A notable reason for ongoing project failure is the absence of a post implementation review (PIR). But what is a post implementation review and how can an organisation use this opportunity for analysis and reflection to boost the likelihood of future project success?
As projects become bigger and more complex, the risk of failure rises exponentially higher. According to an audit conducted by Infrastructure Australia, the dearth of post completion reviews in infrastructure projects, and the subsequent lack of insight around benefits realisation, is contributing to failings in project decision-making.
One of the audit’s five recommendations for improvement is therefore: “Preparation and publishing of post completion reviews for projects to ensure that expected benefits were realised, and lessons learnt through planning and delivery can be applied to future decisions.”
This is supported by a 2020 report from the Australian Institute of Project Management entitled Project Delivery Performance in Australia. Findings showed that organisations that regularly undertake independent performance reviews to assess performance of delivery were 11 per cent more likely to lead a successful project.
What is a post implementation review?
A post implementation review (PIR) or post completion review is a process of documenting the success (or failure) of the project according to its outcomes, taking into account the delivery processes as well as how the project was managed and governed. As a tool used to track benefits and capture lessons learnt, the review process sits at the intersection of the organisation’s governance, quality assurance, continuous improvement and knowledge management practice.
A PIR is not about assessing the project manager/s and/or team’s performance; the objective is for organisational learning. With this in mind, it should link to the business case and project plan, comparing what the project set out to achieve against what the project actually delivered. This encompasses standard project factors such as schedule, budget and scope in light of the resources available and the specific business environment. Essentially it evaluates the organisation’s ability to deliver a project alongside its ability to mitigate emerging threats and engage with opportunities, and measures its resilience against challenges.
A PIR report should typically include:
- Introduction and agreed scope of review
- Feedback from stakeholders
- Views of documents/artefacts reviewed
- Detailed gap analysis
- Critical success factors
- Positive aspects of the delivery and learnings
- Roadmap of key remedial actions for management attention
- Findings and summary conclusions
- Observations and consultant’s opinion
- Priority improvement opportunities
- Areas requiring further investigation
- Prioritised actionable recommendations
The PIR process
The post implementation review should be a standard part of a project framework, an aspect of the closure process before the team disbands. Ideally, it should include contributions from the project team and other relevant stakeholders after some of the project benefits have come to fruition but not before key details are forgotten.
It is important that the people involved should feel able to provide honest critique of the project in the absence of internal politics or influences. As such, it is often beneficial to involve an independent party to conduct the review. This may fall to the organisation’s project management office (PMO), which may have overseen the project but was not involved in its delivery, an external consultant, or a combination of both.
A PMO-led post completion review can help the organisation strengthen the delivery framework as well as the PMO’s knowledge management function. External consultants have the benefit of not being constrained by internal politics and provide validation and confidence, particularly for less mature project organisations. They also have experience and expertise outside of the business that enables independent benchmarking. In tandem, an external consultant can help a PMO integrate the findings from a PIR into a centre of excellence to enable the future success of the organisation’s projects.
The value of a PIR
The upfront value of a post implementation review is to improve the realisation of benefits as generated by the delivery of the project. This includes both the project’s direct outputs and the indirect benefits that the organisation may realise internally, for example the increased skill and experience of key team members or project delivery innovations that can be applied to future initiatives.
A PIR will often return many times the investment, in improved delivery efficiency, velocity and reduced overruns. In an ideal world PIRs are just one of the assurance activities that should be conducted throughout the project lifecycle, but they provide a specific level of benefit to the organisation. Conducted regularly across a portfolio, they identify delivery trends to be addressed and enable the ability to track the adoption of delivery improvements on subsequent projects.
One of the biggest mistakes organisations make with their PIRs is treating one as the end of the project, rather than a tool to embed lessons learnt into the organisation for the next project and beyond. PIRs are designed to incite change, which may include systemic changes to frameworks and way of working, risk identification and management adjustments, additional relevant training, portfolio and resourcing improvements.
A thorough PIR should answer the following questions:
- Was stakeholder engagement and management effective?
- Did the project deliver on stated objectives?
- How effective were the project management processes?
- What lessons were learnt?
- What went well?
- How can we improve next time?
How to use a PIR
The best PIRs provide actionable recommendations that can be incorporated into the organisation’s next project, as illustrated by this case study. In this instance, our client – a major payments solution provider – had recently completed a project to stand up a new digital bank business. Keen to analyse what they’d learnt to improve future project delivery, the client engaged PM-Partners to conduct a tailored review.
Issues covered ranged from the effectiveness of the project’s governance model and the delivery methodology, to the project’s handling of resource and talent management. PM-Partners interviewed key stakeholders, reviewed project documents, and used global benchmarks for delivery practices to evaluate the project.
The PIR resulted in about 50 recommendations, which were presented as opportunities for the client, including changes to its governance model to improve decision-making, a more robust operating model to manage risk and regulatory requirements, and revised practices to retain and attract talent. PM-Partners worked with the business to develop a plan to implement these recommendations and strengthen its future projects.
The practice of conducting post implementation reviews can be the difference between project success and failure; without a PIR practice, organisations are prone to repeating mistakes and undertaking expensive learning curves, leading to disappointed stakeholders and customers. Don’t let your lessons learned go to waste – invest in post implementation reviews and build a successful project practice in your organisation.
PM-Partners can tailor a post implementation review for your organisation against globally recognised benchmarks. Alternatively, our Continuous Assurance service is a more holistic approach which identifies problems earlier in the delivery lifecycle and works to address the root causes of poor performance. Contact the team for more information, or call us on 1300 70 13 14 today.