Blog Assignment: Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

It is rather easy for me to recall a project that I coordinated, which, in my opinion, did not produce optimal results. One of my responsibilities at my job is being the Race Director of an annual 5K fun run/walk.  It’s a charity event where community residents, parents and students come together to remember a tragedy that happened in our community almost ten years ago. As I have learned now, there is a lot of work and many people involved in the planning and implementation of this “fun run/walk.” 

In May 2006, I began planning for the event.  I made a list of all the “Things To Do” three months before, two months before, one month, two weeks before and things to do the day of the event.  I then held a face to face meeting with all the managers that were involved.  I gave them their department’s responsibilities, which they all agreed they would take on. In September, two weeks before the event, I checked on everyone to see how things are going and there was total chaos. T-shirts were not ordered, volunteers were not arranged, and athletic trainers were not confirmed.  I spent the last two weeks prior to the race working ten hour days. I was doing not only my job, but other people’s job.  On race day, we had minimal volunteers, ran out of t-shirts, not copied enough registration forms and raised a small amount of money because we were so disorganized.

There are some things that went well during the planning process. For example, the detailed “Things To Do” list.   I believe it provides a good, overall picture of what needs to be worked on. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008) state that “preparing a written description of the activities is helpful for assigning people to project roles.”  I also liked that we held our pre-race meeting in May. This meeting assembled all of our stakeholders and got them on board for the project.  I am also very appreciative that I did check in with my stakeholders two weeks before the race. These processes are still relevant and still resurface every year.

After the event, we conducted a “post mortem” review of the project and found there were many areas that could easily been improved upon.  For example, during Phase Two:  Creating a Project Plan, all stakeholders could have discussed time, money and volunteer estimates, not just the Race Director.  Stakeholders could have claimed which roles that would have liked to have been involved with.  During the months prior to the event, I could have been communicating more with each department.  Even if we did not meet face-to-face, I could have developed a project progress report.  This report, which I would have emailed, would have “reviewed what has happened during a performance period, describe the problems and the corrective actions needed, and previews what is planned for the next period (2008, p. 361).”  This type of communication would have avoided all of the last minute problems.  It would also have probably produced more participants, more money and a confident and positive attitude from all staff involved. 

Luckily, after this event, which happened five years ago, my employer allowed me to keep my job as Race Director.  This experience has taught me to keep communicating with all parties involved.  It also motivates me every year not to repeat the “Race to Disaster.”

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

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David Ndungu
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 21:14:46

    Jen,

    I have learnt in Project Management, like in many endeavors in life, communication is key. This is even more necessary since in project management, the PM has high responsibility but low authority (Portny, S., Mantel , S., Meredith, J., Shafer, S., Sutton, M., & Kramer, B. 2008). The project manager has to be a skilled negotiator, creative in problem solving and able to compromise in order to access the resources necessary to keep the project moving. Managing volunteers is a branch of management that is a key area for the PM.

    It does appear though that this near disaster provided you with a blue print for success.

    References.

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

    Reply

  2. patriciakuskos
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 23:01:26

    Jennifer,

    You began this project with ample time for all to complete their assigned duties. I agree that more follow-up was needed during the months prior to the event. Having monthly meetings, checking on timelines and effective communication would have eliminated most of the concerns. I too find myself trying to do too much on projects at times, which is what happened two weeks prior to your event. Our text reminds us that the project manager needs to clearly “define people’s roles and responsibilities” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Sutton, &Kramer, 2008, pg. 23). Communicating often with team members would have kept all parties working towards the stated objectives.

    I’m glad you kept the Race Director job and have been able to learn from previous mistakes. I thought this quote was fitting. “When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power” Hugh White (1773 – 1840).

    References.

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

    Reply

  3. lynnmunoz
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 23:57:11

    Jennifer,

    Wow! That was a lot of work. It sounds like you did a really great job for the first time. It also sounds like you included quite a few PM elements, doubly impressive since you are just now in the master’s program.

    If you do not mind me asking, what solutions did you and the team come up with during the post-mortem to address the issues? It sounds like you could have used a more detailed audience / stakeholder list with responsibilities and approvals assigned.

    You also did not mention if you had any other written PM elements such as a project plan, scope, work breakdown schedule, etc.

    I think you did an amazing job, probably better than I would have. The best part is that you learned a lot from the experience so that you would be even more successful in the future.

    Blessings,
    Lynn

    Reply

  4. debaufre
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 02:10:13

    Hi Jennifer,

    You did such a good job of detailing how you could have improved the results of the race project, there isn’t much advice I could possibly offer you. So I’ll touch on the subject of communication.I think that’s the best point to respond to, because It seems as though the problems you experiences could have been reduced or relieved all together through consistent points of communication with each department. Dr. Stolovich commented that we need to let the ID process guide the work (Project management, N.D.). It sounds as though you did that. Unfortunately, the lack of steady communication untied the knot. Of the four major points Dr. Stolovich offers for a successful project, communication ranks above letting the ID process be your guide. All’s well that ends well. You were able to make that learning experience a tool for future success.

    Robert

    Project management and instructional design, [Video Podcast]. (N.D.) [With Dr. Harold Stolovich] Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=6051999&Survey=1&47=7412207&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=1&bhcp=1

    Reply

  5. Joseph Tricoli
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 04:59:30

    Delightful blog entry!
    You did a great job answering the question “what would you have done differently”. I appreciate your sharing. I can’t help to recognize a trend in communication probems when reading our classmates blogs. It is somtimes most difficult to communicate needs when we work with Multidisciplinary teams.

    Reply

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