Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sales Training Project Post-mortem

The project debrief, or post-mortem, is one of my favorite parts of a project because I learn as much from a negative project experience as I do from a positive one. By identifying what did and didn’t work I can be better prepared for the next project (Greer, 2010). This is my analysis of the “Rep Expo” training project.
I was hired to design the instruction and develop the content for a three day sales training workshop. Each module was to be designed as a stand-alone unit to be delivered by a face-to-face facilitator. The client provided a list of topics to be addressed, and I was given the freedom to make all design and content decisions, with draft materials to be approved by the project manager and the client. The PM described the client as “extremely picky, unavailable, and unable to articulate what he wants.” I was brought in (freelance) because two in-house individuals had failed to successfully complete the project. The project was now well behind timeline and over budget, and the client had threatened to terminate the contract “if you folks can’t turn this around quickly.” We were given 60 days to complete the project and a successful beta test.

What contributed to the project’s success or failure? The positive and negative drivers of this project were closely enmeshed. What follows is my pro and con post-mortem list of PM actions that drove the project to failure.

 Pro: Arranged for a F2F kickoff meeting with the client to clarify client objectives, expectations, and other project details.
Con: Attended the meeting with several other internal team members and behaved unprofessionally (holding whispered personal conversations while the client was talking, openly disagreeing with the client about details of the project, frequently checking her watch, leaving to make personal phone calls, and assuring the client that we had the capabilities to develop specific learning objects knowing full well that we did not).

Pro: Developed and maintained a comprehensive production schedule.
Con: Made no attempt to adhere to the schedule; it was completely moot.

Pro: Scheduled weekly internal meetings.
Con: Rescheduled or canceled most meetings with little advance notice; was absent from several meetings; meeting minutes routinely contained significant errors.  

Pro: Supplied me with contact information for client-selected SME.
Con: Failed to notify SME that he had been selected to consult on the project, so my initial call was a complete surprise. Failed to include SME in internal meetings and progress reports.

Pro: Provided me with a written SOW and contract for my services.
Con: Ignored the terms of payment detailed in the contract.

Pro: Assigned a team of graphic designers, animators, programmers, and editors to support my piece of the project.
Con: Failed to monitor their progress or hold them accountable to any standards, which resulted in loss of time and excessive costs.

Which parts of the PM process, if included, would have made the project more successful? Why?
  1. Project planning (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008). If the PM had developed a clear and feasible project plan and held team members accountable, we would have been able to meet our deadlines.
  2. Reporting on project activities (Portny et al., 2008). The PM routinely “hid” from the client and other team members, waiting several days to return time sensitive calls and emails. Delayed communication resulted in missed deadlines, incomplete revisions, an unhappy client, and frustrated team members.
  3. Managing the accomplishment of objectives, within time and budget targets (Portny et al., 2008). The PM is responsible for planning, organizing, and controlling the project and the project team (Portny et al., 2008). Had she actually managed at all we may have been able to save the project and the client.
  4. Identifying tasks and phases necessary to complete the project (Greer, 2010). “Because projects are, by definition, temporary endeavors, it is essential to identify how each phase or collection of activities will be judged by stakeholders to be formally or officially completed” (Greer, 2010, p. 20). Although the PM identified the ultimate deliverables, she neglected the milestone deliverables along the way.
  5. Driving forward. The PM bears responsibility for tracking progress against objectives and intervening as necessary to “correct problems, remove obstacles, and keep the project moving as planned” (Greer, 2010, p. 31). This project became mired again and again; the client missed his schedule launch date, which caused him professional embarrassment and personal stress.

The PM created enough of a project shell that we had some successes throughout the project, most significantly that the client was very pleased with the design, content, and interactivity of the workshop. However, his dissatisfaction with the issues detailed herein prevailed, and he terminated the contract on the basis of non-performance.  

(Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc. 

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E.
(2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow! Was the PM inexperienced? Sounds like you helped salvage a portion of the project even is the client ultimately terminated the contact.

    1. Sadly, Joy, she had quite a bit of experience. I later found that the org culture was systemically dysfunctional.

      Thanks for reading and commenting :)


  3. Hi Sally,
    That is so frustrating, the project manager must be on top of things and when they are not the projects fail. I was a graphic design freelancer for a few years until I could not handle the clients refusing to pay although they were using logos or designs I had created. I learned hard lessons about how much people will take if you do not clearly ensure they cannot, like giving them lo resolution logos and placing water marks on larger designs. It is sad when it comes to that.

    I hope you have had better experiences since.

  4. Sally,

    This week Earl (Kenyon, 2013) posted in discussion that the PM was one of the stakeholders who could negatively impact a project or cause significant rework. It seems that your experience in this situation is definitive proof of that! It amazes me that a PM would have a seemingly good plan in place and then not follow through with it such as the weekly meetings, holding everyone accountable, etc. To me the planning would be one of the most difficult parts!



    Kenyon, E. (2013, March 11). Week 2 initial post. [Discussion group comment]. Retrieved from the Walden University EDUC 6145-1 Group 1 discussion group:

  5. Sally,
    From your description, it sounds like this project was doomed from the beginning even before your involvement, in large part because the scope of the project was greater than the company's available resources to complete it according to the Client's specifications. Certainly the project manager's unprofessional behavior contributed to its failure. I suspect the project manager was either new to the role of project management or was an experienced project manager suffering from severe burnout.

    If the company had selected a project manager based on common project manager characteristics, perhaps your project would have been a success instead of a failure. According to Murphy (1994, p. 10), a project manager should have these characteristics:
    * Be able to plan, reiterate, organize, delegate, understand, communicate, and evaluate
    * Be energetic, realistic, trustworthy, self-confident, and systematic
    * Be a good listener
    * Be familiar with the operations of the company
    * Understand the technology to be used
    * Be able to motivate and coordinate large groups of highly trained people

    I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to your blog posting.



    Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materials. Performance and Instruction, 33(3), 9-11. Retrieved from

  6. Hi Sally,

    One thing I found funny about your post is how the PM felt that the client was "unavailable..." and yet with your reference to all the Pros and Cons, it seems as though they were unavailable for different parts of the project also. I wonder if in the breakdown of the project the project manager felt that they did not have to put in much effort because you, as the ID, were expected to take the reigns from there. It seems their skills at organizing groups was not one of their strong points. "Interface coordination: the process of managing the way groups work together." (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008) If the PM had more experience in this part, then maybe things may have gone a bit smoother for you and would not have had to find your own tools as they would've already been provided to you by the PM.

    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E.(2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  7. To perform an effective postmortem, it is essential to incorporate a powerful analytical tool, such as time and project tracking software, into your business process flow. As you complete one project and move on to the next, time and project tracking software will provide the information you need to analyze historical performance, plan more efficiently, improve implementation, and assess how your organization actually works.

    Sales Training

  8. Everyone will have a dream of getting a good job that they love, but not everyone will get right place to work. There are many ways to find job openings get into a good job, some try those things and some won't. This is because they are not aware of it.

  9. As a means to learning “best practices” on future projects, I have been assigned to write a Project Post Mortem about a personal or professional project that was not successful.

  10. Hey Sally,
    I had a great read on your analysis over “Rep Expo” training project.....

  11. The unfortunate reality with Project Post Mortems (also called Project Debriefing or Lessons Learnt) is that everyone thinks they are a great idea, but they rarely ever get done. I would say the main reason for this is because upper management generally doesn’t think its worth the commitment of resources.

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