Project reviews -- looking inside from outside
by Neal Whitten, PMP, Contributing Editor
A PROJECT REVIEW—an independent review performed at selected points throughout the life of a project—allows us to examine an active project to determine its overall health. If any significant problems are identified, actions can then be recommended to address them. These midproject corrections can help improve the performance of projects and can turn failing projects around.
A project review is not the same as performing routine (recommended weekly) project tracking meetings. A project review is a special event to examine the current state of a project from an impartial source— one or more reviewers from outside the project.
Project reviews are typically performed on projects that last six months or longer and are performed every three to four months. They are best performed near major milestones, especially prior to releasing additional funding for a project. Project reviews should be scheduled in advance and appear as tracked activities in the project plan.
Project reviews should be arranged by someone not directly on the project being reviewed. A Project Management Office (PMO)—also commonly called a Project Office—is a likely organization to administer project reviews. The PMO selects the members of the review team, typically composed of one to five “experts” from outside the project. Depending on the project to be reviewed, review team members might have skills in areas such as the technical aspects of the product being developed, project management, quality, marketing, business management and legal.
The PMO prepares a list of topics that selected project members must address during the project review. The topics list is approved by the project review team and then provided to the appropriate project members to aid in their project review preparation.
Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (www.nealwhittengroup.com), is a speaker, trainer, consultant and author in project management and employee development. His books include Managing Software Development Projects: Formula for Success and Becoming an Indispensable Employee in a Disposable World. Direct comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project members requested to present before the project review team typically are members who perform in leadership positions on the project, such as the project manager, the product manager, the business architect, the product architect, the team leaders and selected resource managers and team members. On small projects, all the project members may be asked to participate in the project review.
The project review is conducted by the review team. The goal is to identify only significant project problems. The selected project members present the requested information to the review team and respond to questions asked by the review team. A project review might take anywhere from two hours to three days, depending on the size and complexity of the project. For most projects—those of 50-300 members—a full day should be sufficient. By contrast, a project of five members may require only two hours.
After the project review, the review team prepares summary charts and presents its assessment informally to the project manager, then to management, the project members, and, optionally, the client. Out of professional courtesy, the project manager is permitted to see the findings first. Many times the project manager will identify inaccuracies in the findings or items taken out of context. Such comments from the project manager can help ensure the integrity and usefulness of the findings. The problems identified must be logged as “action items” and tracked to closure by way of the project's tracking process.
A PMO can perform an administration role before, during and after the project review to ensure that all parties perform their duties when, where and how required. A PMO also can monitor that the problems identified are properly addressed and closed.
PROJECT REVIEWS ARE a powerful tool in managing projects. They act like a routine physical by a doctor; that is, the project undergoes a reasonably thorough examination and any significant problems identified are treated appropriately. The purpose is to ensure that the project is and remains in the best of health. How healthy are your projects?
PM Network May 1999