Performance Reviews

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

August 26, 2021
November 7, 2023
Lyssa Test
Lattice Team

“What could we have done better?” It’s a simple question, but the answers can propel you to be your best when facing similar situations in the future. But while we usually look back and think about how we could have improved individually, as a team, and as an organization during annual performance reviews, once-a-year reviews aren’t agile enough to allow employees to quickly receive and act on feedback.

While team meetings and weekly one-on-ones with managers help give employees the opportunity to share and receive feedback and discuss how to improve performance, they often lack the formality and gravitas of a traditional performance review. That’s where project-based reviews come in.

Project-based reviews are more frequent reviews that provide employees with dedicated time and space to discuss their professional growth and learn more tactical ways to improve their performance. These reviews can also be incredibly helpful for organizations or teams that naturally perform more project-heavy work, such as consultancies or agencies.

Interested in learning more about project-based reviews and how to implement them at your organization? Here’s how your employees can view every completed project as a way to improve and grow their career with your company.

What Is a Project-Based Review?

A project-based performance review assesses an employee’s quality of work during a single, specific project, as opposed to an annual review that summarizes an employee’s performance across all the assignments they’ve completed in a given review cycle. These types of reviews take place following the completion of a project and are led by the project owner, rather than an employee’s direct manager.

Unlike a 360-degree review that combines feedback from an individual’s manager and peers, a project-based review includes input from the project leader and project participants who worked closely with the reviewee. Since these reviewers are familiar with both the project and the tasks for which the employee was responsible, they can share specific, informed feedback on the individual’s communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills, among other assessments.

But this doesn’t mean you should ditch quarterly and annual performance reviews altogether. Project-based reviews should complement traditional reviews, not replace them.

“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, Director of Talent Delivery 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-based review following the conclusion of a project.”

Project-based reviews can also be a beneficial addition to any continuous feedback model, since they allow employees to reflect on performance, receive feedback, and adjust their behavior accordingly 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.

Benefits of Project-Based Reviews

Project-based reviews can help increase the agility of your organization by giving 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. This kind of reflection can not only help bolster employee performance, but it can also highlight broken or inefficient policies, poor lines of communication, or other easily preventable issues that can save your organization time and money and improve your team’s likelihood for success the next time around.

These reviews also give your team time to think about what could be bettered at the individual level. By sharing this type of feedback with their colleagues, employees can help each other grow professionally and improve future collaboration. Project-based reviews can help foster a continuous feedback culture within your organization, and motivate employees to be more committed to the professional growth of both themselves and their colleagues.

Here’s how else project-based reviews can benefit your organization.

1. They are more objective. 

“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,” said Sharon Terera, PhD, an HR consultant currently working for online financial brokerage firm ForexToStocks. Project-based reviews can be more objective and fair than traditional reviews, as they rate employees’ performance on their ability to meet project goals and complete assigned tasks, rather than depending on the opinion of an employee’s manager or senior leader.

2. They offer diverse perspectives.

In a more traditional performance review, an employee’s manager is usually the most important opinion and voice in the room. While best-in-class performance management processes might also include peer feedback, even then, these reviews can be affected by affinity or recency bias.

With a project-based review, employees receive feedback from the project leader and other 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. The recency of the project and objectivity of project goals can help ensure each employee receives a fair review.

3. They provide feedback that’s more meaningful...

Another downside of manager-led performance reviews is that often managers don’t work directly with their employees. For this reason, their feedback can be based on what they hear from others or what impression they have of how their employee is faring. That can hold them back from giving the specific, tactical feedback that someone who worked directly with that employee could offer. As a result, project-based reviews can oftentimes provide employees with more meaningful, constructive feedback, and include the tactical advice individuals need to improve their abilities, skills, and workplace relationships. 

4. ...and more timely.

The end of a project provides a natural moment for internal reflection, which can leave employees feeling more open to receiving and acting on feedback. Traditional performance reviews are typically held too far apart or lack a follow-up plan to drive accountability, which can hinder employees when it comes to achieving meaningful behavioral change. Project-based performance reviews, on the other hand, provide employees with feedback that they can implement immediately as they prepare to start their next project.

Note that project-based reviews need to occur as soon after the completion of a project as possible; 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.

As an HR team, you can encourage employees to include project-based reviews in every project post-mortem, ensuring they quickly become a habit and practice that’s prioritized across the entire organization. 

How to Conduct Project-Based Reviews 

As previously mentioned, in order to be most effective, project-based reviews need to occur as quickly as possible after the conclusion of a project so project details are still top of mind for your employees.

Here are the steps your employees need to take to conduct a project-based review from beginning to end, and ensure it happens quickly and efficiently. r

1. Give employees the tools and resources they need to conduct these reviews independently.

Due to the time-sensitive nature of these reviews, employees need to have the tools and knowledge to kick off a project-based review without having to approach Human Resources every time. As an HR team, you can ensure that teams have everything they need by setting up regular trainings on how to give and receive constructive feedback, sharing review templates staff members can access and use whenever they need, and showing employees where to store their reviews electronically once complete. Ideally, you’d have one centralized performance management system like Lattice, which allows employees to administer, document, and store their own project-based reviews all in one place.

2. Have the project owner collect peer feedback for the individual or individuals being reviewed. 

Next, the project owner needs to identify which individuals will peer review an employee, and then request their feedback. To streamline the process, instruct managers to use a peer review template and share examples of constructive feedback. And make sure to set a deadline and communicate it clearly to ensure that the review can proceed in a timely manner. 

3. The project owner should write down their feedback, too.

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(s) 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.

4. The project owner presents feedback to the employee being reviewed. 

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-based 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-based reviews can inspire your employees to be more introspective and intentional with their performance moving forward.

Lastly, what helps make project-based 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,” Terera pointed out. 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 is what can help your employees grow individually, your teams grow together, and your business grow as a whole.

Your employees might be quick to dismiss project-based reviews as just another administrative task on their to-do lists, but taking the time to explain the purpose and benefits of these reviews can help change their minds and win over 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 career 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. Surely, that’s worth taking a few minutes out of their day to write a thoughtful review that could have such a positive impact on your business and its employees.