Consider a Cold Eye Review

Input from independent experts can bolster prospects for project success

By Brett W. Bailey, Pathfinder, LLC

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The cold eye reviewers must objectively assess the status of the project or deliverables in question, unencumbered by any preconceived sponsor, gatekeeper, management or project team impressions. Their charter is to provide an accurate evaluation of where the project actually stands, pointing out both positive and negative factors.

For a PDRI scoring session, for example, they should derive a totally independent objective score and present this to the project team. The reviewers should pinpoint, in quantifiable dimensions, gaps that must be addressed as well as areas where additional effort is unnecessary or even counter-productive. They should include gap closure plans, including recommendations for improving those areas that haven't yet progressed to the appropriate maturity/quality for passage to the next project phase. These gap closure suggestions can prove invaluable in putting a project back on course, thereby preventing the huge costs associated with error correction during execution (Figure 4).

To permit proper analysis, the independent experts must receive phase-appropriate project deliverables before they begin review/scoring sessions. Traditional engineering/technical deliverables, such as piping and instrumentation drawings, process flow diagrams and plot plans, are essential — but so, too, are project management and project controls information such as the project execution plan, cost estimate, cost estimate basis memorandum, project schedule and schedule basis, and project risk register.

After outside experts have thoroughly evaluated this information, they should interview selected key project team personnel, preferably in person, using a set of standard questions supplemented by specific questions derived from the project documentation review. Interviews typically should take 60 to 90 minutes. They should be conducted in a secure location that enables the interviewee to speak candidly without fear of reprisal or group pressure. The summary of the interviews should not attribute comments to any particular individual.

Cold eye reviews, if held early enough, planned well, thoroughly implemented and properly followed-up upon, can provide critical information to project teams — allowing them, with management assistance, to correct or upgrade areas with deficiencies, address miscommunication, and promote a successful outcome. Many times, project team personnel know of deficiencies but don't bring them up because they lack the proper forum to do so. Sometimes, a team doesn't realize its view of project goals doesn't square with management's.

So, such reviews should not be looked upon as "make work" drills to be casually conducted by self-interested parties, but rather as opportunities to assess where projects really stand, close gaps and significantly enhance the potential for success.

Successful reviews and facilitated improvement efforts will ensure projects achieve their objectives, while effectively identifying and capturing any opportunities to further optimize value and exceed goals.

BRETT W. BAILEY is general manager, management and consulting, for Pathfinder, LLC, Cherry Hill, N.J. E-mail him at

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