The power of project reviews

Jul 09 2012 by James M. Kerr Print This Article

There are few better ways to engage staff in business transformation than to institute a project review panel process. Once the fundamentals are in place, an organization will not only reap the benefits that come at the project level, but, it will make gains on the employee engagement front, too.

Given current economic realities, many companies have decided to look inward for efficiencies and cost-saving opportunities. Consequently, business transformation efforts have sprung up in some form in most enterprises.

A multitude of projects and programs tend to spring from such endeavors. Done right, internal pressure mounts from the rank and file who want to participate in these newly minted renovation efforts.

Clearly, not everyone can be assigned to a project. But new projects and programs offer the occasion to establish project review panels as a means of providing additional opportunities for staff to participate in a firm's project and transformation efforts.

Besides establishing a mechanism for project teams to gain periodic input from their peers – improving the quality of project work products – review panels, also, act as an employee engagement device.

The review panel will periodically review each currently active project as it evolves from kick-off to completion. There can be a review panel established for each project or one panel that is to review all active projects. The choice depends on the size of the organization and the degree to which senior leadership wants to involve staff.

If there are thousands of people affected by the firm's transformation effort then unique review panels for each project may be best. If the transformation is limited to a particular unit or division of only a few hundred staff members then a single panel may suffice.

Here are some key points to consider when establishing the review panel process:

  • A review panel is comprised of no less than six and no more than eight staff members;
  • The panel encompasses staff from across the company and all reporting levels;
  • Only a few hours per month (e.g., typically four to eight hours/month) will be required of a panelist;
  • Once fully established, panelists will be asked to participate over the course of a six month rotation;
  • The replacement of those asked to be on the inaugural review panel may be staggered so to provide ongoing continuity on the panel as its membership evolves over time;
  • Panel reviews will be scheduled into each project's task list.
  • Typically, a panel review will be conducted by a project team upon completion of each major milestone;
  • Panelists are expected to raise important questions/issues and provide an "outsider's point-of-view" to each project team;
  • Panelists are expected to communicate and discuss what they are learning about the projects with their peers so to promote better communication within the company, and;
  • The review panel has no approval or sign-off responsibilities – its sole purpose is to provide additional input to project teams.

As outlined above, it is imperative that project teams fold periodic review panel meetings into their project task lists. It is recommended that these reviews take place upon delivery of each major project milestone.

Further, the review panel meetings should be conducted prior to, and be considered separate and distinct from, other project reviews held with project sponsors or executive staff.

In this way, the team can gain the benefit of a panel review before seeking sign-off and approval from sponsors and executive staff. Also, it provides an opportunity for review panelists to gain insight into project progress on a scheduled, periodic basis that they can share among colleagues whom they interact and work with – improving communication across the company.

How the Process Works

A project review panel, as mentioned earlier, is comprised of members from across the company and a cross-section of reporting levels within the firm. A panelist is, more often than not, selected by the executive leadership team.

Each panelist is expected to play the role for a six month period after which a new staff member will be selected from within the company to be a review panelist.

The intention of rotating panelists is to provide an opportunity for wider participation of firm staff members and to ensure the influx of new ideas from diverse perspectives within the company.

Some considerations include:

  • The replacement of those asked to be on the inaugural review panel may be staggered so to provide ongoing continuity on the panel as its membership evolves over time;
  • Senior leadership must be sure that a variety of people are selected to participate – not just the usual staff members that are typically selected for such endeavors;
  • Effected managers and supervisors need to be made aware of the importance of their staff member's participation so to not hold them back from contributing; and,
  • Managing the transition of new panelists onto the panel will be the responsibility of the strategic planning administrator or project management office, who will need to define an easy, repeatable process for getting new panelists up-to-speed.

With a review panel in place, the panel review process is clear-cut. The project team simply prepares a briefing or demonstration for the review panel and schedules a panel review. Typically, review panel meetings will be an hour to 90 minutes in length.

Once the meeting commences, panelists are expected to actively participate in the review meetings, asking pertinent questions to enhance understanding and context. Panelists should be willing to provide feedback and raise issues to the project team that it may have otherwise overlooked or not considered. Feedback is gained and the project team continues on with its work until the achievement of the next project milestone and the review process is repeated.

The outside-in perspective provided by project review panels gives an opportunity for project teams to see their projects from various vantage points. It is an invaluable source of ideas for project teams that often become subject to "group think" and closed off from broader perspectives.

By instituting a project review panel, senior leadership ensures that more of their people are involved in the company's transformation project work and transition into the future. Additionally, it introduces another device that can be used to enhance communication and understanding within firm.

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About The Author

James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr

James M. Kerr is a long-time author, management consultant, vision maker and coach to some of today's best leaders. His latest book, Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Customers Can’t Live Without was published in February 2021.