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The Meaning of Success

The Meaning of Success

Part 3 of a Three-Part Examination of Project Management Missing Links

SIDEBAR: Home and Hosed?

Why post-project reviews are crucial

By Bart Perkins

Nearly every major systems implementation methodology includes some type of post-project review (PPR). A PPR provides an opportunity to review a completed project's strengths and weaknesses as well as propose improvements for future projects.

A PPR should be undertaken for every large project, especially unsuccessful ones. Outsourced projects particularly benefit from the structured analysis and communication required by a review.

Changes in your IT organization, like changes in your life, require time for reflection. A PPR is an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and successes and to improve project development practices. Unfortunately, such reviews are frequently perfunctory or skipped entirely. Major companies perform comprehensive reviews on less than 20 percent of their large projects, according to Stuart Orr at Vision 2 Execution.

Objections to PPRs are myriad. Many IT organizations find it difficult to get project staffers to focus on PPRs, which are often viewed as time-consuming overhead. Because of resource shortages, key project members are frequently reassigned to other projects before a review is conducted. In addition, reviews of projects that were plagued by political problems or contentious disagreements can reopen old wounds.

Despite these objections, comprehensive project reviews are worth doing because they provide significant benefits. For example, they help IT organizations do the following:

Reassess business benefits. Most IT projects are part of a business program. While the benefits of the overall program may not be known for several years, the PPR provides an opportunity to assess whether the projected business benefits (from both the project and the overall program) will be realized. Use the review to reset management expectations if necessary.

Improve estimation accuracy. The PPR provides an opportunity to compare the original (and revised) estimates with the actual time and resources consumed. The objective is to make future estimates more accurate, not to criticize.

Most large organizations have progressed from "back of the envelope" estimates to more rigorous bottom-up estimates based on interfaces, screens, data fields and other tools. But even sophisticated estimating tools must be frequently recalibrated based on your organization's actual project experience. Use the PPR to do this.

Evaluate what went well. The PPR is an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of project management methodology, executive sponsor participation, risk mitigation and political support. Use it to determine how each can be better leveraged on future projects.

Identify areas for improvement. PPRs help minimize problems on future projects. Every project encounters some problems, such as unexpected functionality changes, missed deadlines, technology snafus and marketplace changes. Use the PPR to evaluate the project team's effectiveness at identifying, responding to and resolving problems.

Also assess the success of the adopted solutions. To improve future planning, review the original project documents to determine whether the problems actually encountered were initially identified as risks. Anticipated problems are much easier to address than unexpected ones. Finally, brainstorm about what could be improved on future projects to prevent similar problems.

Capture and encapsulate project experience. Project history tends to get rewritten or forgotten altogether if it is not captured in a reasonable amount of time. Written records ensure that the lessons learned — sometimes painfully — don't get lost. In addition, PPR records may be invaluable in future negotiations or during litigation related to contentious projects.

Get management support. A PPR is an opportunity for management to listen and learn from team members' experiences. Reviews often uncover ways to improve your organization for future projects. If management fails to act on changes proposed through the PPR process, however, staffers will become cynical.

Use the review to get management's commitment for the improvements and to hold management accountable for implementing the changes.

Acknowledge contributions. Use the PPR to publicly identify heroic efforts and thank all team members for their contributions to the project.

Although PPRs take time and effort, the insights gained can be invaluable to IT efforts to improve project delivery capability. A comprehensive PPR is an opportunity to leverage the lessons from past projects into improvements that will enhance the planning, delivery and success of future projects.

Most IT organizations recognize that comprehensive post-project reviews provide valuable information and develop suggestions for improvement. Properly undertaken, the PPR provides an opportunity for team members to reflect and report on their experiences in a way that helps the organization learn constructive lessons. Without feedback, few organizations are fully aware of their potential to improve. Capitalize on past experience; you have already paid for it!

Bart Perkins is managing partner at Leverage Partners Incorporated, a group which helps organizations invest well in IT

This project management series included: "Part 2" (December 06/January 07), which explored the importance of change management and business outcomes. "Part 1" (November 2006) looked at the human aspects of project management.

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