When and Why Should a PM Review a Past Project?

When and Why Should a PM Review a Past Project?
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If you have just wrapped up a project and its memories are still fresh in your mind, it is a good time to conduct a project review and pick up valuable lessons from the past. Learning by reviewing past projects is one of the best ways to find out which areas need improvement, what the team did well in and how to do a better job next time. By making an honest reflection of the past, you project a brighter future.


A project has a finite timeline marked by a start and an end. Most likely, every project divides into phases and each phase also has a definite beginning and finish. At the end of each project or each phase of a project, the project team reflects on the events that happened and actions taken during the project by conducting project reviews. A project review has three main purposes: what the team lacked, what it excelled in, and how the team can do a better job next time.

By making continual improvements, the project team has a chance to review the past and progress positively in the future. Also, if there were any misunderstandings during the project, you can use a project review to clear them up.


Why should a PM review a past project? If you don’t take the time to review past projects, team members move on to the next one without an opportunity to learn from prior events. If mistakes happened, they don’t know what they did wrong and how to avoid making the same mistakes again. And, if something went well, no one received acknowledgement for it and they might not carry the accomplishment into the next project.

It is important for the team to review the project as a whole, receive credit where it’s due and learn from past mistakes so they do not happen again.

How to Conduct

Project reviews typically involve the entire team and its stakeholders such as business owners and even clients. All participants attend the meeting and are encouraged to give input. It is often up to the project manager to engage all participants. However, project reviews should not be a finger-pointing blame session. When giving criticism, do it constructively and remember the objective is to make things better. Also, if something went well, always commend the responsible party.

Usually the project review is divided into three rounds of discussions. The first rounds are things that went well, the second are things that did not go well and the third are lessons learned. For each round of discussions, all participants chime in with their thoughts and experience.

The project manager usually documents the meeting and posts meeting notes to the team afterward.

What Worked?

Were errors identified early enough to mitigate future failures? Was a new methodology implemented to expedite processes? Were the right questions asked during meetings? Did team members work well together? These are all areas to consider when bringing up things that worked efficiently. From good teamwork to outstanding communication to exceptional work ethic, there are many ways a project team can achieve excellence and each team member has the right to know when they have done a great job.

What Went Wrong?

As much as everyone hates making mistakes, they happen all the time. Even the brightest team member messes up. As long as the team doesn’t dwell on them and the responsible person isn’t reprimanded or embarrassed, talking about past mistakes can be an opportune learning experience for the entire team.

Did someone have a misunderstanding about the requirements? Next time, perhaps he or she can make an effort to clarify before continuing with implementation. Was a timeline too vague? Maybe all timelines should be more definite in the future. A mistake is not the end of the world, but it is something to become cautious about and a chance to learn a lesson from.

Lessons Learned

As a takeaway from the past project, all team members should walk away from project reviews with a list of lessons learned. From resuming good work to correcting wrongdoing, having an idea of how to perform better on the following project maximizes the team’s chances for success.

Useful Techniques

To ensure project reviews run smoothly and seamlessly, here are some useful techniques to apply:

Take good notes. Sometimes a lot of people have many things to say at the same time and important messages become lost. Make sure that everything is documented so valuable information does not get left out.

Engage everyone. On a project team, some people are too shy and reserved to speak their mind. However, they might have substantial input to give. Try engaging them in the conversation by asking for their thoughts and ideas so the timid also have a chance to talk.

Keep it positive. Again, every project offers some mistakes and project reviews should never turn into a blame session. Keep the mood positive and focus on improvements instead of the negative impact of past mistakes.

Maintain focus. Sometimes meetings rear out of focus and slide off topic. A simple project review can turn into a heavy discussion about remaining requirements. As a project manager, you need to keep the team from going on a tangent about unrelated subjects and maintain the focus on reviewing the past project.

So, why should a PM review a past project? Nothing is always 100 percent perfect. Even projects that go well have areas for improvement. By reviewing past projects, you give yourself the chance to learn from mistakes, keep improving and do an even better job next time.