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Project Performance Reviews Meets Microblogging

by Hal on May 27, 2009

in collaboration, innovation, leadership, lean

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Project performance reviews are dead; long live performance reviews. A standard practice on projects is to conduct a lessons learned (post mortem) at the end of a project. In my opinion it doesn't produce much value. The current project is over so can't benefit from what is said. The project team is often broken up sending people to different projects. Instead, do project assessments all the time. On lean projects people have many practices for assessing learning and performance. The practices range from simple plus|delta reviews at the end of a meeting, to formal retrospectives at the end of a milestone or whenever a breakdown occurs. Now there's a new practice to add to the toolkit. In our ever-connected world, we can now get concise and timely assessments from our colleagues in just a few keystrokes — 140 to be exact.

Do project assessments all the time.

Business Week published a story by Jena McGregor, Job Review in 140 Keystrokes. BW reports that a company has taken a cue from Twitter to design a "quick-and-dirty 360 degree review" process. The service is called Rypple. Project teams can use the service at the end of a meeting, presentation, client review, client prep session, design collaboration, etc. to quickly get your colleagues' views. Rypple sends your request or question to the group. The 140-character responses are presented anonymously to the person sending out the question. It takes just a few minutes to complete. It looks particularly promising for people who work in geographically dispersed teams.

The idea of anonymous feedback has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, people who are not comfortable making critical statements may be more inclined to do so if their name isn't attached. This could increase the quality of the assessments. On the other hand, anonymity is an equalizer. The experienced competent team member's assessment carries no more strength than does the wiseguy who is on the team for a short time. For me, I'd like the option to weigh one person's assessment greater than others' assessments. But, I'm open to see what works best for a team.

Yammer could lead to far fewer meetings that were duds.

The Rypple service is free for groups up to 20 people. The service is marked "beta", but Google's Gmail was beta for 2 years if I remember correctly. I suggest you give it a try. And if you do, please come back here to let us know what you and your team thought of the product. I plan to do the same. If you and your team are ready for open assessments, then try Yammer. At my company we use Yammer to quickly connect with each other, but it would be easy to ask for opinions and get a quick reply. In fact, why wait 'til the end of the meeting to collect opinions? Have a Yammer back channel open throughout the meeting. Encourage people to make assessments as the meeting proceeds. It could lead to far fewer meetings that were duds.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Project Management Tools & Techniques May 27, 2009 at 11:37 pm

There are lots of good tools for this. Yammer is one, as is Etherpad (it’s real time, and can be used anonymously). Writeboard is also effective.

2 David Schmaltz May 28, 2009 at 4:19 am

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank had a brilliant column about anonymous commenting last month: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/17/AR2009041702639.html

Peter Block asked, “If performance reviews work so well, why don’t we give them to our spouses?”

My opinion: whatever continues the conversation is ultimately a good thing.

My recommendation: Read Project Retrospectives by Norm Kerth (Dorset House Publishing) for some innovative ideas about eliminating post mortems (unless somebody died) and replacing them with retrospectives. No reason to wait until the project’s over to conduct these, either.

3 David Priemer May 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for the post Hal. You’re bang on! With Rypple, we’ve seen the same principles you discuss in the realm of project management applied to personal performance as well as a similar applications in higher education (with professors and educators requesting ongoing feedback from both students and their peers).

The other interesting thing we’ve found is that there are many uses for Rypple where the veil of anonymity isn’t as important as having an easily digestible, threaded feedback loop that you simply can’t get with email, surveys, or even tools like Yammer. For example, asking your project team for their “best suggestion on how to improve the post go-live transition process may” not be a terribly ego-driven question that requires anonymity, but using Rypple to collect and present the feedback while ensuring that people’s answers are focused is still of interest to many.

Feel free to check out some of the use cases our users have suggested at the bottom of Rypple.com.

4 Ron Rosenhead June 1, 2009 at 10:57 am

Thanks for this. I am just putting my fingers to the key board looking at learning in project management; your posting is good timing. I believe we have forgotten how to learn.

I recently attended the Lovelace Lecture in London where the “Sins of IT projects and why they fail (some times)” were described. In total some 8 sins were talked about. ALL of them are known but we still make the same mistakes. So, if we make the same mistakes we cannot be learning – post project or not.

Whetehr trechnology is the asnwer I would be interested in any feedback – always willing to learn!

5 Dennis Sowards June 2, 2009 at 11:18 pm

I feel there is a value for post project reviews but few companies learn from them. Even though the project is over and the team goes different places there are system and method improvements that can be identified and improved for future projects. What’s more, a company can look at all post project reviews done in a year to see what common issues exist and address the bigger picture. I have seen how one company used the reviews to really improve. The idea is not bad, it just isn’t used as a learning tool. Regarding the Business Week article about how technology can be a used – it is a tool with great potential, but if the focus is on surveys that do performance ratings it will not be a learning opportunity. Dr. Deming was right about getting rid of performance ratings. Technology may make ratings faster but making something that is useless better is waste. If the ratings are then tied to promotions, rewards or salary increases, it will compound the problem and create games useful only for Dilbert cartoons.

6 Hal June 3, 2009 at 8:28 am

Hey Dennis,
My point exatly about the post project review. They are generally not used for learning, where the assessments made lead to action. Regarding Dr. Deming’s point on ratings, I also agree. The online tool is not used for ratings. Rather, it is used for very timely short assessments and observations. It starts with someone asking, “How did I just do?” Now that could be quite useful.

7 Dina Garfinkel June 3, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Such an interesting idea, to use a yammer or Rypple or Twitter type tool to gather feedback about a project. I definitely want to try this out. I always wonder why the books recommend waiting a few weeks after the project has finished to hold the review, it’s harder to remember a lot of the details when time has passed and you’re already well into the next project(s). But, to have a place to provide instant project feedback/lessons learned is a great idea. I started a folder on a shared drive for this on one project, but I love the idea of using a twitter-type system. Coincidentally, LiquidPlanner has a Twitter type collaboration feature build into its project management system, so I could make a folder or task in my LiquidPlanner project called “Feedback” and have people post there on what’s going on at the moment and what we could be doing better.

Exciting stuff, thanks for sharing this!

8 Veronica Brown June 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I agree, I feel tools like these will totally change project management. I will take a look at Rypple, thanks for the post.


9 Project Management Systems August 27, 2009 at 2:26 am

In my opinion it doesn’t produce much value. The current project is over so can’t benefit from what is said. The project team is often broken up sending people to different projects. Instead, do project assessments all the time. On lean projects people have many practices for assessing learning and performance. The practices range from simple plus|delta reviews at the end of a meeting, to formal retrospectives at the end of a milestone or whenever a breakdown occurs. …..

10 Elroy King January 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm

You are absolutely right, “assessments” should be a continual thing. The problem arises that when you are in the middle of the project you are more concerned about the fires than about documenting. You can get a reminder of what to document as lessons learned while the project is still going to http://www.pmexamready.com and searching on lessons learned.

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