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You know that feeling when you've just wrapped up a project? You're exhausted, proud, excited, and mostly just ready to move on to the next challenge. But there's one crucial step left: completing a project evaluation.

In this article, I’ll discuss the many benefits of project evaluations, practical tips on how and when to conduct one, and how project management software can help. 

What Is Project Evaluation?

The project evaluation process systematically assesses and analyzes a project's performance, outcomes, and impacts against pre-defined objectives and criteria. 

Why is project evaluation important? It’s a valuable tool for learning through retrospection. Completing one can help you reflect on your project's overall performance, identify improvement areas, and make informed decisions about future projects. 

When Should You Complete A Project Evaluation?

When should you complete a project evaluation infographic
Project evaluations can happen at any time throughout the project lifecycle.

Project evaluations aren’t just a box to check off—they’re an important part of the project management process. They’re also not just for reflecting at the end of your projects. Conducting a project evaluation can help provide a detailed look at what to expect during your project, how your project is going, and how you can make things better next time. 

You can evaluate your project at any time, but it is especially important at three key points in your project life cycle.

Pre-Project Evaluation

When creating your project charter, you should evaluate its feasibility and share it with your team members and stakeholders. Before moving forward, a pre-project evaluation plan ensures you can justify the project's relevance, benefits, and effectiveness. 

With the pre-project evaluation, you’re actually completing all of the information that will go into your project charter, including: 

  • Project goals
  • Project scope
  • Responsibilities
  • Potential risks
  • Budget

This information provides the basis and justification for your project to gain approval. 

Pre-project evaluations differ from ongoing and post-project evaluations, which are focused more on taking corrective action either during or after a project has been completed.

Ongoing Project Evaluation

You should continually evaluate your projects in real time throughout the project life cycle to ensure they’re progressing as planned and meeting all scheduling and budget milestones. Your previously determined KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will serve as your guide for evaluation here. The use of project management software can also make this process much easier, as it ensures that all of your data is centrally available. 

Post-Project Evaluation

At project completion, once deliverables are provided, the project has been closed, and lessons learned have been discussed and documented, you should review all paperwork and analyze all applicable data. This can help you identify what worked and what went wrong to get a clear picture of how to improve future projects.

Two Common Types Of Project Evaluation Methods 

You can use these two effective evaluation methodologies at different project phases.

Formative Evaluation

This evaluation approach is the process of gathering feedback and analyzing data while a project is ongoing. During the project planning and implementation phase, formative evaluation can help with the following:

  • Providing feedback and guidance to improve project performance and outcomes
  • Identifying issues earlier on in the project
  • Making the necessary adjustments to ensure project success
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Summative Evaluation

A summative evaluation helps you assess your project's overall impact and effectiveness once the project has been completed. This evaluation approach can help with:

  • Measuring how well a project’s objectives were achieved 
  • Outlining what outcomes were delivered
  • Guiding future decision-making

How To Complete A Project Evaluation

Now, let’s get into the four essential steps needed to evaluate your projects effectively. These steps will primarily help you complete ongoing and post-project evaluations. 

Step 1: Define Evaluation Criteria

The first step to completing a project evaluation is to establish clear evaluation criteria. These guidelines ensure that your project work aligns with the project's objectives, goals, scope, and expected outcomes. Defining specific evaluation criteria ensures that your assessment will be focused, relevant, and meaningful. 

Make sure to use KPIs (key performance indicators) that will help you measure success, such as:

Payback period analysis. This measures the amount of time it will take to recover the net initial investment in a project. Think of it as measuring the project investment risk. 

  • Calculation: Payback period = Amount of the investment ÷ annual cash flow
  • Hint: The goal is the have a shorter recovery period.

Accounting rate of return (ARR). This KPI measures a project's financial return. 

  • Calculation: Accounting rate of return = Annual net income ÷ initial investment
  • Hint: Investments with a higher ARR are likely to be better.

Net present value (NPV). This calculates all expected future cash inflows and outflows to determine a project's expected net monetary gain or loss.

  • Calculation: NPV = Today's value of the expected cash flows − Today's value of invested cash.

Step 2: Gather Relevant Project Data

Collecting relevant quantitative and qualitative data about the project will help provide a comprehensive view of your project's performance, which is essential for comparing against expectations. 

  • Quantitative data: This type of data identifies measurable things like how many, how much, or how often. 
  • Qualitative data: This data type uncovers certain behavioral things like why, how, or what happened.

Relevant data gathering sources might include:

  • Project documentation (project objectives, goals, deliverables, and metrics)
  • Performance reports
  • Previous evaluation reports
  • Stakeholder feedback
  • Surveys and interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Case studies
  • Industry benchmarks

Step 3: Carefully Analyze Data

Once you’ve gathered your data, it’s time to analyze it. This process involves examining trends, patterns, and relationships in the data to identify key findings and conclusions. This will help you uncover strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the project. 

This is especially important for correcting actions throughout projects and making calculated decisions about future initiatives.

With large amounts of data to sift through, isolating what to look for can feel overwhelming. I advise utilizing project goals and outcomes as the basis for determining the type of information you need.

Step 4: Draw Conclusions

Based on the data analysis, draw conclusions about the project's performance, impact, and success in achieving its objectives. Identify things like:

  • Key takeaways
  • Lessons learned
  • Areas for improvement 

These conclusions are necessary to support corrective actions and for data-driven decisions in future projects. All conclusions and corrective actions should be discussed and centrally shared with all stakeholders, preferably through project management software. This is where KPIs will help you isolate how well your project is performing and what you need to change in the future to enhance project delivery.

5 Benefits Of Project Evaluation

Project evaluations are essential to learning from your mistakes and delivering successful projects in the future. Here are some worthwhile project evaluation benefits.

1. Developing best practices

Through project evaluation, you can identify and document best practices that have contributed to project success. In doing so, your company can replicate these best practices in future projects to improve performance and outcomes.

It’s important for companies to develop, document, and communicate all best practices in person. Keeping everyone on the same page going forward also requires maintaining a central repository for best practices that everyone can refer to at any time to ensure consistency.

2. Promoting a culture of learning and continuous improvement

Regular project evaluation promotes a culture of learning and continuous improvement. By reflecting on past projects, your company can achieve the following:

  • Identify lessons learned
  • Implement corrective actions
  • Enhance project management practices
  • Build company-wide knowledge
  • Foster innovation and creativity 

3. Enhancing stakeholder satisfaction 

Project evaluations provide your company with valuable insights into stakeholder needs, preferences, and expectations. By understanding stakeholder perspectives, your company can further tailor project delivery to meet stakeholder requirements. This ultimately enhances stakeholder satisfaction and builds strong relationships.

4. Increasing accountability and transparency

Evaluation helps enhance accountability and transparency in project management. Evaluating project performance and results ensures your company can demonstrate its commitment to delivering quality outcomes and utilizing resources efficiently. Increased transparency builds and strengthens trust with stakeholders and enhances your company’s credibility.

5. Supporting evidence-based decision-making

By collecting and analyzing data on project performance, organizations can make more informed decisions about resource allocation, strategic direction, and future project investments. This data-driven approach ensures all decisions are based on facts rather than assumptions, leading to better outcomes and increased impact.

3 Common Project Evaluation Mistakes 

Here are some of the potential mistakes you may make while completing a project evaluation and things you can do to prevent them.  

Mistake 1: Lack of Clear Objectives 

A common mistake in project evaluation is not defining clear objectives and criteria for assessment. Without clear objectives, measuring a project's success and deriving meaningful insights for improvement becomes challenging.

I’ve often seen project managers rush through this step only to watch their projects go off track, miss goals and deliverables, or require modifying the project scope more than once. My advice is to slow things down and allow ample time to form clear objectives at the start of a project.

Mistake 2: Ignoring Stakeholder Feedback

Another mistake is disregarding stakeholder feedback in the evaluation process. Try to remember that stakeholders often have more experience and insight into how a project impacts their role and how a project will be impacted. 

Stakeholders are integral to your project's success, and their perspectives should be incorporated at all evaluation points to ensure you have a comprehensive assessment.

Mistake 3: Failing to Act on Findings

Another significant mistake is not taking action based on evaluation findings. Translating evaluation results into actionable recommendations and implementing changes is essential for driving continuous improvement. Some key things need to be done to act on learnings:

  • Communicate all initial findings and potential solutions with all relevant stakeholders, both in person and in writing 
  • Document and evaluate each recommended solution and its impact
  • Seek input from stakeholders and subject matter experts
  • Adjust solutions where needed
  • Assign solutions
  • Measure and document the results
  • Repeat these steps as needed

Questions To Ask During A Project Evaluation

Completing project evaluations successfully requires you and your team to be able to answer a few key questions. Use these to help guide your evaluations at different stages throughout the project:

Setting project goals and objectives

  • What are the business drivers behind the project?
  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • Is the project essential, and will it align with the company’s strategy?
  • What are the project’s goals and their priorities?
  • Who will champion or sponsor the project?

Defining project scope and deliverables

  • Is the project scope realistic?
  • Does the scope of the project detail everything that matters?
  • What are each of the deliverables, and can they be achieved within scope?
  • What assumptions are built in?

Identifying project stakeholders

  • Are all stakeholders identified and available?
  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • Has the project been communicated with all stakeholders? When?
  • Are they fully invested in the project? If not, why?
  • Does the project team have the right skills and capabilities?

Developing a project timeline and milestones

  • What is the timeline, and how was it determined?
  • Is it realistic?
  • Has a contingency plan been put in place if tasks or the project isn’t completed on time?
  • What KPIs will be used to measure success?

Allocating resources and budget

  • Are the right resources assigned to project tasks?
  • Is the project budget realistic?

Implementing project monitoring and control measures

  • How and when will project performance be measured?
  • Who will be responsible for monitoring different aspects of the project?
  • What measures will be in place for change control?
  • How and when will changes be communicated?

Analyzing project results and lessons learned

  • What criteria will be used for analysis and identifying the right questions?
  • What tools will be used to track results?
  • What tools will be used to analyze results?
  • When will results be communicated, and how?
  • When and where will lessons learned be documented and communicated?
  • Who will lessons learned be communicated with?
  • What is the process of acting on lessons learned?

It’s important to note that this isn’t an exhaustive list. Depending on the situation and the project, other questions may need to be addressed to complete a full evaluation. 

Project Evaluation Tools That Can Help 

Evaluating projects can generate numerous action items and moving pieces. I would advise anyone completing a project evaluation to gather feedback using survey tools, use data analytics platforms to decipher findings, and leverage project management software with dashboards to track everything in real time.

Project Management Software

Project management software such as, Wrike, or SmartSheet can help in tracking and monitoring project progress, milestones, and key performance indicators. Some of these tools also provide real-time visibility into project status and simplify data collection for evaluation purposes. 

Surveys and Feedback Tools

Surveys and feedback tools like SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, or Jotform can be used to gather stakeholder feedback, opinions, and satisfaction levels. They can help you collect valuable insights for project evaluation and improvement.

Data Analytics Platforms

Data analytics platforms like Tableau, Power BI, or Google Analytics are great tools for analyzing project data and deriving meaningful insights. These platforms offer advanced data visualization capabilities, predictive analytics, and reporting functionalities to support evidence-based decision-making. Some project management tools have built-in analytics tools or integrate with analytics tools. The most useful project management dashboards provide dynamic tools that allow analysis of current projects and completed and canceled projects for future analytics.

Remember, completing ongoing evaluations is essential for assessing your current and future project performance, identifying areas for improvement, and driving future success. Following the steps outlined in this article, using project management software and analytics tools, and avoiding some of the common mistakes will set you on the path toward successful projects.

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Moira Alexander
By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is a recognized thought leader and the founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, a digital content marketing agency where she helps companies create, market, and lead with engaging digital content. With over 25 years of business, information technology, and project management experience, she's been named one of the top global female thought leaders and influencers on project management, SaaS, and the future of work.

Galen Low
By Galen Low

Galen is a digital project manager with over 10 years of experience shaping and delivering human-centered digital transformation initiatives in government, healthcare, transit, and retail. He is a digital project management nerd, a cultivator of highly collaborative teams, and an impulsive sharer of knowledge. He's also the co-founder of The Digital Project Manager and host of The DPM Podcast.