Lessons Learned – Project Post-Mortem

A few years ago I was on a curriculum development team that was tasked with updating lesson plans, student outlines, Power Point presentations, demonstration videos, written and practical application tests, and instructor guides for over 20 courses within the school. The team was made up of 18 individuals and spread out over four different locations across the U.S. Before our curriculum development started, we created an organizational chart on what location would take which documents to ensure we did not duplicate efforts. The plan was to work on the curriculum for 2 months and then submit any recommended changes so everyone had the opportunity to review the recommended changes and then submit any remarks before the changes went into action.

I cannot speak to what the other three locations did with regards to work organization, but I can tell you that within our office there was minimal structure to who would take what document, who would review the document before sending it to the other locations, and to what standard (format) the recommended changes would look like. In other words, there was no Work Breakdown Structure, there was no timeline established other than the planned two month deadline, and there was definitely little communication from management down until just before the two month mark. According to Portny et al. (2008), “To successfully launch a project, everyone associated with the project must understand the roles and responsibilities of project teams and stakeholders. Two planning tools can be critical to project success: The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) summarizes all the work that needs to happen in a project, while the Linear Responsibility Chart breaks down who is responsible for each piece of work” (pg. 76). Due to the fact that the project had a very vague WBS, you can predict how this project was very stressful and handicapped.

There were two frustrating parts during the project: 1st there was no weekly meeting held to iron out issues nor to determine project process and 2nd the PM was away on travel overseas for 75% of the two months to complete the curriculum updates. As a new member of the team, I was constantly coming to others within the group to discuss questions like: Where do I start? What resources are available to me? Who is the Subject Matter Expert on specific courses? What format do the documents need to be in? Looking back on the project, our team would have benefited greatly if we would have followed some project life cycle planning format:
• Conceive phase: an idea is born
• Define phase: a plan is developed
• Start phase: a team is formed
• Perform phase: the work is done
• Close phase: the project ends
(Portny et al., 2008)

If I were the PM or at least the office PM, I would have at minimum created a WBS to identify who would work on what portion of the task and what and where the resources are for each portion of the task, and phases/timelines for each task. Secondly, I would ensure there was a local meeting every day that each member of the team would answer: 1) What did I accomplish yesterday 2) What am I accomplishing today and 3) What impediments, if any, do I have to accomplish task for the day? Lastly, I would have all documents posted in a share point location so that anyone can review the documents when needed to ensure tasks are on track and being done properly. Michael Greer (2010) states one of the more important questions to be answered during the deliverable phase of project management is “Did those who reviewed the deliverables provide timely and meaningful input? If not, how could we have improved their involvement and the quality of their contributions”?

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.


7 thoughts on “Lessons Learned – Project Post-Mortem

  1. rosa.gallardo@waldenu.edu

    I understand how frustrated you were in the curriculum development team. If you do not have a “worker-order agreement,” (Porty et. al., 2008, p. 83) the project manager (PM) should develop or find the information. It is not feasible that a team member asks “What to do?” The participants should know their roles. Communication between parties is also very important in a project.
    The PM “is responsible for seeing that all aspects of projects are completed satisfactorily,” (Porty et. al., 2008, p. 23). Therefore, if the PM travels frequently, he/she should communicate via email or videoconference depending on the motive and the number of participants.
    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.

  2. R M Wilcox


    Great post and I believe that I have been in similar circumstances for at least two projects over the years. Given that your project team was in four separate locations instead of being collocated may have been overwhelming for your PM to manage. It sounds like you were in what Portny et al. describe as a “virtual project” where the team is geographically dispersed and much of the communication is conducted via the Internet. I suspect that having this virtual project configuration was a part, perhaps a major one, in the difficulties you encountered while on the project.

    Your suggestion about wanting to have a daily meeting was interesting. Until recently I would have considered a daily meeting to be more of a hindrance or time waster for a project until I became familiar with the AGILE methodology which uses frequent meetings with the team and also the client to make processes more effective and efficient (Neibert, 2014).


    Neibert, J. (2014). Effective Performance with AGILE Instructional Design Retrieved from: http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1346/effective-performance-with-agile-instructional-design

  3. Krista


    I agree that meetings, as boring as they can become, are often times necessary in order to maintain positive communcation within the group working on the project. I find emails to be great but sometimes a face-to-face meeting is necessary so that everyone is on the same page. “Meeting is like pretty much like a drawing board and it is crucial for the successful project planning and project delivery. You should carefully plan for it, attend and organize it in productive manner for effective project management” (Dhan, 2013).


  4. businessteacher65

    I have learned, as a teacher, that having work reviewed is key to ensuring the product being created is appropriate. In the school I worked in, the teachers were constantly asking for someone to look at what they were doing and looking over other teacher’s work. You may think you made yourself clear, but someone else may read the information and not understand a word or be confused by directions.

    When it came to working on committees, we attempted to have more than one person working on any portion of the project the committee was tasked to complete. Even if the other person was simply to look over the work and have a discussion with you, it was nice to know that you were not working on your own, especially for me, because I have a tendency to over think things.

  5. Solvia'sInstructionalDesignBlog


    It looks like you guys were given this task and expected to accomplish it with positive results without the assistance of a project manager. I think you would have done a great job of being the PM of this project. I agree that your project would have been more successful if you had followed the life cycle format. It looks like the project did begin in the conceive phase. I would say the answer is yes to both important questions in this stage: can the project be done? and should the project be done? The define stage is where it starts to fall apart. This stage requires detailed plans to describe how the team will make the project happen. This is what is clearly missing here. The start phase lacked in guidance in who was to do what. The perform phrase was attempted but was unsuccessful do to not having detailed plans. I would say that the close phase was probably skipped with this project as well. In this phase one should hold a post project evaluation.

    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.

  6. bonofigliozoa

    Communication is very often the source of frustration. Weekly meetings or updates are important. But, in my current job we have weekly meetings and they are for the most part unproductive and not on task. Often, the topic of discussion gets off topic and the meetings end up being a waste of valuable time. I feel this is something that we need to make sure the PM and all stakeholders are assisted with. I think you are on target by keeping expectations high and one of those is communication.

  7. ashazenzi

    It sounds like the WBS was very broad in the sense that it broke the work down according to the different offices/location but it didn’t drill down and break the work down for the individuals at those locations. I think your prescription is spot on, more communication (although daily meetings throughout the life of the project can start to become loathsome) and a granular WBS.


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