Mistakes matter: post-project reviews

Knowing what went wrong in a project is just as important–if not more important–than the project going right. Without post project reviews, an organization is doomed to repeat the same mistakes and, at the very least, not have solid ground to improve processes and overall successes. According to this article by Elizabeth Harrin, there are six main problems that occur while attempting to run a end-of-project review:

  1. An unwillingness to express true interpretations of project
  2. Desire to not appear negative
  3. Feedback becomes unintentionally personal
  4. No-one cares about what happened (are too busy moving on)
  5. Participants say everything was great
  6. Whoever doesn’t show up takes the blame for mistakes

The problems all center around, as Harrin goes on to explain, human interactions, and most of those human interactions can be addressed through familiarity. So instead of having a lessons learned session just at the end of a project, it might be worth the time to have a more continuous form of it throughout the life of the work:

One way to counteract this is to schedule lessons learned sessions more regularly through the project. Make it part of each gate review, or part of the closure before you move to a new phase. Or schedule sessions at significant moments in the year like the end of your financial year or just before things slow down for summer. Making reviews more regular enhances the likelihood that the lessons will be learned and implemented. A policy of continuous process improvement will also get your team used to the idea that changing the way things are done is part of the project process.

The ownership of making sure that lessons are learned doesn’t just lean on team members, however. Project managers must be just as communicative and just as attune to how other project managers are experiencing successes and defeats in their work. It’s through weekly project manager meetings that some great information can be shared throughout your company-pushing forward the ability to learn from project reviews and optimize practices.

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