Topic 12.7: Conducting a review
There are a number of logical steps to conducting a forensic project review.
Because the forensic review should be treated as a project in its own right, we will not spend too much time on all the steps here; after all, much of this will be more than familiar to you already!
Foremost, you will need management sponsorship to:
- Acquire the necessary resources to conduct the review
- Secure access to information, and
- Get commitment to consider / follow up the recommendations.
This may require the development of a business case for a forensic project review, even if policy commitment to a review process is already in place.
Preliminary research should then be conducted to understand the project background, its objectives and the key issues.
Moreover, it is advisable to consult key stakeholders such as the project sponsor, team and client on whether there are any specific areas that need to be addressed in the review.
This process will inform your review’s terms of reference (or, as we like to think of it, your project’s charter!).
Depending on the complexity of the project, a forensic review’s scope can cover the whole project or a specific part(s) of the project.
Given the wide range of review areas, the challenge in this stage is to prioritise and focus on key issues to avoid information overload and ensure that the forensic review can be completed within the time and resource constraints.
You should also distinguish review of the project management processes from product performance and acceptance.
In developing a review methodology, the review team should determine the performance measures to be assessed and the standards they will be assessed against.
This may involve:
- Consulting end users on what should be measured
- Considering successful cases of similar projects to learn from their experience
- Benchmarking against standard values set by specialised agencies, and/or
- Discussing with stakeholders the basis for evaluation.
Data on performance measures may be located in readily available sources, such as project documents archived in the project close process, or they may need to be collected from other sources.
Depending on the sensitivity and complexity of the data required, you might consider using any one or combination of stakeholder engagement techniques, including interviews, facilitated workshops and questionnaires.
Although the review team may be tempted to collect as much data as possible, this may lead to a significant increase in cost, time and complexity with no real gain to achieving the original objectives of the review.
By the same token, the data collection process becomes so tedious that the data owners may not wish to take part in the process.
Before collecting data, the review team should also consider whether it needs to:
- Seek clearance and permission from appropriate authorities, in particular when dealing with sensitive information such as personal data
- Explain clearly the objectives of the forensic review as well as the purposes of collecting the data to the data owners in order to avoid any misunderstandings, and
- Consider the appropriate timing for data collection to avoid the possibility that the data is influenced by other unrelated factors.
For example, measuring public perception of a particular government service during sensitive periods (such as those right after a budget speech or policy address) may unduly influence the results.
You should also regularly report review status to key stakeholders throughout the review process, and appropriately manage any changes to the originally planned work.
Based on the issues identified, the review team can develop SMART recommendations with a view to bringing about future improvement.
You should focus on learning points for future improvements instead of fault-finding.
In general, the review team should:
- Develop recommendations to rectify the problems identified, to realise benefits not fully met, or to reap extra benefits
- Consult relevant stakeholders and the potential users on the practicability of the recommendations
- Develop an implementation plan, and
- Generalise the lessons learnt for wider application to improve future projects.
This may involve proposals to change policies and procedures.
The review findings and recommendations should then be reported to senior management.
A forensic review report should document the alignment of the project’s output to the original charter, the effectiveness of project management processes, lessons learned, and practice improvements that can be applied to future projects.
For more on report writing and presentation, you should revisit the relevant topics in the project initiation Module.
A final note…
After a long project, the last thing many project teams want to do is relive the process, especially when they have moved on to new work.
However, by conducting a thorough and timely forensic review, you can discover many tips and strategies for improvement, and apply those lessons to the planning and management of future projects.
It should not be forgotten, though, that the results of a forensic review are only meaningful when they are put into practice.
Every effort should be made to ensure that the lessons identified are communicated and learnt, so that the organisation can leverage its success and avoid making the same mistakes.
This is something we will look at in more detail later in this Unit.