A health check is a formal examination assessing if an IT project is on track and under control, and serving as a valuable continuous improvement tool. The outcome is a project health report that proactively and impartially informs project stakeholders of the well-being of the initiative.

Too often, a project health check is only initiated once a project already is in trouble. But best-in-class organizations require health checks at several points during a project’s life cycle.

Creating the health report can be time-consuming, and it is typically not the responsibility of the project manager (PM). Instead, such reports should be produced by an independent party for the benefit of the project sponsor. I’ve seen health checks carried out effectively by a central Project Management Office, an internal auditor, or an external 3rd party.

How is a health report different from a status report?

Given its unbiased and data-driven nature, a project health report gauges the validity and transparency of regular project status reports. The critical differences between a project status report and a health check are:

IT Project Status ReportIT Project Health Report
PurposeCommunicate tactical progressContinuous improvement
AuthorProject managerIndependent party
Target AudienceExtended project teamProject stakeholders and sponsor
FrequencyWeeklySpot-checks as desired, or every 6-12 months

What is included in an IT project health report?

The 7 elements of a high-quality health report are:

1. Major Work Streams

Identify relevant work streams and assess each on scope, schedules, resources, costs, and percent complete versus the plan.

2. Executive Support

Assess the support and commitment demonstrated by executives. Are the project team and PM using executive support when needed? Has executive support been effective? Are steering committee meetings attended by all members? Is the steering committee doing its job?

3. Change Management

Are change management aspects of the project tracking to the plan? Assess the Awareness of the change, Desire to support the change, Knowledge provided to implement the change, Ability of the team to implement the change, and the presence of adequate Reinforcement and support for the change going forward. (ADKAR model courtesy of Prosci.)

4. Risks

Review and validate identified risks. Prioritize risks by level of impact and likelihood. Assess the effectiveness of the project team’s risk mitigation steps.

5. Issues

Assess the management of issues. Note the status (open or closed), criticality, turnaround time, and resources allocated for each issue. Note: poor performance on issues management and resolution is often an early indicator of trouble.

6. Benefits Realization

Are any of the project’s expected benefits in danger? Is there a sustained justification to complete the project? Are business cases and benefits still valid?

7. Summary

Briefly describe the overall health of the project and any further guidance or recommendations based on project management best practices.

No need go overboard. The effort to produce a health report should simply be a matter of what needs to be done, by whom, and at what points during the project.

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All critical IT projects should include independent, impartial, recurring health checks. The benefits to performing this step at various stages of a project’s lifecycle are significant. Try it—it works! And don’t wait until your project is clearly failing.