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Surviving the Project Review
By Thomas Cutting

Companies have this crazy idea that they want their projects to be successful. To ensure this they modernized the firing squad and changed the name to “Project Review Meeting.” A recurring meeting is scheduled where the project managers stand up and give an account of their progress. Guns loaded, management fires questions at them, trying to find holes in their stories.

Here are 5 ways to help you dodge the bullets and come through the firing squad in one piece.

  1. Update your data. Old data results in upper management making poor decisions. Giving an accurate picture of your project includes maintaining the schedule, updating risks and issues and revising the change requests.

    One of the biggest side benefits of having a regularly scheduled Project Review Meeting is that it forces the project manager to refresh their data. There were several times when my Risk Assessment sat neglected until days before the meeting. It forced me to revisit the risks and take action.

    Always being the one apologizing for having outdated information does little for your reputation as a strong project manager.

  2. Produce the documents. Whether you are physically printing them or displaying them electronically, having the documents ready on time is important. If the meeting owner prints or displays documents from a central repository, get it in on time.

  3. Say something worth hearing. When I was about ten I had reconstructive surgery on my eardrum. For weeks afterward my mother would drive me 30 miles to the doctor where we would sit for 20 minutes. Once in his office he would say, “Looking good. Come back in another week.” It didn’t take long for my mother to tire of that trip and start demanding more information.

    At a minimum tell them what was accomplished for the previous period, what is coming up and how it is tracking. For tracking include a light version of Earned Value: are you ahead/behind schedule; over/under budget and by how much? Include issues or risks with which management can assist.

  4. Show facts to substantiate statements. Percentages are great…if they mean anything. One PM always included the statement that her project was 64% complete. She never really explained what that percent meant or what she was measuring. They may have spent 64% of the funds or they could have had 18 weeks left of their year long project. The percentage alone was useless. Put it in context and have the figures available to back it up. You don’t have to walk through the numbers, just make them available.

  5. Practice your presentation. Listening to someone fumble through a status report is painful. Watching them flip from slide to slide trying to piece together a full sentence only serves to communicate a lack of respect for the audience. The only thing worse is being the one giving the presentation. I know. I have attempted it.

In the end, the real reason for the Project Review Meeting is for management to gain a comfort level that you are in control of your project. You can keep their confidence in you high if your data is up to date, your documents are in order and you present your status coherently. Then they can save their bullets for someone else.

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge ( and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (

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