For employees, project reviews can feel a bit like giving a presentation in school. Just another awkward formality for them to get through. But choosing the right questions for project review meetings sets the tone, and can make all the difference in the world.

So, what are project reviews for?

They are check-ins during the run of a project to ensure everything is going to plan, key targets are being focussed on and any challenges are being resolved. They should also be combined with a post-completion retrospective to develop new learnings for future projects.

Why project update meetings are essential

At risk of stating the obvious, reviewing new or ongoing projects is a key business function. Otherwise, you run the risk of greenlighting pointless or completely unfeasible projects or running off track.

Project reviews are especially important for workplaces where employees have relative autonomy. Now, that might sound contradictory. But, if you want to take your hand off the wheel and have people stay productive, you have to set clear expectations.

10 key questions for project review meetings

So, now for the main event. If you’re new to running these sorts of meetings, figuring out what to ask can be a real head-scratcher. This isn’t a typical performance conversation, but more of an in-depth check-in. That’s why we’ve chosen these ten essential questions for project review meetings.

Questions to ask before project kick-off and as your project progresses

1. What is the end-goal of this project/Are our goals still relevant?

The first thing you need to figure out is what you’re trying to achieve. Projects are often put together with general aims in mind, but now you need to get specific. What is your metric for success? What numerical figure or specific outcome are you looking to reach?

A clear end-goal is especially important if you’re using OKRs. That’s because you need to connect employees’ individual assignments to company objectives.

But it’s also important for limiting scope creep. That’s the phenomenon of project objectives shifting or diluting over time. In 2021, the Project Management Institute performed a survey on the issue. It found that scope creep affected more than a third of the organisation’s projects.

2. What will each stage/the next stage of the project look like?

Of all the questions for project review meetings you could ask, this is one you’ll spend a lot of time discussing. By clarifying each step in the process, you’ll be able to foresee potential roadblocks. You need to make sure you’re not giving the go-ahead on half an idea.

This is essentially SMART planning in action. The road to project success can be long and complex. Breaking it down into simpler tasks makes it easier to develop an action plan. These smaller milestones also help keep morale up during lengthier projects.

3. How much will this cost/how’s the budget looking?

It’s important to ask about the aims and potential benefits of a project. You know, the positive stuff. But, past a certain point, you need to know how expensive it will be.

Different projects can impose different financial demands. You might need new software for the project to succeed, which can be pretty costly. In fact, sources predict that global IT spending on enterprise software will reach $672 billion this year.

Or you could need an advertising budget, or to plan for overtime, or a thousand other things. Get an idea of potential costs ahead of time. It’ll keep you from being unpleasantly surprised later down the line.

4. Are there risks to the business or its employees?

From a HR perspective, this is one of those questions for a project review you can’t do without. Wellbeing was one of the defining issues of 2021. But according to CIPD, many private sector businesses still have a way to go.

 Employee risks can include:

  • Burnout
  • Excessive workloads
  • Job stress
  • Work-related health problems

But there are also risks to the business to consider. Project reviews play an important role in diffusing potential PR nightmares before they happen.

5. How are you keeping all your collaborators in the loop?

Good communication practices are the lifeblood of an effective workplace. But a 2019 survey found the leading cause of employee stress in UK SMBs was the failure to communicate effectively.

Make sure your project leaders have good communication practices. This is a balancing act. They need to circulate information and keep documentation, but avoid spamming or micromanagement. Internal communication is critical, and this is an important question to ask in a project review meeting.

6. Have you satisfied the concerns of everyone involved?

Good communication practice also includes attentiveness and emotional intelligence. A leader who steamrolls the people working with them will go on to cause issues. Plus, following up on the concerns of team members covers things you might overlook.

7. Do you require any additional support?

This is one of those questions for a project review you need to ask in the right way. Ambitious project leaders want to show you they can succeed with the bare minimum.

But that’s not always the best way to get things done. Make sure your people are aware and making use of all the resources at their disposal. That might be extra feedback. But it could also be job flexibility, or support from knowledge specialists in the organisation.

Questions to ask after a project has finished

It’s good to have a project review before things progress too far. But you’ll sometimes want to have them after the fact too. Retrospective reviews are a useful learning experience, kind of like a debrief. Using these questions for a project review will benefit your other future objectives.

8. How would you rate the success of this project?

As with any review between an employee and manager, the goal is to share an understanding. Employees working on projects can pick up details you’re too busy to notice.

But there’s also the fact that, as manager, you’re privy to the broader picture. So, this is a useful question to ask, whether the employee gives you good news, or you have to burst their bubble.

9. Will this project lead to future endeavours?

‘Good movie, but do you think there could be a sequel?’

If a project is really successful, it might open new doors down the line. This question could be pre-emptive. But we’ve put it in the retrospective category because the long-term outcomes of project success can be hard to predict.

10. Have you learned anything that will benefit future projects?

Reflection is all about understanding what happened and how things can be improved. This question gets to the heart of that.

Whether it’s a particular challenge that arose, an issue with processes or even inter-team relationship concerns, there is always something that can be learned from a project. Whatever it is, take the lesson and plan how to run things even smoother next time.