Your project needs a WOF. Here’s why.

Mar 3, 2023

My car just failed its warrant of fitness – happy new year to me. It was a bit of a surprise. My car will flash and beep at me because I’m speeding or have low windscreen fluid, but could it tell me when my tyres were bald? It could not.

After blaming the worn-out tyres on the teenager, I realised that projects could do with warning lights and fitness checks, too. Bear with me as I extend this metaphor all the way out.

Our car warning lights are the controls – the regular governance meetings and reporting. The WOF checks are the inflight audits and reviews, which give us that critical oversight of the project.

The ignorance trap
The underlying cause of so many project failures? Ignorance. This can be down to people unconsciously hiding or downplaying issues, being overconfident enough to not think there’s an issue or not seeing the real complexity. Hidden issues won’t just make it hard for your PM and team to reach their objectives. Eventually, they’ll rot the entire project from the inside, leaving it in tatters and your respect as the sponsor in ruins.

It means successful projects always need a warts-and-all view. Because eventually, you’ll have to face up to reality. The worst way to do that is to experience a catastrophic failure, a problem big enough to make people notice – an investor or client pulls the pin, cash runs out and everything skids to a halt. The best way is to get ahead of all those potential issues with a project fitness test.

I’ve seen the value of this first-hand – some of the best projects I’ve worked on had regular reviews built in, and some of our best-performing customers do this, too. Here’s why your projects need the same.

Get your project fitness test
It goes without saying that if you can’t see issues, you can’t fix them. A clear-eyed view of what’s happening means you can step in before you end up in a ditch.

Save money
Keep driving on my bald tyres, and sooner or later I’d crash. If I’m lucky, it’d only cost me money. Regular project fitness checks let you catch your metaphorical bald tyres early. With the right audits, reviews and fitness checks, you can catch those minor issues before they turn into big expensive problems.

Protect against blowouts
Inflight reviews are the best way to protect against schedule and budget blowouts. They’re a bit like getting insurance – the audit will almost certainly cost less than the cash burn from slipping in the timelines by even one week.

Get quality assurance
You might be on schedule and on budget, but are you on point? Project assurance checks make sure the work you’re doing will achieve your goals. Looking at just the facts gives you a clear view of the project’s chance of success, helping you win the trust of stakeholders.

Here’s the thing. You can’t really do a fitness test in-house – there’s simply not enough perspective and too many conflicting priorities to get your people to self-assess gaps. Even if they could do that, you’re still gambling on your people having the courage to act, and maybe admit they were at fault.
An external view is essential. It takes away the hidden agenda and the desire to smooth over failings.

Let’s look under the bonnet
If you’re already starting to see slips, it’s worth remembering that the people who got you into this mess can’t get you out of it. Bringing in new management, without preconceived ideas, perceptions or opinions, unpeels the facts from the emotions. Experienced people will also refer to ‘war stories’ drawn from other large-scale project recoveries, showing the delivery team the way forward. They know how to bring a team on the delivery journey and understand what will get your project over the line. And you? Well, you can get on with your day job.

Luminate is the independent expert you need to keep your project on the road. Our project fitness tests give you a top-line view of how you’re tracking and any signs that the wheels could come off down the road. The project fitness test covers:

Business-case credibility – are the right scope and controls in place?
Get this wrong, and your project is doomed, however well-aligned your team is.

Resources – do you have the right people in the correct roles?
It’s common to overestimate a team’s capabilities and skills, and it can take a while for those gaps to reveal themselves. We’ll take a big-picture view to spot the gaps before they cause problems.

Buy-in from all stakeholders – is the project set up for success from the beginning?
It’s not just about how well the team can do the job – they’ll also need good working relationships and buy-in from other teams and management. So, we look at that too.

Measurement – what does success look like, and how will it be measured?
You need to trust your PM while also verifying. Our project fitness test makes it easier to do that, with clearly-defined measures of success.

Is your project road-worthy?
Ok, final car metaphor. If you’re driving around with a project that’s not fit for purpose, you need to know about it now before things spin out of control. While you might have warning lights all set up, these won’t give you the full picture. For that, you need a fitness test – it’s the closest thing you’ll get to ensuring a successful outcome.