What is a project review and why are they important? Project reviews are about learning for future projects. However, before you start make sure that the project really is finished. I wrote about Project Closure last week.
When to Hold a Project Review?
Internally, a project review needs to be held quickly. Before the project team get involved in other projects, and whilst events are fresh in the mind.
If you are thinking of involving Clients/Customers in the project review, it may be better to wait a few months. You may have finished the project, however the customer may not have realised any business benefit yet. Waiting until the client can start to see benefits can put them in a better mood for a review.
A project review or project audit can take place anytime during a project. For long projects they often happen at the at the end of a phase. If the project is short – maybe 3 months – then the whole project can be reviewed at completion.
The Project Review Agenda
The steps for a project review, or potential agenda. You can use this as a Project Review Checklist :
- Closed: Make sure that the project really is finished. The end of a project is often rushed, poorly planned, and prone to customer changes and senior management interference. Read the Project Closure blog.
- Independent Chair: The best person to chair a project review is independent. Perhaps somebody not involved in the project at all. This is the best method to get an unbiased view of the project successes and issues.
- Agenda: Set an agenda, and invite people with plenty of advanced notice. Make it clear the data you will require for the review meeting.
- No Blame Culture: State that the purpose of the review is to improve for the future, and make sure that a ‘no-blame’ attitude is set. If there is a blame culture in an organisation, then it is difficult to elicit true project success or failure factors.
- Positives What Went Well: Start with the good news first. Ask about “What went well” and capture reasons for why it went well.
- What Can be Improved in the Future: Avoid “Negatives” or “What went wrong” as it will make staff defensive. A good project review is open and honest.
- Review the Project Objectives: Start at a high level. Were all of the objectives met? Where they the right objectives?
- Review the Task Estimates: How accurate were the estimates. Look at the baseline created at the start of the project and compare with the actuals. Estimates of Cost, Work, and Duration need to be investigated. Ideally sort the project tasks by the largest variances to talk about the biggest differences.
- Lessons Leaned Log (LLL): Record learning in a log that will be available to all others working on any project anywhere in the organisation.
- Review Risk Log: The risk log will reveal which risks occurred (and to what severity). It is also useful to review risks that appeared after the start of the project to learn why they were not identified.
- Further Projects: Consider what future projects may happen (or not) because of the review into this project. Will there be a ‘follow-up’ project? Do other projects need information from this review?
One option would be to use the Project Sponsor to chair the review. At the very least one of the senior managers should be present t thank the project team for their efforts on the project.
The purpose of a project review is to improve the next project. Better estimates for tasks will lead to better project plans. Better project plans will be more reliable, and enable better management decisions to be made.
It is imperative that the learning from the project review is shared on existing projects, and also available company wide. Project review documents are the property of the company (not the project manager) and need to be accessible to all staff.
In some cases they need to be publicly available. A recent banking system IT upgrade project failure by the TSB affected many users, and reviews issued publicly are meant to reassure customers. Government sponsored projects should also have reviews publicly available.
Project Review Video
I have a video clip of my lectures on project reviews:
The next step is to ensure that benefits are gained from the project. This may not be the role of the project manager.
Project Reviews are important to learn for the future
Project Audits often take place during and at the end of a project. A project review takes place when the project is closed. A project review is corporate learning, and a chance to make the following projects even better.