| In our business we have
all kinds of reviews: financial reviews, strategy reviews,
technical reviews, test reviews, design reviews, baseline
reviews, etc., etc. I hate them all -- every last one.
It's not because they aren't necessary, but because
of how we do them. None is more often bollixed up than
those that involve the government and contractors. Here
are some ways to avoid the most common pitfalls that
I find specifically in these kinds of reviews.
Make sure the right people are there
Take care to avoid those people who come to reviews
regardless of how little they have to contribute or
how little they have to do with the project. I think
there are out there a host of donut-eaters and coffee-drinkers
that are professional reviewers. It's like a big social
occasion for them. They get to offer a snide comment
here, add a little humor there, extend the breaks and,
for sure, make certain everyone understands how clever
they are. Long ago I learned that the first thing for
me to do at a review is to ask each government person
who they are and why they are here.
If I don't get a satisfactory answer, out that person
goes before we ever start. Sometimes I do have someone
give me an OK answer, but I find out during the review
that the person is just being disruptive. Out. I know
that sounds harsh, but the truth is I usually only have
to do it once and the word gets out that reviews on my
programs are serious, intense and not for the curious
off communication faster than having an environment
where people feel defensive or threatened.
Being adversarial is not what it's all about
The purpose of reviews is to exchange information freely,
openly and completely. It is a dialogue among team members
-- members who share a common goal. It cannot be an
"us-versus-them, " or else the information flow will
cease. Nothing cuts off communication faster than having
an environment where people feel defensive or threatened.
I think of government-contractor reviews as peer reviews.
To emphasize the team nature of reviews, I make it a
practice that government people give roughly half the
presentations in any review. I also do not allow any
government-only caucuses. These create suspicion and
encourage "behind-the-back " assertions. In my reviews
anything worth saying is said in open forum.
This is not the time for big surprises
I have been dismayed by how many formal reviews I have
attended where government people actually working on
the project are surprised by what they are hearing from
the contractor. This should never be. Formal reviews
are for people outside the project, not for those working
on it. People working on the project should be getting
continuous, real-time information from their counterparts
as the project progresses. If they are depending on
formal reviews to get their information, then they are
not doing their jobs. Formal reviews should be old news
to the people actually working the project.
Separate the real issues from apparent ones
I wonder how many reviews fit the pattern of "nothing
came out of the review but the people who went in."
Reviews should be action oriented. Where issues arise,
someone needs to be accountable for resolving them.
Part of that accountability stems from meeting a deadline.
The project manager should decide what issues or concerns
merit follow-up. Just because someone has an unanswered
question or a concern, it doesn't necessarily follow
that there needs to be an action item. There are a lot
of "nervous Nellies " out there who want everything
tidy and complete. In this business they will often
be disappointed. The project manager must weigh the
criticality of the issue or question against the cost
of resolving it. At times, we have to accept some risk
and move forward, leaving time and events to resolve
certain issues or questions.
Boring does not make for a good review
Nothing is worse than reviews that are too long and
too boring. I frequently see excessive detail that most
of the people present don't care about or need to know.
This is the project manager's fault. Every agenda item
in a review and every view graph on that topic should
be of interest to and comprehensible by 80% of those
in attendance. The way I accomplish this is to discuss
beforehand the purpose of the review with my contractor
counterpart and to carefully review the agenda to see
that it fulfills the purpose. I also go over with my
counterpart the attendee list to make sure that what's
presented is what the attendees are looking for. My
view is that a formal review should not last more than
a day. Anything beyond that tends to get into weeds.
One can better communicate weed-like detail in an informal
setting to a small group, where there is an opportunity
for back-and-forth discussion without disrupting others
and where time is not lost by preparing some formal
Reviews are a necessary evil. They can be very painful,
but they don't have to be. It just takes a little planning,
some courage and an abiding belief that there are better
approaches than just letting them happen like they always
Search by lesson to find more on:
Terry Little is currently the Director of
the Kinetic Energy Boost Office of the Missile Defense
Agency. Before that he was the head of the Air Force's
Center for Acquisition Excellence. He is one of
the Air Force's most seasoned program managers.
He entered the Air Force in 1967 and served on active
duty until 1975. In 1997 he was promoted to the
grade of SES.