Performance Reviews

What Are Project-Based Reviews and Why Should You Use Them?

March 11, 2024
March 21, 2024
Lyssa Test and Camille Hogg
Lattice Team

“What could we have done better?” It sounds like a simple question — but regular self-reflection on how well we’re doing can go a long way to boosting team and individual performance. The trouble is, in many organizations, this process usually takes place on a yearly basis during annual performance reviews. And often, these reviews aren’t quite frequent enough to enable employees to internalize or act on feedback so they can grow and develop.

Project reviews are one tool organizations can use to bridge that feedback gap. Project reviews are a reflective process that enables employees to evaluate the success of an individual task, identify areas for growth, and build an action plan to tactically improve performance in the future. 

Implementing project reviews successfully to unlock higher performance depends on building the right processes and behaviors so that everyone understands how to implement them and act on feedback effectively. Here’s how to get started.

What is a project review?

Project reviews evaluate an individual’s contributions, performance, and project outcomes in the context of a specific task or assignment.

Think of it like a debrief: Shortly after a project is completed, project stakeholders evaluate how successfully an individual achieved their project deliverables, identify areas for improvement, share feedback, and offer tactical ways for individuals to improve their performance.

Project reviews sit within the larger framework of performance management and feedback processes. They’re complementary to processes like 360-degree reviews and annual performance reviews, and they provide a useful tool that helps organizations continuously evaluate employee performance across their employee lifecycle.

“They are not designed to replace other forms of employee reviews as they do not provide a holistic overview of an employee's career performance — especially since the project may have gone awry for reasons outside of an individual employee's control,” explained George Santos, managing director and head of marketing at technical recruitment company 180 Engineering. “That’s why it’s important to combine these reviews with traditional employee performance reviews that can be conducted on a regular basis. For instance, you could conduct an employee review every quarter and a project review following the conclusion of a project.”

Due to their context-specific and time-sensitive nature, project reviews can highlight informed, in-the-moment feedback on the individual’s communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills, among other assessments. They’re particularly helpful for self-reflection, too, because they create an opportunity for employees to evaluate their own performance and adjust their behavior before heading into a new project. 

Plus, having detailed snapshots of employee project performance can be helpful to managers come annual review time. Managers can use these records to review a direct report’s contributions throughout the year and track improvements, allowing them to give a more accurate report on the employee’s overall performance at year’s end.

What are the types of project reviews?

There are multiple different types of project reviews that organizations can implement to evaluate project success:

  • Gate review: In gate reviews, teams reflect on a project’s status at specific milestones. This phased approach enables teams to assess the work they’ve completed so far, evaluate the project scope, budget, and intended deliverables, and course correct as required before ceasing work or proceeding to the next stage.
  • Project retrospective: Commonly used by product and engineering teams, retrospectives are similar to project reviews, but bring together project team members for a team review process, instead of focusing on individual performance. 
  • Project audit: Project audits are a more formal project management process. They evaluate a team or organization’s adherence to specific project standards and typically involve evaluation of regulatory requirements, compliance, risk management, and budget constraints.
  • Benefits realization review: All effective projects come with a set of intended deliverables and outcomes. A benefits realization review is a structured project completion review that evaluates how successfully the project achieved its goals.

All of these feedback processes can add value to project management procedures — but they all focus on improving team performance and shared outcomes. By contrast, project reviews focus on improving an individual employee’s performance with targeted feedback based on how they personally contributed and achieved success.

Who conducts a project review?

Similar to a 360-degree review, where feedback is collected from an employee’s manager and peers, the project review process relies on outside input to evaluate an individual’s performance. But instead, this feedback usually comes from the project owner, team, and other stakeholders who worked closely with the reviewee.

Participants include: 

  • Project owner: The project owner has direct insight into the reviewee’s contributions to the project, their successes, and areas for improvement.
  • Project team: Peer feedback is essential for highlighting how well an individual communicates, collaborates with others, and participates in a project.
  • Project sponsor: A project sponsor is responsible for the overall success of any given task or assignment. This may be someone in an executive or leadership role who is responsible for assembling the team, decision-making around key project outcomes and deliverables, and metrics of success.
  • External stakeholders: Depending on the type of project, feedback may be required from external stakeholders — such as customers, shareholders, or even product testers. 

Why are project reviews important?

Project reviews are an essential part of any continuous feedback culture. They deliver in-the-moment feedback that gives your employees the opportunity to look back on their work and think critically about what was successful and what needs to improve before their next assignment. 

At an organizational level, this kind of continuous feedback can ensure projects — and teams — maintain high performance long-term, by highlighting stumbling blocks including inefficient policies, poor lines of communication, or other easily preventable issues. Ultimately, this can boost efficiency, trickling down into time and cost savings.

But they’re also critical from an individual growth perspective. By sharing feedback with their colleagues, employees can help each other grow professionally and improve future collaboration. This can create mutual accountability and support for capabilities and skills development.

Lastly, what helps make project reviews so effective is that they can be employee-run. “When you give employees the power to initiate performance review conversations, they remain engaged and motivated throughout the whole process,” said Sharon Terera, PhD, content knowledge manager at Remofirst. Rather than feeling like these reviews are a mandatory company-wide initiative, employees can understand that this process aids them in growing professionally and collaborating more efficiently with other colleagues and teams. This mindset can help your employees grow individually, your teams grow together, and your business grow as a whole.

Here are four key reasons why project reviews benefit your organization.

1. They take an objective, metrics-driven approach to employee performance.

Project reviews can be more objective and fair than traditional reviews, as they rate employees’ performance based on their ability to meet project plan goals and complete assigned tasks, rather than depending solely on the opinion of an employee’s manager or senior leader.

“Projects tend to have clear, well-defined scope, objectives, and deliverables, so it becomes easy to design objective criteria or performance indicators for project reviews,” Terera said.

2. They offer different perspectives on employee performance.

In a traditional performance review, the manager is usually the most important voice in the room. But even with a best-in-class performance management process, performance reviews can be affected by affinity or recency bias.

In a project review, employees receive feedback from the project leader, project team, and other key contributors, which allows the employee to hear feedback from a variety of different perspectives and potentially exposes them to insights they haven’t previously received.

3. They provide constructive, meaningful feedback to enhance skills development.

By our nature, we all have an intrinsic need for praise and recognition, but it’s especially helpful when it’s given in the right way. As 2022 data from Gallup and Workhuman found, “Employees who receive great recognition are 20 times as likely to be engaged as employees who receive poor recognition.”

But one issue with manager-led performance reviews is that managers don’t always work directly with their employees. As a result, the feedback they give may be based on what they hear from others, or based on an impression as to how the employee is faring. This distance means some employees don’t get the specific, tactical feedback that helps them grow.

Project reviews can effectively fill this gap, providing employees (and their managers) with more meaningful, constructive feedback that helps them improve their skills, abilities, and workplace relationships.

4. They shape employee behavior with specific, timely feedback.

With feedback, specificity is important. A 2020 meta-analysis of 435 studies on the effects feedback can have on student learning found that “high-information feedback” was the most effective. As the authors explained, more detailed feedback helped students “understand [not only] what mistakes they made, but also why they made these mistakes and what they can do to avoid them the next time.”

It’s the same principle with workplace performance. Traditional annual reviews typically occur too far apart or lack a specific follow-up action plan to drive accountability, which can hinder employees when it comes to achieving meaningful behavioral change. Project performance reviews, on the other hand, provide employees with timely, detailed feedback that they can implement immediately as they prepare to start their next project.

For best effect, project reviews need to occur as soon after the completion of a project as possible because feedback is best given and received when the details of the project are still fresh in everyone’s mind. Any delay in kicking off the process increases the likelihood that people will forget what advice they would have shared, or get pulled into more demanding work and no longer have the bandwidth to lead or participate in post-project reviews.

Key Elements of an Effective Project Review

When done well, project reviews can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your performance management process, because they provide a continuous way for employees to connect skills and growth to the greater context of their work.

To maximize these benefits, organizations need to design a great project review process that captures and allows feedback to be implemented effectively. There are five key components to getting this right:

  1. Structured evaluation criteria: Just like in any performance evaluation process, organizations must create a consistent, bias-free process that means everyone is evaluated according to the same criteria.
  2. Two-way feedback: Feedback works especially well when it’s a conversation — otherwise, it can feel like a witch hunt. Employees must have a safe environment and ample opportunities to discuss their feedback so they can identify specific next steps.
  3. Mutual trust: Effective project reviews hinge on mutual trust between peers and project teams. This means that not only is the feedback from project reviews likely to be transparent — but employees are also likely to be receptive to acting on it.
  4. Action-focused feedback: To instill long-term behavior change, project review processes must take a solutions-focused approach to feedback.
  5. Integration with performance management processes: Project review processes work best when they’re integrated as part of your organization’s long-term performance management, viewed alongside 360 feedback and annual reviews.

Steps for Conducting a Project Review

In order to be most effective, project reviews need to occur as quickly as possible after project completion so that details are still top of mind for your employees.

There are five key steps involved in an effective project review.

1. Delegate roles and guidelines for reviewers.

When reviewing any employee’s performance, having guidelines in place is critical to ensuring a consistent, fair process.

To optimize efficiency, project teams must identify key reviewers required to participate and how they will participate. Senior stakeholders or project leaders might focus on evaluating overall performance and goal achievement, while peers may be asked to evaluate different performance aspects, such as collaboration or communication.

Reviewers also need guidance on exactly how and why they’re evaluating their colleague, so the reviewee gets clear and actionable feedback on how to improve.

Guidelines should include:

  • Project objectives and outcomes
  • Key KPIs and performance metrics
  • How to give objective feedback
  • How and when feedback will be collected
  • How feedback will be delivered

2. Provide tools and resources to conduct reviews independently.

Project reviews are time-sensitive — which means employees must have the tools and knowledge to kick off the process independently for the best results.

HR teams can set project review teams up for success by offering regular training on how to give and receive constructive feedback, sharing review templates for employees to access and use whenever they need, and showing employees where to store their reviews once complete. A centralized performance management system like Lattice can be helpful here because employees can run, document, and store their own project reviews in one place. Enabling project documentation means individuals and teams always have a paper trail to help them prioritize performance and growth goals.

3. Collect peer feedback for the individual being reviewed. 

Next, the project owner needs to identify which individuals will provide peer review for an employee, and then request their feedback. To streamline the process, instruct managers to use a peer review template and share examples of constructive performance review feedback, as well as advice on how to write constructive, actionable feedback. Make sure to set a deadline and communicate it clearly to ensure that the review can proceed in a timely manner. 

4. Encourage project owners to provide feedback.

Similar to a manager during a traditional performance review, the project owner must now make note of the advice and constructive feedback they have for the individual being reviewed. If the reviewer needs help at this stage, encourage them to split the feedback into two sections: things the individual did well (strengths) and areas where the employee could improve (weaknesses). This can help reinforce positive behavior and encourage employees to reflect on other areas of their performance where they have room for growth.

5. Present feedback. 

Lastly, the project owner needs to compile and present the peer feedback and their own feedback to the employee. This conversation should be forward-focused and discuss how the employee could improve their work on their next assignment.

“In my opinion, one of the best practices for conducting a project review is to do so in a framework where the aim is not to assign blame for failures,” said Santos. “They should be a safe space for openly sharing and reflecting on the experiences of a project in order to conclude the review with everyone feeling motivated and better prepared to handle the next big task.”

When conducted with this forward-thinking mindset, project reviews can inspire your employees to be more introspective and intentional with their performance moving forward.

Use project reviews to encourage future efficiency and project success.

Your employees might be quick to dismiss project reviews as just another administrative task on their to-do lists, but taking the time to explain the purpose and benefits of project reviews can help change their minds and win their support. 

After all, these reviews are hyper-focused and tactical, allowing employees to learn exactly how they can improve their performance and, ultimately, grow their careers at your company. When your employees share feedback with each other, they are investing directly in their colleagues’ professional growth and influencing the success of future projects. 

Teams can make this feedback and performance evaluation process simpler with Lattice. Lattice’s dedicated performance management platform helps teams and individuals manage feedback, view performance in context, and keep track of performance review cycles so that employees have all the information they need to develop and grow. Unlock a high-performance team by learning more today.