained in terms of avoidance of unnecessary costs.

Therefore at the very least, the PMA process must be able to demonstrate that:

  • potential problems are being identified earlier than they might otherwise be
  • practical and timely recommendations for corrective action are being offered, and
  • the presence of the PM Appraiser is welcomed by the project team

To be perceived as a net benefit to the members of the project team themselves, the PMA must not be seen as an additional layer of management. Rather it must be seen as an opportunity to improve the health of the project, increase the chances of a successful outcome, and hence a benefit to all those involved. The PMA process must be a mutually supportive and truly participatory effort, which starts from the top down and grows from the bottom up.

Commitment to the appraisal process by members of the project group will greatly improve its effectiveness, reliability and value. Properly structured, the PMA can provide a strengthening of the project management process and an early warning system for senior management.

One of many frequent findings is the need for additional training in areas of weakness, typically the knowledge and application of the project's management procedures. Since the procedure manual is both necessary and relevant, a program of regular discussions on this otherwise dry material can be illuminating to trainees and trainers alike. In fact, on-the-job training is much more cost effective than importing those with the additional expertise but who lack the detailed knowledge of the project. It is also a powerful motivator and builder of commitment to the success of the project.

The methodology involved is really quite simple. The PMA follows these steps:

  1. Establish the PMA's goal and scope
  2. Acquire information
  3. Examine and correlate the information and, in the light of the reviewer's experience, determine its relevance, completeness and reliability
  4. Draw conclusions on the current status of the project
  5. Develop recommendations affecting the future project status
  6. Discuss the preliminary draft of the findings and recommendations with those interviewed, and modify as appropriate
  7. Present the final results for discussion with those who commissioned the appraisal
  8. Discharge the appraisal team, until recalled

As noted earlier, the potentially adverse affects on the project organization of conducting a PMA must be recognized from the outset. Consequently, a constructive approach must be maintained which focuses on enabling the project organization to improve performance in the future. Any suggestion of attempting to pinpoint responsibility for past short-comings should be strictly avoided. In fact, any issues identified during the appraisal which, as a result, have already been corrected should obviously be so noted or omitted altogether from the report. Thus, the PMA must be carefully prepared and conducted with tact and discretion in the interests of continuing harmony.

Who Should Conduct a PMA?  Who Should Conduct a PMA?

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