Who is the best person to conduct a project review?

18 February 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

Providing a project review function is accepted as good practice as part of any complex project. A good and effective project review will provide an independent view on the project, looking at whether things are going to plan, how the team is working, how effective communication is proving, whether there are additional risks that need attention.


We need to ask the question of whether it is good practice to use a member of the project team to conduct a review, when they are potentially very close to it themselves. Will this cause them to miss vital clues? Skip over areas of resistance? Have a blinkered view on the reality? Not be open to listening to other views? Be guilty of looking after their interests? These are all worthy considerations and quite likely to have adverse affects on the value and outputs of a project review.

Running a project review requires a neutral perspective and a very different skill set to those of an effective project manager. A neutral perspective can only be gained from someone that is not directly involved in the project and can look down on it without bias, prejudice or political views.

So what skills and experience should you look for in a project reviewer?

Facilitation Skills
A good facilitator will enable a group of people to complete a task or learn something without doing it for them. A good facilitator will gain the whole group involvement, support the group to arrive at conclusions, provide structure to the project review, act as an advisor rather than a group leader, observe, ensure ownership and responsibility and maintain self esteem within the group.

Listening Skills
Listening well will build trust with the project review group. Trust is needed in order that project managers are open about difficulties in the project and contribute fully to the project review.

Summarising Skills
A reviewer should be able to condense the content of several comments that have been made over the course of many minutes. This is useful when using it to review all the key points that have been made by people about their views, providing the sense that they understand the entire situation being presented.

Questioning and Drawing Out
Whoever is conducting a project review should be able to bring out the best in people and draw out the team member’s opinions and thoughts pertaining to the objective.

Manage the Dynamics
The reviewer should have the ability to manage the group so that team members participate without dominating or not participating at all. A reviewer’s role is to ensure that everyone is engaged and involved in the process.

Experience of Project Reviews
It goes without saying that the reviewer needs an understanding of the project and management process and a clear knowledge of the industry and project outcomes. A track record of working on similar project reviews will go a long way to gain respect and trust from the project team.

Observation Skills
Reviewers need to observe the group during the review and see what is going on at all times. Observation of both how the group are responding to the project review and signs that there is more to uncover in a particular area are vital.

These are some of the key skills that will help to make a productive and worthwhile project review. It is likely that there are project team members that have all of these skills and qualities, but what they do not have is neutrality.

Whilst most of these skills can be gained through training and experience, remaining neutral will only be possible if the reviewer is someone not involved directly with the project. The key factor here is that putting someone forward as the reviewer who is also involved in the project looses creditability straight away with the other members of the review team. There will be in built politics, prejudice and opinions – all of which could adversely affect the outcome and effectiveness of the project review.

Most project reviews are criticised for becoming a blame session with no real outputs or actions that can make a difference to future projects. This is down to the reviewer not having the right qualities, skills, experience, structure, environment or neutrality. Help your organisation turn this around by using a reviewer outside of the project.

A successful project review should be a mechanism for learning, a way to understand what is going well and what is not working on a project and doing something about it. Project reviews are a powerful contributor to this learning, so the right reviewer is critical to its effectiveness.