It doesn’t matter how dedicated your team of programme and project managers are every now and again they can benefit from a fresh set of eyes taking a look at what’s going on. A team that is ‘heads down’ in delivery mode can sometimes suffer from groupthink and perhaps become blinkered into thinking their approach is not only the best but the only way forward. To prevent this from happening and introduce some constructive feedback to the team and client as well, a Peer Review should be undertaken.
What Is A Peer Review?
A Peer Review is, put simply, a review of a programme or project, by a small team of experienced individuals who understand the ins and outs of delivering successful outcomes. Also known as a Project Health Check, they bring together between two and five people (occasionally just one) to look at what the programme/project has been doing and more importantly what it is planning to do during the next phase.
Specifically it is not an Audit in that it doesn’t look to find out what is wrong. Rather, it looks to provide appropriate input to clients and teams that they may wish to take on board to improve their chances of success.
How Long Should a Peer Review Take?
Not long, anywhere between a day and five days should be sufficient for even the most complex of programmes. This way it can be scheduled in from the start, indeed it makes sense to schedule a number during the life of a programme – including at the end.
What Happens in a Peer Review?
This can vary depending on the programme but good practice would suggest carrying out interviews with key team members and stakeholders in-confidence. These take place after the Review Team has had time gain an appreciation of the programme ahead of the Peer Review itself. Holding interviews in-confidence cannot be stressed highly enough as it allows individuals to express their own opinions and views which may not come out in the day-to-day working environment. If the Review Team or just part of it is drawn from outside the parent organisation then this independence greatly assists.
Once the interviews have been completed the Review Team need to quickly develop their recommendations and produce a Report that can be handed to their Client. The Client in this instance could be the Programme Manager or Sponsor. Providing the relationship between Programme Manager and Sponsor is mature enough both ought to see the output of the Peer Review.
Wherever possible the Peer Review Report with its recommendations (and Points of Good Practice) should be fed back face-to-face. This allows for verbal explanations and discussions thus aiding understanding.
A couple of points about the Peer Review Report itself. It only needs to provide the briefest of explanations of what the programme/project is about and should concentrate on explaining what was found and the rationale for the recommendations it makes. As such, it should be short and to the point, not some tome that sits on a shelf. The Review Team must remember when putting together the report that what they heard in the interviews was in-confidence.
Who Should Carry Out A Peer Review?
Whether it is a very short one day look see with one person or a week with four or five the composition of the Review Team needs to match the context of the programme or project. That does not mean that Subject Matter Experts have to be engaged to fully understand the specifics involved. It does mean that within the Review Team there needs to be an appreciation of type of programme or project concerned and the organisational environment. This might mean having a (suitably experienced and independent) Review Team member from the host organisation.
Peer Reviews – In Summary
Getting a small team of experienced professionals to take a look at how a programme or project is progressing makes sense to most people and is an excellent Return-On-Investment considering the benefits.
- Schedule Peer Reviews to coincide with the completion of a phase so that readiness for the next phase can be looked at.
- Keep the Peer Reviews short and to the point – 5 days max.
- Ensure the Peer Review Team has appropriate experience and appreciation of the environment in which the programme/project is being delivered – and is independent.
- Don’t forget to schedule a Peer Review at programme/project close, just to make sure what was supposed to have been delivered was and to help capture good practice.
A Peer Review doesn’t have to be arduous for those involved in a programme or project and the benefits of getting independent feedback from experienced professionals can be invaluable.