Why Project Reviews Might Fail

I recently wrote about project reviews. A project review is learning from a project once it has been completed. I described the process as “Corporate Learning” – a way to ensure that the next project ran smoother, and was more successful. I have just read an article suggesting that reviews might inherently fail due to several preconceptions. Therefore this blog looks at why project reviews might fail.

Learning from Defeat

In the UK, the Labour party have just lost their 4th general election in a row, and have promised to ‘reflect’. After losing the second election in 2015 a task force was set up to “learn the lessons from defeat”. Two more defeats have followed in 2017 and 2019.

These warnings that a political party might not be able to learn are equally applicable to projects and project reviews.

The article suggest several reasons why people do not want to believe the truth that a review might reveal:

  1. We can naturally attribute success to ourselves, but failure to external influences. For a project review we must make sure that both internal and external reasons for failure are investigated.
  2. A review chaired by a strong management team may suggest changes to suit their existing thoughts and beliefs. Alternatively, if the management team are weak (or not interested in the project review), the suggestions may be the beliefs of the project workers rather than the management. Neither may be the best result. Ideally all parties need to agree the learning points.

So what advice is there to hold a good project review?

Four Steps to Learning at a Project Review

The article suggests that these four steps are required to hold an effective review. Without these, the review will take place, but the real reasons for failure may never become apparent:

  • A safe environment: Where people can honestly, openly admit their short comings without any fear of reprisals. Feeling psychologically safe in expressing their thoughts and opinions.
  • The ability to recognise and admit to any personal complicity in the failure, and therefore a willingness to change. I note that the labour party leader has failed at this step.
  • Looking at different perspectives on a failure. Being able to argue against your preconceived ideas of what went wrong. This may lead to a better understanding of alternative viewpoints.
  • Experiment with solutions: Implement multiple changes, but slowly at first. Those that work carry on with, and drop those that don’t.

Although the article that I read was directed at political parties, the learning points ring equally true to project reviews.

Read the original article here.


In order for projects to improve, real and true reasons for previous project failures must be discovered.

A project review is corporate learning, and a chance to make the following projects even better. However without due care and attention, the project review will not reveal the true reasons for the failure.

Posted On: 24th February 2020

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