How to Conduct a Project Review
So you’ve been asked to do a project review for a colleague? Congratulations! You’ve made it in the eyes of your colleagues, as another project manager considers you a great choice to comment on their project in an objective and constructive way.
However, far from being considered an honor, many project managers find it daunting to be asked to review someone else’s project. A project review is like a mini audit, but more informal. What if you miss something and get blamed for it later? What if they don’t like what you have to say and it’s difficult to work with them in the future? Yes, project reviews can be challenging, but if you are professional and friendly, backing up your comments with evidence, you can be a real help and support to your colleagues. And one day, they will return the favor for you.
7 Steps for Preparing for Your First Project Review.
1. Establish what to look for: What you are looking for on your colleague’s project will very much depend on the size of it. If they are running a small project that will be finished in a few months you don’t want to spend six weeks investigating every area. If it’s a huge project spanning several years, a one-off meeting with the project manager won’t be enough to uncover any problems.
You could choose a couple of areas to focus on as long as the project manager agrees. Risk management and the project schedule would be good areas to investigate in detail if you don’t have time to look at everything.
While reviews typically aim to uncover problem areas so that you can help your colleague get his or her project back on track, you will also want to spend some time looking at things they are doing well. This is valuable feedback for them, so that they keep on doing those things, and these can be shared with other project managers in the company. That way you all benefit from good practice.
Look out as well for what is not being done. On complex and busy projects it is often the case that certain project management tasks get dropped temporarily while the team catches up. There is the risk that they never get reinstated. This is your opportunity to remind the project manager that they really should go back to doing that activity, or start doing it if they never have in the first place.
2. Get some templates (or make them); Your Program or Portfolio Office may have some standard project management templates that you can use for your project review. The document will include questions to ask and a space to record the answers. Or ask around and find out what other project managers have used in the past. You can also search the internet or talk to your mentor – all these options would be faster than designing a document from scratch.
If you really can’t find anything, talk to a colleague who has done a project review before. They will know the kinds of things to include in the report and therefore what needs to go in your assessment template. If you have to write your own document, think about what you would like to know if someone was reviewing your project, and write down those questions.
3. Forget about learning the detail: It’s unlikely that your colleague’s project will be about the same thing as your current project. They could be managing something with the Marketing team while you are working with IT. They may be working with a local team while you are managing an international project. Each project is different, and you can’t be expected to know the technical detail about the project you are reviewing. Luckily, you don’t need to.
Look at the generic techniques that are used on all projects – this is where you can add real value, but only if you provide your feedback in a supportive way. Aim for constructive criticism rather than pointing out mistakes and apportioning blame.
4. Meet the project manager: The next step is to meet the project manager. Share your review template with them so that they know what you will be asking. You can ask them if they have any particular areas that they want you to investigate, and then together check that your review template includes these.
Check if they want you to mainly review the contents of the online project management tool such as the schedule and risk log, or whether they would prefer you to interview the project team members. Or both.
You should also agree how long the review will take, how long you’ll need to spend with any project team members (so that the project manager can reorganize their work as required) and what format the feedback will take. Some project managers will prefer a formal report, others may be happy with a short summary document or even an informal chat. Agree how you’ll produce your feedback as this will save you a lot of time at the end. There’s no point producing a 20-page detailed report if they are only going to read the summary!
5. Review the project: Next you have to – of course – review the project. Work with the relevant team members and review the documents and online materials available. Go through your list of review questions and be sure to cover off the areas that the project manager specifically wanted your feedback on. How long this step takes depends on the amount of material you have to look through and what you are looking for.
6. Prepare your report: Prepare your findings in the format that you agreed with the project manager. You could split the report into sections for risk management, the schedule, the budget, team communications or anything else that you have been asked to look at.
Remember to keep your assessment constructive and provide solutions where you have them. For example, if you find that the project schedule isn’t being kept up to date, you could recommend that they make better use of the online project management software, or that the project manager adds a diary note to remind the team members to update their tasks on a more regular basis.
It won’t help the project manager if you report back that they are doing a truly amazing job. Everyone can improve something, and you’ve been asked to carry out the review to help the project manager run the project more effectively. If you tell them that they are doing just fine then they will rightly wonder what the point was of spending all that time on the review process. Be balanced with your feedback though; it is not much help pointing out errors in the past that the team can now do nothing about.
7. Share the findings: Set up a meeting with the project manager to share the findings. Ideally, you should send them a copy of your report in advance so that they have time to review the document and can come to the meeting with comments. Discuss it openly, and then you may choose to issue a revised version of your report incorporating their feedback.
Project reviews are designed to help peers work together to identify areas where they could do better on their projects. A review should pick up areas for improvement without being overly critical or unbalanced. The feedback should be actionable so that the project manager can do something with it. Don’t be scared of project reviews, whether you are receiving them or carrying them out. A good review will show you areas where you can improve and potentially pick up problems before they become too difficult to manage, which helps everyone in the long run.
Share your project review templates with the online document storage functionality of ProjectManager.com. This software makes it easy to review other people’s project schedules and documentation as they can grant you access with just a couple of clicks.