Most project reviews have several common characteristics. Though not exhaustive, the following list identifies several issues that teams should consider when planning project reviews:
A post-project review should logically take place after a project is completed. However, the process of analyzing and learning from completed work is valuable at any stage of a project. The major project milestones presented by the MSF Development Process, particularly after the Developing Phase's Scope Complete Milestone, are also appropriate times to apply project review principles and conduct formal project reviews.
While no rules dictate when to schedule an end-of-project review, it's best to conduct it within a short time after the project is complete. If the review is scheduled too soon, team members tend to focus their discussions too heavily on the latter part of the project. Additionally, the team members may still feel emotionally and mentally too close to the project to analyze it objectively. If the review is postponed for too long, the team is likely to forget the project's specific details. Additionally, after extremely long periods, the project's difficult and frustrating elements tend to fade in their significance.
Table 14.2 provides several simple recommendations for how long to wait after the product ships to conduct a project review, while considering various project characteristics.
Table 14.2 Recommendations for when to conduct a project review
|Project characteristic||Two weeks after shipping||Five weeks after shipping|
|Scope of project||Small||Large|
|Length of project||Short (days to 3 months)||Long (3 months to years)|
|Energy level of team members||Low||High|
|Team member availability||Some working on other projects||All working on other projects|
Project review formality can vary from project to project. A small group can meet to informally discuss project issues, or a formal project review team can research these issues closely, and then present a set of organized results.
Ideally, a project review should be a formal, well-planned event with a set of objectives, a specific meeting agenda, and a well-defined process. Although helpful in building morale, informal project review meetings tend not to capture optimal best-practice lessons crucial to project review success.
Because participants arrive prepared, formal project reviews also enable teams to focus discussion on learning points, as opposed to turning the project review into an unfocused complaint session.
While project reviews often involve meetings and daylong events, it's ideal to keep a single review meeting to two hours or less. Setting an appropriate time frame for a project review may involve separating the process into a series of several meetings. In this way, each meeting may focus on a particular area or point in the project's development process. It is important to note that much of the review preparation work should be done before the actual meeting.
Conducting project reviews in an appropriate physical environment will have a positive impact on review success and team morale. Arranging a room with a round table or circle of tables is suggested, as this arrangement allows team members to communicate on an equal level with one another, with no individual dominating "the head of the table." The room should be large enough to comfortably seat all team members; if conflict is likely, the room should allow extra space, as feeling cramped can elevate bad feelings among teammates.
A blame-free environment is crucial for targeting the real project issues. If people feel threatened, they'll put their energy into defending themselves rather than honestly examining the project's strengths and weaknesses objectively. The focus should remain on the development process and team actions as a whole, not on individual participants in the project.
Typically, anyone involved in the project—even if only for a small percent of the time—should participate in the project review. If at all possible, it's ultimately most beneficial to gather all team members for the project review process to allow everyone involved to have input.
However, if inviting all team members makes the review group inconveniently large, a suggested alternative is conducting mini-project reviews by dividing people into groups responsible for specific project elements. Representatives from each mini-project review can then attend a final, comprehensive project review.