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Module 8: Project Closeout

3.3 How to do a good post-project review

Having a defined structure that is available to all project team members (and even stakeholders) during the project is important in demonstrating that the review is clear, transparent and objective.

Typical questions that should be worked through during the project closeout meeting are detailed in the following table.

Table 3.2: Typical questions to ask in a post-project review

How well has the project been planned?
  • Were scope, time, cost and technical goals clear at the beginning and have they all been listed in the project plan?
  • Were the goals discussed with the project sponsor/funder?
  • How realistic was the project plan when the work started?
  • Did each group in a collaborative project have involvement in the project’s planning and did they know what was expected of them?
  • Were cross-functional/cross-group activities clearly defined from the start?
For applied projects: How well have the intended users/customers been consulted?
  • Have the needs of the user/customers been considered at the project planning stage?
  • How well has the project met the expectations of the users/customers?
  • Was the project process in line with the specific requirements of a sponsor?
Has the project delivered satisfactory results?
  • Has the project delivered results that can stand up to scientific scrutiny?
  • Have the methods that have been used been verified?
  • In collaborative projects – did each group understand what was expected and was it delivered to expectation?
  • What are the variances between the planned outcomes and the achieved outcomes and what caused these differences?
  • What was done to control these variances during the project lifetime?
  • Were the corrections timely and effective?
Was the project scheduled and budgeted satisfactorily?
  • Was the project budget realistic in the project plan?
  • Were the resources sufficient?
  • Was the project timeline realistic?
  • Were the milestones realistic and meaningful?
  • Did the milestones help with tracking and controlling the project?
  • Was there a significant variance between the planned and the realised project timeline and budget?
Was there a risk management plan?
  • Were any risks to the project identified and were the assumptions about the risks realistic?
  • Were the management options and contingency plans appropriate and were they implemented?
  • How effective was the risk management plan?
Was the project team appropriate for the project?
  • Did the members of the project team have the right skill levels to carry out the project?
  • Did the team work well together?
  • Did the team members know their roles and perform appropriately?
How effective was the communication during the project?
  • Was there a clear process for communicating with stakeholders?
  • Was there a clear process for communicating with team members?
  • How effective was the process?
Did the project management processes help or hinder the project?
  • How effective was the process of progress reviews?
  • Were the reviews timely and were their? recommendations implemented in a timely manner?
  • How did the organisational IT and other processes and resources perform to help run the project efficiently and effectively?What can be improved for the next project?
  • What are the recommendations for the organisation?
What needs to be done with the results of the project?
  • Publication – who needs to authorise publication (i.e. is sponsor permission necessary?)
  • Is IP protection required?
  • Commercialisation – who will lead this?
  • Is a media plan needed?
  • Final report writing for granting agency and sponsor – who is responsible?

It is important to remember that whilst some of the information will be used in the final report to the funding agency, the real value in completing this process is to be able to run a research project better next time.

3.4.1 Suggested rules for conducting post-project reviews

The way in which a post-project review is conducted plays a part in getting constructive, useful and objective feedback. The following table provides some useful guidelines that will facilitate getting feedback from all project team members.

  1. Use a facilitator – someone impartial who did not have anything to do with the project but is knowledgeable about the review process. The facilitator is more likely to give everyone an equal time to contribute.
  2. Hold the review in a large enough room so people do not feel crowded.
  3. Use a recorder to record the recommendations, issues and important points made during the discussion and read back what is being recorded at appropriate points. An electronic whiteboard helps.
  4. Invite key participants and stakeholders of the project, both from the successful and the unsuccessful areas. The views of both are important to work out how to improve the next project.
  5. Prepare for the workshop and explicitly state the purpose and outcomes required – write an agenda and stick to the agenda.
  6. Ensure that everyone knows, well before the review, what is expected in terms of data and fact gathering so that statements and discussion are based on facts, not opinions.
  7. Do not finger-point and blame people for things that went wrong. The post-project review is not an occasion to publicly embarrass or blame colleagues. Be professional.
  8. Concentrate on facts and issues that can be supported by metrics. Sentences starting with "You always" or "You never" or "We never" are not allowed.
  9. Discuss the bad and the good points – what went well and what did not?
  10. Discuss whether there were any early warnings for things going wrong and whether they could be obvious predictors identified for future projects.
  11. Talk about what made things go well.
  12. Identify and agree practices that should be employed as standard in future research projects.
  13. Agree what should be done differently next time.
  14. Make a list of recommendations relating to good practices and processes and another list of recommendations relating poor practices and processes.
  15. Review and rank issues.
  16. Write a short post-project review report (one page for most projects is sufficient) with issues and recommendations that are actionable in dot points.

All of these reviews require a review document as an output, or it is unlikely that the knowledge gained from the review process will be used. The review document needs to be succinct and accessible to team members and others, and the actions that will be implemented from the review distributed and communicated widely. Failing to update standard operating procedures through this knowledge and experience is probably the single biggest reason why project management practices and capabilities do not improve faster than they do. Learning from mistakes is a useful life experience, but repeating the same mistakes over and over again is not only tedious, it is poor management.

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