Dmitrii Ilenkov on The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire episode 31

“How can peer review improve project outcomes?” Find out in this episode of Appfire Presents: The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire.

Project management expert and P3express.com founder Dmitrii Ilenkov joins Appfire’s Kerry O’Shea Gorgone to talk about peer review for project management.

Like code review in software development and peer review for academic articles, project managers can use peer review to achieve better outcomes and improve knowledge sharing across the organization. In this episode, we discuss the why and the how of peer review.

About the guest

Dmitrii Ilenkov is a project management practitioner with more than 10 years of experience. 

He’s lectured about project management for Finance University and the Higher School of Economics, and founded PMCLUB and p3express.com.

About the show

The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire covers everything you ever wanted to know about PPM by talking with project management experts who’ve seen it all. And every episode is 10 minutes or less, so you can get back to changing the world, one project at a time.


For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

How can peer review can improve project outcomes?

Kerry:  Today we’re going to address the question how can peer review improve project outcomes. To answer that for us is Dmitrii Ilenkov, PMP, PhD, managing partner of PM Club, and founder of P3Express.com. I’m very excited about today’s episode. Stick around for 10 minutes of awesome.

Dmitrii, thanks for being here. Let’s talk about peer review in the context of project outcomes. I’ve actually never heard peer review mentioned in terms of project management. I’ve heard it in terms of scientific journals, even legal publications and academic work, but not project management.  

Dmitrii:  Actually, the concept of peer review is not new at all. In academia, it has been known for centuries. The first time in the 17th Century, actually, when the process was formalized in one of the scientific journals. We also use peer reviews in healthcare. What about IT? Programming code review. Code review is a kind of must-have now. 

Kerry:  That’s interesting. A lot of times when you’re going to add a feature to software or make changes, if you’re peer reviewing the code, you would think the whole process could benefit from peer review for like, “How did this go? Not good or good?” 

Dmitrii:  Absolutely. It’s kind of a standard in academia, if you have a scientific magazine or journal, then all of the articles have to be peer reviewed. It establishes credibility, it provides high quality, it makes sure that these papers should be published. But projects, do we really use peer review? 

Kerry:  I want to talk about what it looks like, who participates, and how it works, but before we do, why would you even do this? What are the benefits of peer review for project management?

Dmitrii:  The first benefit… Doing projects we’re normally in a hurry. We need to launch the project, then we have to meet the deadline, and we’re under pressure. Honestly, we are often under pressure. Sometimes we need to stop and make sure we did everything right. 

I’m not even talking about the project we’re delivering. I’m talking about project management processes. It’s amazing how many project management professionals nearly always skip project management activities while doing projects. We all do that, unfortunately. Because we’re in a hurry, this project is small, and this project is probably too big and we have to hurry again, so why do this, why do that, we skip all of the project management activity, whatever methodology we use, and then we say project management doesn’t work, but probably we didn’t do project management.

Kerry:  It is tempting to move into the next thing, but what I hear you saying is if you take the time, it’s worth it to do some peer review of the project management process.

Dmitrii:  Exactly. That’s only one benefit. Just have a look if you haven’t skipped everything. 

The second benefit… We all are biased. That’s okay. We try to be rational, but we’re not. We all have our preferences. Remember, we were talking about NUPP, and there was that principle of project management that you have to try to stick to the truth and to the results, not your iterations. But we are human beings, and very often we do what we’ve always done, not what is best for our project. We are biased and we need a second pair of eyes to have a look on what we’ve been doing. That’s the second benefit.

Kerry:  This makes so much sense, because you can think something went great, but the other people may feel like you pushed them a little too hard or you were a little too aggressive, or maybe they feel like you didn’t follow up enough. I think you’re exactly right, perspective. What’s else? 

Dmitrii:  Often we complain that we have difficulties with sharing knowledge within our organizations. That’s true, it’s really hard to share our knowledge, because we can share some charts, we can share some documents, which we actually often don’t do, but it’s very hard to share firsthand experience. 

Sharing that experience can benefit us a lot because other project managers will see the issues that we faced, the solutions that worked, and they can spread this best practice in their teams, in their departments. Sharing knowledge is another great benefit. Reviewing your projects, the other project manager will benefit, and that’s very important.

Kerry:  If you have a large enterprise, you can have teams operating using different methodologies and everything across your organization. This is important, sharing of knowledge is important.

Dmitrii:  Yes, there’s a lot to learn.

Kerry:  What does it look like when you do this, who participates in it? 

Dmitrii:  This concept of peer review, which is somewhere around us in other fields like medicine and science, it’s not often articulated in project management. So, I’ll give you the way P3 Express project management system articulates it, because in P3 Express peer review is a very important and essential activity, which we repeat in different stages. 

Project initiation, before making a go / no-go decision, we ask a different project manager from our company to review the activities we’ve already undertaken. That makes sure that you haven’t forgotten about the risks. For example, that’s a question I like to ask when reviewing other projects, “What about the risks? Have you found major risks? Do you have ways to deal with them?” 

That’s funny because even skilled and very professional project managers tend to miss them. For example, once there was a project manager that said, “I can’t see any risk in this project.” I said, “Really? Have you had experience of cooperating with this contractor before?” They said yes. “How did it go?” They said, “Well, actually, the key developer went on vacation the day before the deadline, and we nearly missed the deadline because of it.” Oh, fantastic. 

Kerry:  Hope springs eternal, next time will be better.

Dmitrii:  Exactly. It was Summer, that’s the time for vacations, so that’s another risk that was very easy to find in a peer review, for example. So, first we do a peer review in project initiation. 

Then we work in cycles in P3 Express, it’s called sprints and scrum, and there are other ways to organize your work. Every iteration, you also have to do peer review. When you’re in your project, we sometimes tend to skip project management activities, and that’s bad. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t do this is peer review. Ask a different project manager from your company to review your project and your documentation, and to ask you some questions regarding how you manage your project.

There is actually one important hint here. Always ask different project managers to review your project. First, you want to share knowledge better, to more people. Second, they also can be biased.

Kerry:  If they think that you know what you’re doing, they might be tempted to just check the box and be like, “Looked at it, it’s great.”

Dmitrii:  Absolutely. Some people find it uncomfortable to ask hard questions, so we need to ask different project managers to review the project. 

Kerry:  This isn’t like a postmortem or a lessons learned that you do just at the end. You’re saying you do this at the beginning, you do it again – is it after each milestone or each sprint? 

Dmitrii:  Yes, and in the end you also do it. You do it in the project closure to make sure that you’ve closed your project properly, that you handed over the product properly, that you have all of the documentation, so that the project is really finished and you are really ready to go on. Project peer review should be performed on a regular basis, not only like a postmortem. 

Kerry:  If you want to learn more about P3 Express in general, you should go check out P3Express.com, because Dmitrii knows what he’s talking about. Thank you for joining today. If you’d like more episodes of The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire or to hear about any of our project portfolio management apps, you can check out Hub.Appfire.com. We’ll see you next time.

Last updated: 2022-08-04

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