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The fundamentals of setting up a quality assurance programme

As I wrote before, quality assurance is very important in programmes and projects.

However, having been involved in programme and project assurance for many years, I’ve learned there is no one size fits all approach to quality assurance programmes.

So how do you go about setting up a quality assurance programme?

Here are a few fundamentals to consider:

Size & complexity of the programme/projects

This will help determine not only the level of assurance required, but also the order in which the programme/projects should be assessed.

There’s no point setting up a complex system of checks for projects that last four weeks and have a budget of $50,000. Similarly you wouldn’t do just one health check in six months if your programme is multi-project, multi-year, and has a multi-million dollar budget.

In terms of prioritisation, you wouldn’t put the assurance of a low risk project before the assurance of a high risk project. When determining the priority of programmes and projects make sure you pick metrics that matter to your organisation. Some popular metrics to consider are:

  • Complexity
  • Number of resources involved
  • Budget
  • Duration
  • Level of expected benefits

Time and resource availability

Create an assurance calendar to map out time and resource availability reviews in advance. This way you can avoid critical dates for the programmes/projects and ensure you have enough people available to do all the reviews. It also lets you clearly see any programmes or projects that might have been missed. Once the calendar is ready it can be publicised on the intranet.

Types of checks you want to do

When I set up assurance programmes, I use a three level approach to make sure I cover everything that needs to be covered in the most efficient way possible:

Level 1

This is a desktop review done independently of the project team. Desktop reviews can vary in duration from a couple of hours, if looking at one project, to many days, if looking at multiple projects. It can cover all or some of the following categories:

  • Scope
  • Governance
  • Planning
  • Finance
  • Benefits
  • Resources
  • Risk & issues management
  • Change control
  • Change management/stakeholder engagement
  • Communications
  • Quality
  • Documentation

Level 2

This is a more traditional check that involves interviewing team members, the project manager, the programme manager, at least one steering committee representative and, depending on the nature of the programme or project being assessed, other stakeholders.

By its very nature this level of check needs careful planning and should be scheduled in advance to ensure everyone that needs to be interviewed is available. I normally block out 10 days for a level 2 check to make enough time to prepare, interview, write up and disseminate my findings.

Level 3

This is an external quality assurance check that involves bringing in a third party audit company to review part/all of a programme or project(s). This needs to be planned well in advance and should involve a continuous dialogue between the internal assurance team and the audit company to ensure the maximum benefit is achieved.

Conclusion

By taking some time to get your quality assurance programme balance right, you will maximise the value you get from the audits and checks. It will also minimise the disruption to the programme and project teams.

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