PM Earth

Project Management Independence

29 December 2007

Project Management Independence

This section explains the meaning, benefits, and costs of a quality called independence in reviews and audits. It shows the different perspectives on the issue from two different professional standards: online project management and auditing.

What is independence?

Independence of a review or audit is the absence of two things: shared ideas that might be wrong, and conflict of interest. Greater independence allows the benefits of greater objectivity. Independence applies at five different levels:

Ideas. If one person both performs work, and reviews or audits it, then his idea of what is correct will be in the work, and is likely to be in the review or audit, as well. If the idea is incorrect, it will not be detected. In review or audit, the incorrect idea is simply checked against itself, and the error is not caught. The error then moves forward into the next phase of the project, or is included in the product. This is also true if the reviewer or auditor is a separate person, but he shares ideas with, or follows the ideas of, the worker or work team, and does not compare to an independent standard.

Individuals. If an individual both performs the work and reviews or audits the work, then he is almost certain to carry some of his own ideas with him. For example, the author of a document has a hard time editing and proofreading his own work, because he knows what he intended to write. Someone who does not know what he intended to write can notice when something doesn't make any sense or is ungrammatical much more easily. This applies to all project documents and designs. Also, even if the individual manages independence of ideas during a review, the appearance of a conflict of interest is still present.

Process. If the process of the review or audit is not independent of the process it is reviewing, then this creates a conflict of interest. For example, if a project is running late and under pressure to catch up, then both the work in the phases and the reviews at the end of the phase are subject to pressure to go faster. That increases the chances of error in the work and also increases the chances that the error won't be found in the review. Two things can be done to increase independence in the process of a review or audit. The first is to allocate sufficient time and resources. The second is to hold an independent reviewer accountable for the quality of the project.

Authority, power, and reporting structure. If a reviewer or auditor reports to someone or is a close colleague of someone, then his review or audit contains a conflict of interest. The reviewer or auditor may be unconsciously or intentionally biased in favor or, or in opposition to, the worker, and therefore hide or over-report errors in the work. In addition, if the worker or the worker's superior and ally is an authority over the reviewer or auditor, then conscious or unconscious intimidation can be a factor. There is a very real danger in speaking truth to power.

Appearance. Even when no conflict of interest is present, a conflict of interest may appear to be present to an outside third party. For example, a PMO may make every effort to prepare unbiased assessments and audits. But, if the results of those assessments and audits promote the PMO's position, there appears to be a lack of independence, and the assessment or audit is suspect.

The following sections discuss the benefits and costs of independence, when independence is required by the project management tools and auditing professions, and how to apply these ideas when setting up assessment, review, and audit services in a PMO.


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