| Over the last eight years
I have had the privilege of mentoring over 20 Project
Managers (PMs). Since then, I have found myself thinking
of the PM's job in terms of an hourglass. The PM's success
is often determined by his or her ability to manage the
passage of sand between the top and bottom of the hourglass.
The top of the hourglass is the hierarchy, and the bottom
the project team. Because both top and bottom are crucial
to the success of a project, I spend a significant portion
of any mentoring session focusing on ways to manage the
passage of sand from top to bottom and bottom to top.
In Part 1 of this story, I will focus on managing the
project team. Part 2, next issue, will be about managing
Since much is written and taught about how to manage project
teams and projects (i.e. how to make schedules, estimates,
etc.), I won't dwell on the basic knowledge that all PMs
must have. When I mentor experienced PMs and technical
engineers, the critical strategic question we try to answer
is how to improve the odds that their projects will be
successful. The most successful method we have found to
improve project performance is to conduct anywhere between
1-5 peer reviews throughout the life of a project.
As the PM and I plan for a peer review, these are some
of the things we discuss:
Purpose of the Peer Review
To gain as much valuable input in the shortest amount
of time to improve the chances for a successful project
and avoid disasters and known (by others) problems.
Who to Invite
Just peers, no hierarchy. The most successful peer reviews
I have attended consisted of diverse groups of people:
technical engineering, project managers, construction
managers, purchasing managers, finance managers, research
and development personnel, and contractors. Ten to twenty
people are enough -- anymore than that becomes unmanageable,
as each person will bring his or her own agenda.
What Protocol to Use
Peer review protocol is relatively simple. It requires
the project team and the PM to concisely communicate their
technical and executional strategies. The floor is then
opened to all the invited guests (peers) for comments,
critique, and clarifying questions. Pre-work can be sent
out to the peers to review prior to the meeting. Peers
are required to be open, honest, and engage in the communication
or not bother to attend the review.
How Long Should it Be?
A maximum of 6-8 hours, including lunch and breaks. The
PM usually runs the meeting and has to insure that all
the "peers" are contributing ideas. There are a lot of
topics to cover but the PM must go over them quickly to
avoid one or more individuals grandstanding.
How to Summarize the Discussion
Take copious notes and display them on the wall during
the meeting. In the last peer review I attended, there
must have been 30-40 pages of flip-chart paper capturing
all the ideas/comments on a $50MM project. These were
then typed and distributed to all the participants with
a note to them and their boss thanking them for their
contributions and for helping improve the success of the
What to Expect of a Peer Review
Out of the 30-40 pages of notes on flip-chart paper, there
were only 5-10 "nuggets" that the project team went on
to use and helped them to improve the technical, cost
and schedule aspects of the project. Implementing these
nuggets more than made up for the cost of the peer review.
As we have conducted more peer reviews, we've noted that
the invited peers are beginning to take one or two "nuggets"
they had not considered back to their projects and programs.
They also are exposed to other talented individuals within
the company whom they may have heard about but never had
the opportunity to meet and network with. Thus, the peer
review process is proving to be a very important tool
in the PM tool kit to improve the success of a project.
Scott Cameron is Capital Systems Manager for
the Food & Beverage Global Business Unit of Procter
& Gamble. He has been managing capital projects
and mentoring other capital management practitioners
for the past 20 years at Procter & Gamble within
its Beauty Care, Health Care, Food & Beverage, and
Fabric & Home Care Businesses.