What’s so good about peer reviews?

Elizabeth Harrin is speaking at the Business Analysis Conference in London in September 2009.

She has provided the following helpful article in advance of the Conference when she will be discussing how to work with project managers.

Read more about Elizabeth’s contribution to the conference here.

Read more about the BA conference here.

The year is going by so quickly, and at some point your manager will start asking: “What exactly have you done this year?” And if your boss is a project manager, chances are they won’t have a clue about the details of what you have achieved in your analysis role. Even so, you will want to get your project work in the best state possible before having that conversation, as this will help you explain your achievements clearly. If your project isn’t looking too healthy, consider asking a colleague to run a peer review on your work.

A peer review is really an informal audit. It’s the chance for someone else to cast their eyes over your progress and approach and give you their feedback.

This is valuable because:

· Once you are working on a project you are often too close to the detail to be able to impartially comment on what is going well and what isn’t.

· It keeps you honest: it’s easy to justify to yourself why you don’t have time to update your process diagrams, but it’s much harder to justify that to someone else.

· A peer review can point out some useful things to improve or tackle, which overall will make your job much easier.

So, what are you asking your colleague to look at? This will depend on the size of the project. If it’s a large project with a huge budget running over a year or more you cannot expect a superficial peer review to uncover all the issues, so it is much better to focus on one or two areas where you know you struggle. Pick a review of your data modelling, or configuration, or your requirements gathering strategy, for example. Ask them to look for:

· Things that you are doing well: this is useful feedback so you can keep doing it

· Things that they would do differently: you can discuss if you want to adopt their method

· Things that you are not doing at all that you should be doing

You can see from this list that you need to ask someone with equal if not more experience in business analysis than you have. If you have one, your mentor is the perfect choice. Otherwise opt for a senior business analyst, a project manager or someone in the Programme or Portfolio Office.

Talk with them about what you are doing, show them any relevant documentation and let them draw their own conclusions. Agree how you want to receive feedback. A one-page report? An informal discussion over coffee? This isn’t a formal process so you can decide on something that works well for both of you.

The main thing to remember is that they should give you feedback that you can act on. It isn’t any good hearing that you are fabulous at everything. Aim to come out of the peer review with three or four things that you can do differently or start doing. Use the experience of the people in your team – and their fresh pair of eyes on problems you have probably lived with for a while – to improve what you do. This will get your project work into the best possible state, and give you practice at explaining clearly to others what you have been working on. And don’t forget to return the favour!

Key Tip

If you think things are going astray on your project but you can’t put your finger on it, get someone else to show you where!

Want to know more? Listen to Cornelius Fitchner’s interview with me on the subject of peer reviews for the Project Management Podcast.

http://www.thepmpodcast.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=216&Itemid=9

This is an edited version of an article first published on PMTips.net (http://pmtips.net/peer-reviews/)

Bio

Elizabeth Harrin, BA (Hons), MA, MBCS is an author and project manager living and working in London. She has a decade of experience in projects. Elizabeth has led a variety of IT and process improvement projects including e-commerce and communications developments. She is also experienced in managing business change, having spent eight years working in financial services (including two based in Paris, France). She writes the award-winning blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management (www.pm4girls.co.uk) and is author of Project Management in the Real World.

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