In fast-paced organizations, reflection often takes a backseat to action. Teams finish one project, then launch another one, often without a project review. Hence, they miss out on learning how to improve. Also, they may repeat the same mistakes from one project to the next. Likewise, if a project went well, they may not understand why.

They may view it as mere luck rather than identifying what led to their success.

For instance, in hospitals and the military, teams review their work routinely. They understand that reflection can make or break future success. The rest of us can learn a thing or two from them.

In other words, we highly recommend conducting thorough project reviews. Just as employee reviews are essential for individuals, project reviews are vital for teams. Read on to learn more about their purpose and how to get the most from them.

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1. The Purpose of A Project Review

2. How to Build A Great Project Review Team

3. The Project Review Process

4. Different Types of Project Reviews

5. Project Review Best Practices

6. What to Avoid in A Project Review

The Purpose of A Project Review

A project review evaluates the success of an initiative and identifies areas for improvement. It can also evaluate a current project to determine whether it’s on the right track. Or, it can determine the success of a completed project. Either way, teams identify lessons learned within this process. By doing so, they’ll improve their success in the future. 

As part of the review, teams debrief the project as a group. Together, they explore what they could have done better. For example, they may learn specific ways in which they can communicate better. They also acknowledge their successes so they can celebrate them. By comparing results with goals, they can refine their strategy.

If the project is still in progress, they can correct course midstream.

How to Build A Great Project Review Team

Several important roles guide the project review process. It’s also important to assign a project review leader to facilitate the process. This person can also make assessments based on data prior to the review. Assign another staff member to assist with data analysis. Also assign a notetaker who can record information throughout the process.

Some organizations assign these roles to people who had no involvement in the project. In some cases, different project managers review one another’s projects. They first brief one another on project goals, scope, team, and process. That may not always prove feasible, however. In many organizations, teams review their own projects. 

The Project Review Process

Inclusive group of three colleagues discussing a project review
Credit: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

As mentioned, you can hold product reviews during the course of a project. For large projects, this can prove especially important. For small projects, it may be overkill. If you hold reviews during a current project, set them at regular intervals. And always hold a project review at the end of a project.

Types of Evidence Examined in the Process

In project reviews, teams examine metrics and voice observations. They look at both internal and external factors that led them to achieve a particular result. Both objective and subjective information comes into play. Teams may discuss interpersonal issues that arose along with hard data. This can illuminate what human issues may have led to the project outcome. 

Project Review Process Guidelines

Within your review, make sure to cover several key elements. The following instructions and questions will ensure you address the key components of the review process. The project review leader can use them as a guide to conducting the review. 

  • Evaluate quality, time, and cost—the three main project variables, according to Harvard Business Review editors. Did you make any tradeoffs between them? Were project milestones achieved on schedule, with the desired results? Did the project exceed the budget? Detail any particular areas that proved more expensive (or inexpensive) than expected.
  • Assess your project management methodology. Was it the best choice for your team? For the project? For instance, if you employed an agile approach that prioritized speed and flexibility, did it work well?
  • Evaluate risk exposure. In addition to addressing what actually happened, look at what could have happened. Consider what serious risks occurred and how to avoid them next time. 
  • Consider whether project transitions happened efficiently, as Indeed suggests. Did the project move from one group to another at particular stages? If so, how smoothly did the project handoff unfold?
  • Conduct a gap analysis. Did team members fit their individual roles well? Did particular roles demand any skills they needed? Moreover, determine any strengths the team lacked, along with strengths they demonstrated.
  • Use a simple scoring system to represent a project’s success or risk level. Assigning a colour can work well, as Indeed outlines:
  • Green = low risk; everything is on track.
  • Yellow = some concern about progress or risk exists.
  • Red = major adjustments need to be made. Follow progress closely after making them.

Using the information you’ve gained, complete a project review template.

Project Review Template

Project Name: ______________   Score: ______

Date: _______

Brief Summary: ______________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________________

Budget

Determine how closely the project followed the set budget.

Expected BudgetActual ExpendituresDisparityUnexpected Expenses


Schedule

Consider whether the project followed the expected time frame.

Project Stage Target DateCompletion DateReasons for Any Disparity
Milestone #1
Milestone #2
Milestone #3

Outcomes

Evaluate success in achieving the project’s expected outcomes.

OutcomesPlanned DeliverableActual DeliverableReasons for Any Disparity
Outcome #1
Outcome #2
Outcome #3


Concerns

Identify primary issues and challenges.

RisksSkill GapsChanges in ScopeOther Issues





Recommendations

State action items to address areas of concern. (For a current project, also specify whether it should move forward.)

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

You might also refer to the Institute of Project Management’s template along with another free template. We referred to both in designing elements of the above template.

Different Types of Project Reviews

Here are several common types of project reviews an organization might conduct.

Gate Review

The gate review determines whether to authorize a current project to proceed to the next stage. It examines factors like current risks and budget requirements. In many cases, it involves approving funding as well.

Completion Review

Every project should have a completion review, as discussed. This review assesses the overall success of the project. 

Follow-Up Review

A follow-up review addresses issues of noncompliance, as Timothy Briscoe and coauthors explain in a Project Management Institute conference presentation. This can occur after a gate review that reveals concerns. Or, it can occur after a completion review that found the project has not yet met its goals.

It might be scheduled for two weeks or one month after the gate review.

Peer Review

These reviews deliver third-party feedback to the project manager. Peers of this leader evaluate the project’s success. Such reviews can occur at any stage of the project.

Project Review Best Practices

Group of several people reviewing a project
Credit: Fauxels/Pexels

Every project review leader should employ this set of best practices. By doing so, they’ll gain a full picture of the issues that impacted success.

Debrief the Project as a Team

Project reviews should include the whole project team. Hold a meeting where you invite input and discussion from everyone. Employees doing the hands-on work have an extremely valuable perspective. They may notice issues or strengths that leaders have overlooked.

Encourage Staff to Bring Supporting Documentation

People with key project roles should bring evidence that the team achieved (or didn’t achieve) deliverables. They can also bring documentation showing why the team adopted the chosen plan and methodology, as Briscoe and coauthors assert. This will ensure a productive and detailed discussion.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Make sure everyone has a chance to share input. Prompt individuals to speak up in areas where they may have feedback if need be. For example, say, “Susan, you handled a lot of coordination between team members. How did communication flow?”

  • Did this project meet our goals?
  • Did this project stay within the scope we established? If not, what changed? 
  • Was the scope of the project manageable? 
  • What tools and methods contributed to our success? Were any less effective than we hoped?
  • How could communication improve?
  • How effective was project leadership?
  • What were the main pain points we experienced? How did we attempt to resolve them? Did it work?
  • What tools or methods might benefit future projects? 
  • Did project transitions go smoothly? Why or why not?
  • What are the main skills we were lacking in this project?
  • Did any team members contribute in unexpected ways? What emerging skills did this reveal?
  • Do you have any other recommendations for future projects?
  • Did you assign adequate time to each task? Was work distributed appropriately?

Based on this input, the manager can help each individual determine personal growth needs.

Interview Individuals

Conduct one-on-one interviews with individual team members if you need more input. This gives you a chance to ask follow-up questions.

Discuss the Results with Stakeholders

Present project outcomes to stakeholders and explain what you accomplished. Remind them of the project scope when you start the meeting. Then try to reach consensus with stakeholders on whether you’ve fulfilled the project goals. Reach an agreement on whether you’ve successfully completed the project or need to do more work. 

Produce Project Review Reports

After a great discussion, don’t let the collective knowledge you’ve gained be forgotten. Along with completing the above template, produce a detailed report. Then share it with the group as well as HR and organizational leadership. The team can refer back to it when planning their next project or continuing the current one.

Use the Right Tools

Software can assist in your project review process. Firstly, it can help you track progress toward project goals. Secondly, it can generate analytics to assist in evaluating success. This provides objective evidence of strengths and shortcomings.

What to Avoid in A Project Review

During team debriefs don’t seek to criticize individuals. And don’t assign blame. Instead, focus on illuminating key lessons. “The post-evaluation is an opportunity for discovery, not for criticism and blame,” writes Harvard Business Review. “Team members who fear they’ll be punished for past problems may try to hide them rather than help find better ways of handling them in the future.”

If managers are having trouble making time for project reviews, consider why. Are they experiencing initiative overload? This common problem keeps teams racing ahead without learning from the past. Also, talk with managers about this issue and help them prioritize.

Likewise, equip all managers with the tools and training to lead great project reviews. Then read their project review reports to make sure they’re on the right track. They’ll continuously improve team effectiveness with lessons learned from great reviews. 

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