Post-Implementation Reviews

Making Sure That What You Delivered Actually Works

"Lessons learned... and more."

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"Completing a project" is not the same thing as ending the project management process.

Simply finishing doesn't ensure that the organization benefits from the project's outcome.

For example, after completing a year long project to establish a new quality management process for your organization, you want to make sure that what you set out to do was actually achieved. Your objective wasn't to simply deliver a process – but rather, to deliver the process that addresses the specific business need you intended to meet. This is the real measure of success.

To make the most of the benefits that the project can deliver, however, you also need to check to see if further improvements will deliver still greater benefit.

You also need to ensure that the lessons learned during the project are not forgotten. You can more effectively design and execute future projects when you take advantage of lessons learned through experience of previous projects.

So how can you properly measure a project's success, and work toward continuous improvement? This is where the process of Post-Implementation Review (PIR) is helpful. It helps you answer the following key questions:

  • Did the project fully solve the problem that it was designed to address?
  • Can we take things further, and deliver even bigger benefits?
  • What lessons did we learn that we can apply to future projects?

The PIR Process

The key to a successful PIR is recognizing that the time spent on the project is just a small part of an ongoing time-line.

For people and organizations that will be working on similar projects in the future, it makes sense to learn as many lessons as possible, so that mistakes are not repeated in future projects.

And for organizations benefiting from the project, it makes sense to ensure that all desired benefits have been realized, and to understand what additional benefits can be achieved.

When to Review

A good time to start thinking about the Post Implementation Review is when members of the project team remember the most – shortly after the project has been delivered, and when most of the problems have been ironed-out. Start to list ideas and observations while they are still fresh in people's minds.

However, to adequately assess the quality of the implementation and complete this process, you'll need to wait long enough for the changes caused by the project to truly take effect.

There will probably be a period of adjustment before you can finally review the solution as it was intended to operate: you'll likely need to overcome some of the usual resistance to change, hold people's hands while they operate new systems, and eliminate technical problems that didn't emerge when deliverables were tested. You should therefore typically allow a few weeks, or even a few months, before doing the full PIR. Where possible, allow for at least one, full, successful cycle of business before reviewing lessons learned.

What to Review

Here are some tips for conducting the PIR:

  • Ask for openness – Emphasize the importance of being open and honest in your assessment, and make sure that people aren't in any way punished for being open.
  • Be objective – Describe what has happened in objective terms, and then focus on improvements.
  • Document success – Document practices and procedures that led to project successes, and make recommendations for applying them to similar future projects.
  • Look with hindsight – Pay attention to the "unknowns" (now known!) that may have increased implementation risks. Develop a way of looking out for these in future projects.
  • Be future-focused – Remember, the purpose is to focus on the future, not to assign blame for what happened in the past. This is not the time to focus on any one person or team.
  • Look at both positives and negatives – Identify positive as well as negative lessons.

When conducting the review, include the following activities:

  • Conduct a gap analysis.
    • Review the project charter to evaluate how closely the project results match the original objectives.
    • Review the expected deliverables (including documentation) and ensure either that these have been delivered to an acceptable level of quality, or that an acceptable substitute is in place.
    • If there are gaps, how will these be closed?
  • Determine whether the project goals were achieved.
    • Is the deliverable functioning as expected?
    • Are error rates low enough, and is it fit for purpose?
    • Is it functioning well, and in a way that will adjust smoothly to future operating demands?
    • Are users adequately trained and supported? And are there sufficiently enough confident, skilled people in place?
    • Are the necessary controls and systems in place, and are they working properly?
    • What routine activities are needed to support the project's success?
    • If there are problems here, how will these be addressed?
    • How does the end result compare with the original project plan, in terms of quality, schedule and budget?
  • Determine the satisfaction of stakeholders.
    • Were the end users' needs met?
    • Is the project sponsor satisfied?
    • What are the effects on the client or end user?
    • If key individuals aren't satisfied, how should this be addressed?
  • Determine the project's costs and benefits.
    • What were the final costs?
    • What will it cost to operate the solution?
    • What will it cost to support the solution in the future?
    • How do the costs compare with the benefits achieved?
    • If the project hasn't delivered a sufficiently large return, how can this be improved?
  • Identify areas of further development.
    • Have all of the expected benefits been achieved? If not, what is needed to achieve them?
    • Are there opportunities for further training and coaching that will maximize results?
    • Could you make further changes, which would deliver even more value?
    • Are there any other additional benefits that can be achieved?
  • Identify lessons learned.
    • How well were the projects deliverables assessed, and how well were timescales and costs assessed?
    • What went wrong, why did these things go wrong, and how could these problems be avoided next time?
    • What went well, and needs to be learned from?
  • Report findings and recommendations.
    • What have you learned from this review?
    • Do you need corrective activity to get the benefits you want?
    • What lessons have you learned that need to be carried forward to future projects?
    • Does this project naturally lead on to future projects, which will build on the success and benefits already achieved?

How to Review

As you perform the post-implementation review, certain methods and practices will help you obtain the best possible information:

  • Define the scope of the review beforehand -The last thing you want to do is to create a political problem. Given the number of people often involved in a project, it's easy to hurt someone's feelings when reviewing the project's success. Clarify your objectives for the review, and make your intentions clear – this will better ensure that people share their experiences openly and honestly. Then make absolutely sure that you stick to these intentions, and that people's egos aren't unnecessarily bruised by the process!
  • Review key documents – Gather together the key project documents. This will help you assess the project planning process, as well as the actual benefits achieved through the project.
  • Consider using independent reviewers – Where possible, use outside people in your review process to get an objective, unclouded view of the project. Some people recommend using only independent people in the review, however, you can learn a lot from the perspectives of those who were directly involved in the project – this is why the best strategy is probably to have a balance.
  • Use appropriate data collection – Collect information in the most appropriate way, for example, by using interviews and surveys. Also, test the deliverable yourself, to make sure you get firsthand information.
  • Deliver appropriate reports – Report your findings, and publicize the results. Remember that the PIR is designed to help project managers conduct more effective projects in the future, as well as to measure and optimize the benefits of the specific project being reviewed.
  • Present recommendations – Present the detailed recommendations to the organization and the project leaders, as well as to customers and other stakeholders. Include as many people as necessary so that you keep – and apply – the best-practice information in the future.

As you plan your PIR, be aware of the costs and benefits of the review process itself. Interviewing stakeholders and customers, testing the solution, and documenting the results are time-consuming activities. Make sure the time and resources dedicated to the review are consistent with the project scope and its output, and that the potential benefits of conducting the review are worth the effort put in.

Key Points

A Post-Implementation Review (PIR) is conducted after completing a project. Its purpose is to evaluate whether project objectives were met, to determine how effectively the project was run, to learn lessons for the future, and to ensure that the organization gets the greatest possible benefit from the project.

After a long project, the last thing many project teams want to do is relive the process and look for ways to improve. However, a forward-looking review can discover many tips and strategies for improvement.

By conducting a thorough and timely PIR, you'll identify key lessons learned – and you can then apply those lessons to the planning and management of future projects.

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