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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