3.4 Evaluation at the end of a project
Different types of evaluation may take place at the end of a project. A common one is determining the extent to which the project outcomes have been achieved. This is often done in a meeting of the sponsor, key stakeholders and project team leaders, and sometimes informed by reports from key perspectives. An evaluation of this nature may be the final stage of the project, and the main purpose might be to ensure that the project has met all of the contracted expectations and can be ‘signed off’ as complete.
A different type of evaluation may be a review of the process, with the purpose of learning from experience. This is often done by comparing the project plan with what actually happened, to identify all the variations that occurred, in both processes and outcomes. The aim is to draw out how to avoid such variations in future projects or how to plan more effectively for contingencies.
Although monitoring takes place throughout a project, evaluation based on the information thus gained is likely to happen at the end of the project, in a final summative evaluation which identifies:
what the project has achieved;
the aspects of the project that went well;
the aspects that went less well;
things that you would do differently next time.
Some of the key questions to consider in carrying out an evaluation of the planning and implementation of a project are:
What went well and why?
What helped to make the project go smoothly?
What should we avoid doing during future projects?
What difficulties did you find in carrying out the tasks?
What was helpful about the project plan?
What was unhelpful about the project plan or hindered the work?
Did anything else help to make the project run smoothly?
Why do you think we had that problem with x?
Did anyone outside the project team contribute towards achieving the project?
Did anyone or any other departments hinder the project activities?
Did we accurately predict the major risks and did the contingency plans work?
Was the quality maintained at an appropriate level?
Was the budget managed well and did we complete the project within the budget?
Was the timing managed well and did we complete the project within the time-scale?
A list of questions (adapted from Elbeik and Thomas, 1998) provides a framework for planning and assessing yourself in terms of your achievement in managing a project:
Were the project objectives achieved?
Has your sponsor’s problem been solved or addressed?
What could you have done differently to improve the final result?
What do your colleagues feel about the results of the project?
How does your sponsor’s staff regard your involvement?
How good is your current sponsor relationship?
Will your sponsor recommend you to their colleagues?
Has your sponsor asked you to undertake additional work?
Did the project stay within budget?
The aim of this type of evaluation is to understand and learn from the reasons for success or failure, so that we can perform better in future.
Example 7: Lessons from the Tate Modern
The project managers who had worked on the Tate Modern discussed the lessons that they had drawn from this experience.
One of the notable aspects of the project had been the extent to which good relationships had been maintained between the Tate and its partner organisations. Towards the end, the Tate had even given everyone blue hard hats with ‘Tate’ on them to try to break down the ‘them and us’ feel. Comments made by the project managers included:
‘I've probably learnt a hell of a lot because from an architectural point of view anything this scale only comes to you in your life once. It's been like a whole life really, because you sort of start off a teenager, and you end up somebody completely different at the end of it. You have to learn lots of skills, dealing with characters like these and they in turn have had to deal with people like us, who are not necessarily the easiest of architects to be around.’
‘Three or four key issues that I look back and think we should have done differently – we should have been more forceful in our advice to the client – as a team – about the implications of taking on Level 4 and the fit-out at the stage we did. Because when we took those things on, we were looking at them, to be honest, with rose-tinted glasses; we were still struggling along from the problems we'd had with the steel frame, et cetera, and then we took on another £10–£15 million pounds’ worth of work, and no project could take that, not with a team that's already struggling.’
One offered some advice for the construction managers on how to deal with the architect: ‘Don't be afraid of him. … I think now people understand the reasons why we make decisions early on and have to revisit things, and I understand all of the issues why construction management is the way it is, but I think they need to absorb us more into the equation sometimes, because we're not that bad, you know. We do make compromises.’
‘Where we fall over as a team is in the design detail, and it's the design detail that makes it work. It's generally there in the architects’ heads, but they need to be able to understand the full integration of not just the architectural design, but all the services content that goes with it. And that needs to be sorted out a little earlier, because a lot of the problems, and the challenges, that we've had is being able to overcome those as we've gone through the project, and sometimes that's too late. When you're out in the field, that's too late.’
On the Tate as a client:
‘I think they've been an absolute joy to work with. They understand about people. Our business is about delivering what they require, what they want, and trying to make their dreams into realities. They understand not just the views of the architect; they understand the construction elements, and they understand some of the detail as well.’
‘Sometimes we give them advice, and they're aware of the implication but they choose to ignore it – that's the client's prerogative. But generally the client goes into these decisions with his eyes open, and will live with it, you know. And the great thing about them, generally, is they're not looking for scapegoats; I go to their board meetings, and there's problems to talk about but they approach them in a positive manner.’
At the end of a project it is possible to evaluate the extent to which each stage went as planned, and explore the implications of any deviations from plan. Evaluating the separate stages is likely to produce information that can be used to improve the management of future projects.
It is also possible to take a broader view, by evaluating the use of projects throughout an organisation and the extent to which their outcomes contribute long-lasting value. This type of evaluation might be very important in reviewing the way an organisation decides on projects in which to invest. British Petroleum established an audit process to carry out post-project appraisals:
In talking with business people from large British and multinational corporations, I have found that few companies examine their completed projects in any depth. Most audits are narrowly focused attempts to check that proper controls are in place while a project is in operation. When our managers audit an oil refinery, for example, they gather detailed information about how the oil and gas is collected, measured, shipped and accounted for.
A post-project appraisal, however, takes a much larger view. It first looks at the big questions: Why was the project started in the first place? Is it producing as much oil as the proposal predicted? Is the demand for oil at the forecasted level? Did the contractors deliver what they promised? Does the project fit well into BP's overall corporate strategy?
This type of evaluation seeks to improve the way future projects are chosen, rather than how they are managed.