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Chartered Project Professional – Elective Competence 17: Independent Assurance

John Bolton John Bolton

Published: 27th April 2020

ChPP (Chartered Project Professional) candidates must be able to demonstrate experience that satisfies the specific Professional Practice assessment criteria. They will also, at interview, need to demonstrate their advanced Technical Knowledge and understanding against the stated Technical Knowledge assessment criteria. Here we look at APM ChPP Elective Competence 17.

Aspiring Chartered Project Professionals who do not already hold a recognised assessment for professional practice must be able to show that their experience satisfies the specific Professional Practice Assessment Criteria with a written submission. As part of this they will also need to show competence in twelve competence areas. Ten of these are mandatory and two are selected from a selection of 14 Elective Competencies. The one we are looking at here is Independent Assurance.

Introduction to the Independent Assurance competence.

From the APM Competence Independent Assurance is:

“The ability to gather independent evidence that the information from the change initiative is valid, and that the change initiative is likely to achieve its aims. Independent assurance provides additional confidence to stakeholders that change initiatives will achieve their scope, time, cost and quality objectives, and realise their anticipated benefits. It is carried out independently of those directly involved in delivering the change initiatives, although in some cases it might be carried out by colleagues from within the same organisation. It is a separate process to the quality assurance carried out as part of the change initiative’s internal quality management, which is addressed in the separate competence on quality management.”

As mentioned before the term ‘change initiative’ can cause confusion. This was a phrase introduced back in BoK 6 where it was used to describe collectively Projects, Programmes and Portfolios. The nature of these is that they introduce change, why do a project, programme or portfolio if not to change something?  As far as ChPP is concerned everything is a project, so don’t get confused with change initiative and change management or change control (common mistake).

What needs to be demonstrated for ChPP?

The APM have helpfully split this important subject into a set of key criteria that must be demonstrated. And these are as follows, not forgetting that you only need to demonstrate four of them: –

PP1.1 effectively resource independent assurance activities

Resourcing an independent assurance resource on most projects happens naturally. Consider the fact that a PM may not have a detailed knowledge of the technical aspects of the project. The technical products are produced by the project teams and they in turn will have a responsibility for ensuring they are fit for purpose. The PM should not simply accept their word for it that these products are indeed acceptable. The PM will therefore need to appoint some technical expert to oversee the definition of the specifications and subsequently take part in the assessment of the outputs.

This is ‘assurance’ and it is in principle external to what the PM is doing. You cannot mark your own homework. In a similar sense the project will be subject to the independent assurance imposed by the sponsor and the sponsoring organisation. This takes the familiar form of some form of audit. Does the PM resource this? Probably not, but in a program or portfolio context the programme or portfolio manager may. The ChPP candidate will need to demonstrate how they planned and organised these various levels of checks.  

PP1.2 agree the scope of and responsibilities for manageable independent assurance activities

The leader of the project will need to show that they have adequately specified and engaged the various players described in the paragraph under PP1.1. This will take the form of terms of Reference perhaps, some form of scoping document. It will also need to describe to whom the individual (or group) will report. There can be no direct responsibility between the person undertaking the assurance and the person(s) managing the work. This impartiality and dispassionate approach must be maintained.  

PP1.3 prioritise independent assurance activities based on a risk assessment of the projects

There are two levels of assurance 1) the technical product level and b) the governance level; the independent assurance of the PM teams themselves. These are very different and will require a different approach and therefore different evidence provided depending on the role of the applicant ChPP. If a programme manager, descriptions of the way the latter has bee done and for the ‘jobbing’ project manger the technical assurance route will be better and easier to demonstrate. The risk-based approach will be driven by simply that – the risk of the particular undertaking being considered. The risk of a multi-million pound project overspending by 20% could be considered a higher risk than a £100k project delivering a faulty product. If this product is a safety critical system for an aircraft however it might be a completely different matter. This is what a risk-based approach means.

PP2.1 conduct independent assurance activities making recommendations for corrective action where required

It is a tautology to expect a ChPP to ‘conduct independent assurance’. To be independent the project manager cannot do it. If the PM does it, it cannot be independent. If we take a more liberal view of what this means, shall we consider that it is focusing on the PM making sure that it is conducted, rather than doing it themselves. Perhaps this is the only way of solving the conundrum.

So, the ChPP candidate will need to show how these are being done, and moreover, what happens to the recommendations if they are to satisfy ChPP Competence 17. These can be many and varied, checking progress more often for example, or at a technical level, changing the way a product is packaged. These are potentially areas where improvements can be made. Of course, there is a potential for criticism of the PM and unfortunately if their role is less than effective, this could be a good indicator for areas for improvements.

PP2.2 maintain effective two-way communication with all stakeholders such that corrective action is reported and concerns are addressed promptly

The areas of improvement alluded to above are those that could be targeted as areas for improvement as described it the criterion itself. This is referring to the need to be open an honest, not sweep things under the carpet and to make sure there is a productive arena to learn and make things better. The outcome of an independent assurance activity ought to be a productive activity rather than a blame game.  The ChPP is going to need to demonstrate how they personally contributed to this principle.

PP2.3 provide effective advice, guidance and support to the implementation of recommendations

The independent assurance report will contain (usually) many constructive comments. Some of which can be implemented now, some will be valuable for future projects. The ChPP applicant will need to demonstrate how they have been constructively implementing either of these either themselves or through the auspices of others.

PP2.4 analyse patterns of change which could inform the future performance of projects

This is probably more relevant to technical level assurance where observations are proving to be repetitive could be of value for planning in the future. Perhaps where a particular process is resulting in a poor product and this is deteriorating over time, the applicant will need to show how they have identified these things and made arrangements to pre-empt them for the future as part of meeting the APM ChPP Elective Competence 17.

What does a good submission for ChPP Competence 17 look like?

Project3: I implemented two levels of assurance, one at the technical level of product production, the other at organisational level. I worked with the sponsor to agree a schedule of audits, where they would commission a review of my own (and that of my team) to ensure work was progressing to plan. I drafted draft terms of reference for an audit, after discussions with the sponsor we concluded that these would be valuable if undertaken at key milestones (e.g. just after development work started).

To remain impartial, I recommended that this be undertaken by an external audit firm. The audit report went to the project controls office and I worked with them to understand the nature of the observations and the practical activities I could do to solve them. The anticipation was this would provide me some re-assurance that I had the project well organised. The second level was at the technical ‘coal face’:

  • I engaged a technical architect to act as the main point of assurance on my team.
  • I ensured they had been fully briefed and that the rest of the team knew what they were there for.
  • I made sure the high-risk elements of the project build were very carefully assessed as errors there would have a knock on effect for the rest of the job.
  • I ensured that the concrete pour was very carefully checked and measured as if the foundations were faulty, the rest of the construction would be compromised.

250 words – WARNING – I am not suggesting that this would be successful, I am not the assessor who will be assessing it, but I wouldn’t mind betting it has a strong chance of being suitable.

Please remember to satisfy ChPP Competence 17 – What YOU did, lots of I, me, and my.

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