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Which Of These Project Reviews Do You Use?

project-reviewHave you got project reviews built into your project schedule? I do (most of the time). There are five types of project review that we commonly use on projects. These are:

  1. Peer review
  2. Audit
  3. Project evaluation review
  4. Benefits review
  5. Post-project review

Peer Reviews

Peer views are an informal review of the situation at any point in the project life-cycle by someone of equivalent experience to the project manager. The objective is to have a fresh (but knowledgeable) pair of eyes look over at the project management practice and say whether or not they would be doing it the same way.

Do it today: Ask one of your colleagues who manages similar-size projects to you to look over your schedule and project documentation. If you don’t have anyone working alongside you, then your manager or someone in the project office would also be able to give you their opinion.

Project Audit

A project audit can be carried out at any time in the project life-cycle by an independent individual. This could be, for example, a third-party organisation or an independent internal function like project assurance.

The point of an audit is really to look at whether or not your projects is compliant with company standards, corporate processes and other formal and obligatory internal guidelines like cost control.

Do it today: The thing about audits is that they are normally imposed upon you. If you have any worries about how you are performing and complying with standards then by all means ask the relevant independent experts to come in and give you their views. More often than not, though, you’ll be told when it’s your turn to be audited. The best advice is to be ready, because it’s almost guaranteed that the time they want to audit will be the most inconvenient time for your team.

Project Evaluation Reviews

Project evaluation reviews are carried out by the project manager. They are also known as stage reviews and typically fall prior to a formal gate review with your project sponsor.

This type of review is informal and you won’t be asked to do it (unless your project office is super-structured and on top of all the small details). Instead, you’ll have to work out when to fit them in and schedule them yourself.

The risk of doing that is that you don’t find the time in your project schedule and the gate reviews, if you have them, come and go without the project manager having spent any time preparing or assessing prior to the formal review.

You’re supposed to assess progress against baselined cost and schedule and provide reassurance that the project is well-governed and progressing to plan.

Do it today: There’s nothing stopping you from doing these informal, self-directed reviews whenever you want. Block some time in your calendar to spend half a day assessing your plan, documentation and schedule. Then do it!

Peer project reviews

Post-Project Reviews

Post-project reviews happen at the end of the project, but not before the project is formally closed. I think their name is a bit misleading in that regard. They are led by the project manager with input from other project team roles. They assess how a project performed in terms of schedule cost quality and other key measures. They look at how the processes and techniques used on the project works in practice. You might also know them as post-implementation reviews or project autopsies.

Do it today: Unless your project is closing down then you can’t run a post-project review right now. What you can do, though, is put it in the diary for the right time so people can start thinking about it and keeping the time free.

Benefits Reviews

Benefits reviews take place after the project handover and close out and are conducted by the project sponsor. In practice reviews are often set up by the project manager, even if they don’t actually attend the meeting. That tends to happen because, as part of the handover activity, the sponsor asks for them to be arranged or the project manager realises that if he or she doesn’t get them in the diary now then they won’t happen.

A benefits review assesses whether or not the stated and desired benefits set out in the business case have been achieved and to what degree. The first one normally take place between three and six months after the project has formally closed. They are then repeated at regular intervals until the business deems that the product is in a business as usual state and no longer needs tracking.

Do it today: If your project isn’t coming to an end you can’t review the benefits formally but it is a good idea to make sure that you have a plan for how benefits are going to be tracked. Even if it isn’t going to be you doing it. Have a conversation with your sponsor about how they see benefits realisation working out and what support, if any, they are expecting from you and the team. Better to know now than be called upon later when it is too late to build in any special measures, do any ‘before’ tracking and benchmarking and so on.

I haven’t included gate reviews in this list because they are the kind of formal sign off point that in my experience tend to be a box ticking exercise based on the latest steering group meeting or monthly report, or rely heavily on the project manager’s recommendation. That’s not always a bad thing (as long as the sponsor is confident that they can make the decision to carry on or stop on the information that they have), it’s just that they aren’t deep dive reviews into the project content.

Why Review? The Benefits

The simple reason is that project reviews enable managers to say that the project is well-governed. They provide reassurance that structured methods are being used.

There are some other benefits too:

  • They form part of the audit trail enabling a good historical record of what happened.
  • They make it easier to compare projects.
  • They enable the project manager and the team to continually assess project practice, ensuring that project management approaches are tailored throughout the project for the best possible outcomes. They enable the continuous collection of lessons which make sure that you can learn lessons at every step in the project life cycle and every member of the team can take part. This contrasts with the idea of waiting for the post-project review to discuss lessons learned.
  • Reviews can help motivate the team and provide recognition for a job well done.
  • They enable corrective action to be taken including closing down the project if appropriate. They do this by reviewing the current status against the planned outcomes, evaluating the project against the original business case.

Generally, the overarching benefit of spending time reviewing your project is that you get to be certain that you are doing the right things in the right way. Reviews provide decision support information to decision-makers, ensuring the portfolio remains healthy and only projects are providing a suitable return consuming resources.

Which of these do you use in your own work?

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

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