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How To Hold a Post-Project Review


The football team played a pretty decent game. It wasn’t their best and it wasn’t their worst. They had some great plays, they had some missed opportunities, and they made some outright mistakes. Later in the day, the coach has them watch the game again.

This time he offers commentary on what was done right, what was done wrong, what could have been done better, or what should not have been done at all. This post-game review allows each player to be better prepared for the next game. They understand how the other team operates and learn ways they can be even more effective next time.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have this luxury on each project you manage? You can have this same insight through a post-project review. We’re not just talking about an exercise in capturing lessons learned, but rather an extensive deep dive into what worked and what didn’t work on the project. Lessons learned would be just a component of this exercise.

Project planning is sometimes thought to only occur at the beginning of a project. But, doing a post-project review session can definitely feed into the beginnings of the next planning session. The following are some guidelines you can use to put together such a comprehensive review.

What Do You Need?

You can pull these items together as the project manager or let your team members know that you’re going to be doing this at the end of the project and for them to keep up with the collateral you’ll need through the course of the project.

  • Did the project meet its objectives? – The project may have technically come to completion and is considered closed, but did it accomplish what it set out to do? This really speaks to the business value of the project and whether that met its realization. Many projects may be “technically correct, but fundamentally wrong” meaning that the original intent or purpose of the project was missed once the project was complete.
  • How was the Schedule Performance? – Did the schedule stay on track during the entire project or was there some scrambling or adding of resources that needed to be done in order to make sure the project finished on time? This is an important answer to consider in order to get a sense of how good the original project estimates were.
  • Did Resource Expenditures Stay within Budget? – This is a different view of the question above that allows the team to get a sense of the financial impact of the project estimates that were assembled.
  • What Problems Arose During the Project? – Problems are going to surface during any project. You may wonder what good is project planning for if you can’t eliminate all problems from a project. It is rare, if not impossible, for a project of any magnitude or complexity to make it from start to end without some type of issue to surface. Be sure to document these along the way and bring them to your post-project review session.
  • Was the Customer Satisfied with the Project? – If this is an external project that a customer is paying for, what is their reaction to how things went? The answer to this question could go either way. You could think the project went terrible as an internal project team but the customer might be thrilled. Or, you might think the project went exceptionally well as a project team but the customer was terribly disappointed. How can you find out? Ask the customer.
  • Was Management Satisfied with the Project? – This is the same question as above except that you would ask your management as to how satisfied they are with the success of the project and the impact it had on the company.
  • How Did the Project Management Processes Work? –  Every organization has at least some form of project management process in place. It could be as simple as getting sign-off on a statement of work before work begins to a full-blown enterprise wide process with gateways and checks and balances all throughout. How did it work? Was it the right amount of processes or did it slow things down unnecessarily?
  • What Lessons Were Learned? – As stated earlier, lessons learned are one component of understanding what is project planning after the project is complete. There may have been some “a-ha” moments where the light bulb went off in yours or your team members head. It could be that a different way to do something presented itself or you came across a much faster way of getting something done. Document these lessons learned and be prepared to bring them to the session.

How Do You Run the Meeting?

project planning meeting anyone?Once you have all of this information in hand, assemble the team. Consider everyone that touched the project at various stages of its lifecycle.

It’s sometimes easy to forget those at the beginning of the project (salespeople, estimators, analysts, etc.) since their work is long done by the time the end of the project is reached. However, it’s important to pull them into the process as well.

It’s not necessary to have every single person involved, but at least a representative from each of the major functional areas.

If the project was of considerable size and spanned 6+ months or more then you should plan for a half-day minimum and most likely a day to cover the topics that need to be addressed. Smaller projects that spanned less time could of course take less time to review.

Make sure you state up front that the purpose of this meeting is a learning experience on what can be done better the next time around (just like reviewing the game after it has been played) and not to point fingers at anyone.

NOTE: You really need to make sure it doesn’t turn into a blame-storming session or your trust factor will quickly deteriorate and your meeting will be rendered useless.

How can you do this? You can start with having people identify what others did very well. Then, you can have members examine how they performed themselves (starting with you) and any areas they feel they could have improved in. Over time the defense mechanisms in the room will come down and you can have a constructive, non-threatening, adult conversation with a group of people whose motive is to improve.

You can start with the purpose of the meeting and any particular objectives you want to make sure are accomplished before the meeting concludes. Then, in the high-trust atmosphere you have created, you start digging into the questions above and discuss project performance (results, schedules, resources, processes, etc); discuss any items that were of special note or consequence during the project; review customers and management’s reaction to the project; review problems and issues; talk about lessons learned and then how to apply all of this toward the next project the team undertakes.

Just like the football team that watched their performance after they played the game is better prepared for their next game, you and your project team will be prepared for the next project you undertake.

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