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Strategic Initiatives: How Effective Are Your Project Reviews?

‘Let’s not over-complicate things’ said our experienced partner-colleague in response to a mass of data on the effectiveness of project reviews for strategic initiatives ranging from Digital Transformation to New Product Introductions.  ‘Let’s go back to the basics of Plan Do Review‘ she continued.

Known for her ability to ‘get straight to the point’ our colleague added: ‘The data suggests that the ‘Review’ part is both under-valued and under-performing. That matters because if the ‘Review’ part is under-performing, the ‘Plan’ and ‘Do’ parts are sure to under-perform too’.  That was it – the message in a nutshell. 

From those words, the introduction to this article urging a new approach to how strategic initiatives are reviewed was written.

The Problem with Reviews

Most people don’t look forward to Project Reviews – some even dread them! That would be a problem if organizations were having lots of project reviews, however there are typically gaps of many weeks or even months between reviews for any project or initiative.

So, there are two problems when it comes to project reviews – they are not happening regularly enough and when they do happen, they are not effective enough. It is an issue of both quality and quantity.  

Re-inventing the Review

How to strengthen the link between project reviews and project success?

Let’s begin by re-visiting the role of the review.  One might be tempted to say that the objective is to review the project – just as the name suggests.  Specifically, to review execution against the plan. 

However, the review is only a means to an end. That end is to maximize the chances of project success.

A key factor is the ability to adjust execution based on changing conditions and the unfolding reality of what is and is not working.

In a fast-changing world reviewing a project is of little value unless adjustments can be made with speed. The real objective of the review is to adjust. 

The effectiveness of a project review is therefore measured by how it enables the team to adjust execution to improve performance and maximize the chances of success.

Dynamic Adjustment

The project plan was devised based on the best available information at the time of its creation, supported by well thought-through hypothesis and assumptions.  Three, six or nine months later a lot may have changed both inside and outside the organisation. 

The ability of the plan to adjust and adapt to these changes (both opportunities and challenges) could be the difference between success and failure.  That is the new role of the project review – to enable dynamic adjustment of static plans in a fast-changing environment.  

Project Adjustment Vs Project Review

There is a new more effective way of reviewing projects. Not only does it reduce the risk around key projects, but it also builds a more cohesive, resilient and effective project team. This requires a shift from occasional project reviews to regular project adjustments, as shown in the visual below:

Has your organization made the transition from project review to project adjustment? Use the data from our research (shown in the slider above) to identify ways to make your reviews more agile..

As you will note from the 12 factors, an effective adjustment has as much to do with psychology and people, as it has to do with project management. For example:

  • You are likely to hear people say I don’t know!’
  • It is not just a few people that do all the talking.

These factors are linked to ‘psychological safety’ or more broadly ‘project safety’ – this is a combination of psychological safety and respectful challenge.

From Administration to Engagement

The traditional project review is an administrative process to provide visibility and control for the manager.  But visibility and control are no guarantee of success.  Especially if it comes at the price of agility, innovation and fast learning. The process of reviewing projects must foster these factors and the effective teamwork that they require.  

The modern project review needs to be more than an administrative process. A key objective is to energize and engage the team, connect with success, celebrate progress and find creative solutions to challenges.

The result of a switch from administrative process to engagement process isn’t just a better project but also a better team, more effective collaboration and accelerated learning & innovation.

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