TORONTO – Like the human body or an automobile, software projects need frequent check-ups to make sure they’re running smoothly, according to two speakers at ProjectWorld Toronto.

Speaking to an audience of project

managers Wednesday, Peter Kulik and David Moore explained how following best practices, including performing frequent “”health checks”” for software projects, can ensure that projects stay on track.

Kulik, managing director of KLCI Research Group in Dayton, Ohio, described health checks as a way to guarantee that commitments made early in a software project are achievable.

“”Software projects are more difficult than any other kind of project because there are more variables and more surprises that can occur. It’s actually getting more difficult as time goes on because projects are getting more complex,”” Kulik said.

Not having a good handle on a software project can have a serious impact on an organization on a broader scale, he said, because a late project can affect the bottom line.

“”If a company is expecting an ROI for every software project that occurs, delaying ROI delays earnings,”” he said.

Moore, who is engaged in process development, improvement and support in systems and technology methodologies and planning at RBC Royal Bank in Toronto, described how the health check evaluation methodology has worked for them.

“”Health check is a project risk self-assessment performed by project team members who know best what’s going on with a project,”” he explained.

The project manager chooses key team members to participate in the health check, who in turn respond to the survey anonymously. The project manager is then given the amalgamated responses and is able to gauge the health of the project and share the results with the team.

Moore said in a large company this methodology is particularly useful when team members are cross-functional.

“”Communication is often difficult and this helps to open the door between the project manager and the team. It gets the conversation going,”” he said.

The key purpose of the health check is to zero in on what’s hurting in the project at any particular moment and determine how these pain points can be addressed in order to keep the project on track.

Moore described the three ratings that could be given to a project after a health check occurs: green, which means that the project is on track and another health check needn’t occur for six months; yellow, which means that there are problem areas and another health check should be done in three months; and red, which means the project could be on its “”death march.””

Moore said that since implementing the health check system at RBC, green light ratings have been on the increase.

Kulik recommended organizations also consider other best practices, including assigning a junior project manager to keep the schedule up to date. While there’s a cost associated with it, he said the benefit is huge. He also suggested project teams have periodic risk assessment meetings that are separate from regular project management meetings. This kind of communication makes methodologies such as the health check system work, he said.

“”Achieving project completion is possible,”” Moore said, “”but in today’s world you really have to drill down and figure out what’s happening with your team. They need to be honest in their answers and be willing to give feedback.””

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