Thursday, May 10, 2012

reflections on project management ...

Having worked on projects both professional and personal, I am grateful to think back over them with mostly fond memories of overall success. A few wildly successful ones, a few mostly successful ones, and only a handful that would fall into the “um … yeah” bucket. For this, I am grateful. Not only for my mother who instilled in me a natural “plan-y-ness,” but also for a company of strong project managers to work with and for. One project sticks out as less than successful.

here’s the scoop …

I was asked to join a group dedicated to reviewing different aspects of the company all from the customer’s perspective. The team was not only cross departmental but included some really strong people. While discussions were energetic, involved, and really good conversations, the group never seemed to be going anywhere. Finally, after the leader of the group was moved into a different role, the group fizzled.

post mortem …

As I study project management, one of the aspects that was a pleasant surprise for me was the idea of conducting a “post mortem” on projects. While called by different names, the importance of reflecting on the project – successes and failures – is a running theme (Allen & Hardin, 2008; Greer, 2010, & Portny, et al, 2008). This is something I stress in my current job as a consultant, so I am happy to see it carry over to the project management world. While it is common to reflect and learn from your mistakes, it is also important to reflect on your successes. What aided that success and can be replicated in future projects or across the company?

where we fell down …

This was something I had not done for the previously mentioned customer experience group. As the group fizzled without a formal closure, I had not taken time to reflect on that experience. No time like the present:

While there was a clear need for the group and we had some amazing brainstorming sessions, no purpose was defined, no support gained, and no formal approval was ever given for the group – all key aspects to successful projects (Allen & Hardin, 2008; Greer, 2010, & Portny, et al, 2008). Ultimately, the project never actually formed. You will notice, I keep referring to “the group” rather than “the project team.” Essentially, we wanted to be a project, but we really weren’t.

Not all groups are meant to be – this is a reality of the project management world. Projects should be presented to senior management for approval to help ensure employees are focusing their efforts in the areas that are in line with the company goals (Allen & Hardin, 2008; Greer, 2010, & Portny, et al, 2008). However, in this case, the project “lead” never got things to that point. She lacked the management skills to go through those initial planning and approval steps.

What the group needed was for a Project Charter to be completed and presented for approval or not. While the group “lead” was in the default place to spearhead that task, any one of us in the group could have brought that need to light as either a recommendation for her as a next step or to offer to transition into that role. As a team member, here lies my greatest post mortem “take away” – to recognize that all team members have a responsibility to help keep the project on track. While the project manager should bear a large portion of that responsibility, every member can take an active leadership role to help keep things on track and heading in the right direction – and do so in a respectful and professional manner.

Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practices. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 19(2), 72–97.
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.


  1. Hi Erin,
    This is a great example of a project post mortem. I like the way you are say clear about the terminology you use. You state, that you were a group that never materialized into a team; I am so glad you made that distinction. Very often people will use the word team to describe a group of people who are together but not really working together on a combined goal. In project management, or indeed in any type of leadership work, it is essential to understand the difference between “work groups and real teams” as “this insight equips leaders and team members with the ability to unleash a team’s immense potential and in doing so experience the deeply satisfying rewards of membership” (Feltham, n.d).
    Feltham (n,d) identifies some key characteristics of teams
    • Shared Leadership roles
    • Team discusses, decides, and does real work together
    • Specific Team purpose that the team delivers itself
    • Individual and mutual team accountability
    • Collective work products
    • Measures performance directly by assessing collective work products
    • Encourages open-ended discussion and active problem-solving meetings
    Had you pursued your project, many of these skills would have been shared by the team members. I found the last one interesting as it was probably one that was most needed in your group. This may have transformed you from a group to a team and you would have had a project.

    Feltham, S. (n.d.). Team Tactics: The critical difference between Groups and Teams. Excellerate Performance Improvement for Employees, Leaders and Teams. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from

  2. Hi Erin!
    You write in such an entertaining way and I enjoyed reading about your project "post mortem". I also agree that the project charter is the key to initial success for any long term project.

    1. Thanks for reading, Sheila - I am glad you enjoy my writing style!

  3. Hi Erin,

    Thanks for sharing this experience. I think what is interesting about your post mortem is what you have to say about being a group instead of project. If one is not trained in leading a project and about the project process, it can be tough to be successful. Yet it is not something people are necessarily trained to do. It's like when I ask my students to do group work. Unless you teach them what good collaboration looks like, they have no idea what to do. The same holds true with project management. Good project management is a skill, and a valuable one at that.

    1. Great point! Often, both with students and professionals, we ask them to do something without teaching them HOW to do it! My company has actually recognized that we have a need to become a company of strong project managers and our training department is creating a course for all employees to take to become internally certified project managers! How exciting is that?!?!

  4. Erin,
    I agree with Sheila, entertaining read! Prior to this course I would not have considered the necessary steps to successfully begin a project. It definitely appears that a good project manager is a must, followed by a clear explanation of roles early in the life of the project.