Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem”

In my work, we plan for numerous events; two years ago I was assigned to plan for an international conference which we anticipated will attract around 700 delegates. I started planning for the project a year before the actual event. This project fills under long-term project definition; it had many details, an initial plan and many modifications and revisions to the plans (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008). I created a planning sheet with responsibilities and roles, schedule and anticipated cost. The event at the end was successful, and I have to say that I was so proud with work done. On the other hand, there were some pitfalls that could have been avoided to make the event even more successful with less stress on me and others involved with the project. The project involved planning, budgeting, booking venues, dealing with many suppliers, dealing with functional departments, like financial and procurement offices, and communicating with many stakeholders. There were many successful outcomes and some challenges that could have been avoided by applying project management processes.

Successes

Many elements contributed to the success of the project; first, I created a responsibility matrix and a schedule. To develop these documents, we started with a kickoff meeting, brainstormed ideas, and provided an orientation to the members about their roles, all described by Greer (2010) as best practices in starting and building project teams. Then we identified the project’s needs and described the objectives (Portny, 2008).

Another successful element was the development of a risk management plan; few months after starting the project, we were told that there is another event sponsored by the government (G20 Summit); and the main venue booked for the conference was taken from us as it was strategic to the government event.  At that time, we had to find another space; luckily we were able to find another venue. For this reason, we had to create a comprehensive risk management plan as we anticipated that this summit will affect our event. Surely, it was helpful to have the risk management plan with strategies to avoid or mitigate these risks, and we prepared a contingency plan to deal with the unknown unknowns (Porteny, 2008).

Challenges

While I started to plan for the event with project management in mind, the team functioned throughout the planning process as a committee. Vijay (1997) explained that teams working as committees may lack the strong leadership and could deliberate more than doing the assigned work. Many of the committee members were familiar with event planning, and there was an assumption that, since it has been done before then we can just do this one again (Portny, 2008). The main difference about this event was the size, thus increased complexity of the tasks. To avoid this problem, there should have been a formal start for the project with authorization from the stakeholders; the project was missing a very important element which is the charter (PMBOK®, 2008). While we had separate sheets and plans, it could have helped to have everything documented in one resource and approved by authorized stakeholders. The project becomes officially authorized when the charter is approved and signed (PMBOK®, 2008).

components of a charterAnother pitfall was failing to involve a key project stakeholder from the beginning of the project (Portny, 2008). Two days before  opening online registration for the conference, after building a registration site through a vendor, I needed to use a bank account to use for the credit card payments. I contacted a financial advisor, and he mentioned that we should have contacted Finance before setting up the account with the vendor as my institution has another vendor for these kinds of transactions. At that time, I realized that we should have involved a financial advisor from the beginning; while what he said sound now like common sense, at that time with the many details and me wearing many hats, I totally overlooked this part. After some discussions with management, we were able to set up the account. Not only that I missed a stakeholder, I believe that this would have been caught in the work break down structure (WBS). WBS are organizational charts to help mapping all activities related to the project (Russell, 2000). In addition, WBS help to divide the project tasks into smaller and manageable deliverables (PMBOK®, 2008).

Over all, the event was successful and attracted the many delegates that we anticipated; the project was done according to schedule, within budget and with high quality. The challenges were all lessons learned for future and similar projects.

References:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

PMBOK ®Guide (2008).  A guide to the project management body of knowledge. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute 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.

Russell, L. (2000). Project management for trainers. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Vijay, V. (1997). The human aspects of project management (Vol. 3): Managing the project team. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management institute Inc.

[Untitled image of the components of the charter]. Retrieved November 8, 2012 http://pmpartnergroup.com/?p=227

[Untitled image of risk planning]. Retrieved November from http://www.ileviathan.com/solutions/website-marketing-plan/risk-management

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15 Responses to Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem”

  1. Melissa says:

    I can understand how the Finance department could have easily been missed in this project. Thanks for the reminder of how important WBS’s can be!

  2. daliahanna says:

    Thanks Melissa for your comment. We sometimes learn the hard way; but better learning than repeating the same mistake.
    I believe that is why it is important to document the post-mortem or the review of a project. Equally important, is to read it before starting a new project. Sometimes the focus is on starting and planning; this document could be used as one of the resources for new projects.

  3. vandylb says:

    Funny how it always comes down to money at some point in the process! Also seems like this was a case of decision by committee, which is always a little sketchy. You didn’t really mention it, but was the convention an overall success? I like the idea of going through the post-mortem review questions during the planning stage of a project; backwards planning.

  4. Michelle says:

    Dalia,
    Great post! You share an excellent point about the committee feeling at ease since they had done the event before. This is often a trap as things can and do change from year to year. Your post made me realize in the orientation/kicko
    ff to set the stage to emphasize yes you have done this before however you need to be cognizant of xxxx.. Also I like your graphics. What source do you use?
    -Michelle

    • daliahanna says:

      Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for your comment. I am glad you liked the graphics, I listed the links to the graphics under the references in my post, I believe it was originally created using a tool like mind map. Dalia

  5. Sophia says:

    Dalirewah,

    Your expierence with this project seems very interesting and really reflects some of the important components that we have been learning about in our course. You did not mention how many members were involved in developing this project. Do you feel that there were enough members to fill the responsibilites and roles for this project? It seems as if the scope and sequence were defined specifically for the project, How do you feel the bank account issue was overlooked?

    Sophia

    • daliahanna says:

      Hi Sophia,
      These are very good questions. Your questions made me think back and I believe that there were not so many people, or there were people but they left and others came. The bank account was over looked because of a couple of reasons; one, the WBS was not detailed enough, second, a representative from Finance was missing from the beginning, he/she would have caught this early in the process. Thanks for your comment and questions.

      No worries about the typo 🙂

  6. Sophia says:

    By the way, I did not mean to misspell your name, It was an overlooked typo.

    Sophia

  7. Candace says:

    Dalia,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I am new the the idea of ID or PM roles, so therefore it was neat to read about your experience with such a large project. When reviewing your post I was able to relate it to our resources and could see the links in having stakeholders and creating a WBS. From the beginning everyone needs to be on the same page, and a WBS allows everyone to know the outcomes and see the steps that are needed.

    Candace

    • daliahanna says:

      Thanks Candace for your comment. I agree WBS is an effective tool which could help the PM or ID to capture all the details and tasks early in the planning phase and present it in an organized and structured manner.

  8. tdeark says:

    Hi Dalia,
    Thanks for a great example to learn from. This really does show how important every component of the project is from the charter to the end. Creating a WBS is a very essential part of the planning process that those of us in teaching had to learn when developing a lesson plan. Having the various phases of the project laid out allows for the PM and ID to picture what has been completed and what needs to be done.

    Your reflection on the project covered many of the general questions that are discussed in the Post-Mortem section of Greer’s (2010) Just enough PM to rock your projects.

    Teresa DeArk

    • daliahanna says:

      Thanks Teresa for your comment. I like your statement about how having the various phases laid out could help the PM or ID and seeing the whole picture. This is how she/he can plan for the known and sometimes the unknowns.

  9. Cherell Latham says:

    Dalia,

    Your project of performing an International Conference was very interesting , I should say. There was a lot of planning that had to be done and issues that arrived, but they were tackled. I appreciate how you detailed each success and failure which will be a great help of another person tackling the same project. Although, It seems planning a year ahead still lead to issues and especially according to a financial advisor. Overall, you know now to have an financial advisor before hand on a project and provide specific roles to help ease the tension of the project so one or two people wouldn’t have to play different roles in the assignment. Great Blog and I love the graphics!

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