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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects!(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.