The complexity of change
‘Project management 101’ tells us that project (and programme) management is about the delivery of change within an environment. To achieve specific benefits and scope. On time. On budget.
Yet the statistics around project ‘success’ (on time/budget/scope) are appalling. International multi-sector project delivery assessments are consistently telling us that huge proportions of projects are late, over budget, significantly de-scoped, or even cancelled.
The public sector has historically relied on ‘assurance’ to help improve performance, and in recent years, this focus has started to recognise the value of independence to the assurance process. Now the private sector is increasingly recognising the value of independent assurance (as opposed to a traditional project ‘audit’ function).
In early June, we completed our 200th independent review. Based on this experience, we’ve taken a short look at where we believe the value is to an organisation’s delivery capability in having a well-integrated independent assurance process.
The value of assurance
Independent project/programme assurance provides objective and non-partisan oversight of both the current and future performance of a project. It helps to guide the party responsible for sanctioning and/or financing the project on the likelihood of the actual delivery of the promised benefits of the investment.
The discipline is very different to that of a typical ‘audit’ which focuses primarily on control processes and past history; independent assurance not only considers the whole environment of delivery but focuses both on:
- the actual current state of the project and the reasons for this
- the predicted future of the project and its chances of success
- what needs to happen to improve the chances of successful delivery.
Even more important, independent assurance reviews are conducted by experienced personnel who have themselves successfully delivered projects and programmes, and who understand the challenges and risks involved.
As such, independent assurance has emerged as an effective response to consistent problems across widely varying projects – scope creep, cost escalation, extended timescales, reduced quality, et cetera.
It also fulfils a need to provide confidence for the Senior Responsible Owner or other and budget-holders that the project (and the investment) are in ‘safe hands’.
Reviews are often called on sparingly (and almost never budgeted for), generally after the project is well underway and in reaction to a perceived problem. In other words: far too late! The role of reviews should be preventive, not just forensic – but even after major issues are identified, an independent review can help project owners to understand their options and if necessary re-align (or even cancel!) a project.
The value of independence
In today’s ever more demanding economic climate, no organisation (whether public or private) can afford for its major projects or programmes to fail.
Independent assurance plays a vital role in confirming that projects and programmes are on track, or in identifying the need for early action to correct problems and reduce future risks and enhance ‘deliverability’. Expert independent assurance reviewers make an objective assessment of the state of the project and its deliverability at various key points in a project’s lifecycle, and can confirm whether project or governance intervention is required.
However, not every organisation has the capability, capacity, or experience required to carry out effective programme assurance. By choosing an independent expert assurance partner to conduct assurance reviews, organisations benefit from an entirely objective team with experience in best practice in delivering successful projects and programmes.
Such a team brings not only their own knowledge and experience, but can also help to upskill your staff to address the ever-present risk of cost and times overruns, and significantly improve the chances of success.
It is only when integrated assurance processes using teams of independent domain experts regularly report to an empowered governance framework that real improvements can be seen. Issues and discrepancies can then be identified and acted upon preventively – in short, it maximised the likelihood of successful project delivery!
Reviews should be conducted throughout the lifecycle of a project, starting before its inception and ending after its final delivery. In other words; reviews should be part of a comprehensive and integrated end-to-end project assurance approach.
The value of ALCO Consulting
ALCO Consulting’s assurance experts have over 50 years combined international experience in both hands-on project/programme delivery and providing independent assurance to organisations and governments worldwide.
This gives us a wealth of international best-practice experience, allowing us to cross-pollinate lessons learned and innovative approaches from projects and clients around the world.
Our assurance lead, Co-founder and Executive Director Chris Shoukry, has led over 200 successful reviews for clients and is frequently asked back to monitor delivery progress and risk mitigation effectiveness by satisfied clients.
Our assurance team includes a number of internal staff and ‘Associates’ spread internationally who hold appropriate assurance accreditations. These include Gateway and Project Assurance Review (‘PAR’) accreditations, and ALCO Consulting are members of panels or ‘pre-approved supplier lists’ in jurisdictions across the world.
At ALCO Consulting, we recognise that every organisation and every project/programme is unique and tailor our reviews to specifically meet the needs of each client. We always work with clients to agree the objectives, scope, and deliverables of each review to maximise the value of the review to the client, to ensure that the recommendations are both practical and implementable, and go as far as possible to maximise the fulfilment of the project’s benefits.
Our aim in each review is to provide an objective analysis and a set of recommendations to the client to allow informed decision-making to maximise value-for-money and benefit realisation. Working together, our independent assurance and strategic advisory divisions provide a genuine value-add to our clients, ensuring the best outcomes.
A well-defined and implemented assurance process helps to improve the client’s capability to manage problems, promotes learning and sharing of experience, and thereby increases the level of success, not only for current projects but for future investments.
Clients we’ve supported in successfully delivering critical programmes
Our recent independent assurance clients include:
- Transport for London
- the State Governments of Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland in Australia
- UK Cabinet Office (Infrastructure Projects Authority)
- City of Vancouver
- the Governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
- numerous other public and private high-value/high-risk projects worldwide.