Post Project Reviews – the good, the bad and the ugly

It seems quite obvious to run a review once you’ve finished a project, but post project reviews are too often neglected. We turn our focus to the next project and often this important final step gets lost. It’s a shame because valuable lessons and learning opportunities can get missed.

If you type “PIR” into a browser, there’s plenty of guidance on how to run one. However there’s not much on addressing the preconceptions people have of the review. When a project has gone very well, stakeholders may think the session is not worth having because there’s nothing to talk about. Nothing went wrong so why spend valuable time discussing it? Conversely, it’s tough bringing stakeholders together when the project hasn’t gone so well and there are still unresolved issues in play. If the project has gone badly, people may jump to the conclusion that the session will result in a brawl and avoid it altogether.

So how do you navigate this situation? How do you ensure you get the right people to the table? And by right people, I mean the ones who are going to help everyone learn the lessons and do things better next time round. My approach is to treat it with honesty and openness. I make sure my agenda reiterates the reason for the review, which clearly lets all participants know that the session is about learning and improving, not finger-pointing. Aside from that, here are my tips to ensuring the session is useful:

  • Unless it relates to a bedding in period of a new product, strike while the iron’s hot and run a session as close to the end of the project as you can – we’re all busy and moving onto the next thing, often before the last thing is even finished, so don’t wait to schedule the session. It guarantees the details are still fresh in everyone’s mind and the session will be more valuable
  • With new products or services, waiting might not actually be a bad thing because if issues are going to turn up, you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll be when the system is live with a thousand users on it! If you do delay the post project review session, make lists and notes whilst things are fresh in your mind, and encourage others to do the same, so that you don’t miss anything later
  • Encourage honesty from the participants by asking them to be open without fear of rebuke or criticism. Reinforce the message that the purpose of the session is not to assign blame but to learn from the experience and make future projects better
  • Seek objectivity from those in the room. It’s tough to separate out the feelings from the observations, but it’s important to strive for it to get the most out of the session
  • Ask for feedback on areas of improvement, so the learnings can be applied to future projects
  • Document the learnings in terms of failures AND Successes as you want to know what went right so that you can keep doing it

A successful project is more than checking if the customer is happy with what they got. There’s so much more that makes a project successful, such as how the customer feels after the experience – or the “warm and fuzzies” as I like to call them.

There are so many ways to determine what worked well and what didn’t. In most places I have worked there have been varying methods and the general focus is on what is considered important in that company. Here are my suggestions on structuring the session:

  • Include open questions – the more opportunity for open dialog the better. This gives the contributing party the opportunity to present their point of view rather than answering simple yes or no questions that don’t really give you broader insight
  • Review the planned project deliverables compared to the deliverables produced - Is there a gap? If so, why?
  • Review the quality of the deliverables – for example, documentation quality – readable, easy to follow, fit for purpose
  • Project cost – did it run to budget or were there overruns and if so why? What can we learn from them?
  • Benefits realisation – did the project deliver the planned benefits? If not, why? Is there anything that can be done to further increase the benefits?
  • Stakeholder satisfaction – were needs met? Were there pain points or dissatisfaction and what lessons can we learn? What would they like done differently next time?

A final note.

Once complete, it is important to circle back and share the findings via a report or meeting summary. Learning from a project should be open to everyone and capturing these findings ensures everyone benefits. At Insentra, our Post Project Review learnings feed into our Project Continuous And Never-ending Improvement (PCANI) process which makes real changes in our business to ensure we keep getting better. This requires an ongoing commitment however it is central to who we are and makes sure we live our Efficiency and Service Excellence values every day.

Finally, as important as it is to run these sessions and learn from them, if we don’t approach them with honesty, openness and with a desire to learn from them, the sessions may as well be skipped. Let’s encourage openness and honesty without an ensuing fist fight. Now, how to prevent our projects from getting to that point in the first place? That's another blog post for another time!