Traci's Blog

"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do." ~Goethe

Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem”

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I work in an office that serves as the Training Branch for our entire organization. We offer 95% of competency based training to our employees in our organization, and we make pay arrangements to pay for employees’ college course as long as the course is mission critical and applies to that employee’s current position. When an employee takes a college course in which my organization is paying the tuition, the employee is responsible for providing my office with their grades so that we can update their electronic training history. The employee has to receive a grade of C or better for undergraduate course, or a grade of B or better for graduate course. If an employee does not successfully complete a course, they will have to reimburse the organization’s money. Employees also sign a contract before starting the course agreeing to our organization’s terms.

In 2011, my office was presented with a 300+-page report of employees who took college courses that were not updated in their electronic training histories. This was a big problem for our organization since there could have been millions of dollars that needed to be reimbursed. At this time, my organization was feeling the effects of the financial hardship that was plaguing most federal agencies. My office was asked to contact the students on the report and request a copy of their unofficial transcripts. If the student did not successfully complete the class, we would then construct a reimbursement letter that would be processed by our financial department and deducted for that employee’s pay.

The 2011 project was not successful and was reintroduced to my office again in 2013. Now in 2014, I am reflecting upon this project and have realized that it could have been successful if certain aspects of our organization and resources were considered in the planning stage

First Mistake: Our organization has a system in which internal classes are offered, training histories are updated, and reports can be organized. The report that was initially brought to our office in 2011 was incorrect. Not only did the report contain the training histories that needed to be updated, it also included training histories that were already updated. We received the report from upper management and assumed that the report was correct.

Second Mistake: In 2011, my office was extremely short staff and overworked. Because of this, we only had one person dedicated to completing the tasks for this project. This one employee had to email all the employees on the report to request unofficial transcripts. After a month of no response from the employee, a second request was sent. After 2 weeks of no response, my office would send a third and final request giving the employee a week to respond. If the employee still did not respond, a final email is sent informing the employee that we are processing a reimbursement letter and would be contacted by finance to arrange the repayment. The one dedicated person for the project was often no able to send these second or third request because that person was still swamped with their own day-to-day workload.

Third Mistake: Some of the employees who took college courses did not know they had to submit their grades to my office, claiming that they did not sign the contract agreeing to our organization’s grade standards. Other employees who did sign the contract just did not know they had to give their grades directly to my office, and instead gave them to their supervisors.

Fourth Mistake: Because of the incorrect report, we received several complaints from employees who were receiving what they considered “threatening emails” requesting grades that they already submitted. Some of the complaints were coming from upper management who did not understand our process, the contract, or why would request something extra that interfered with their busy schedules.

The employee working on this project eventually left our office, and the project was not picked back up until 2013. There are a few ways my office could have overcame the issues in 2011.

First Solution: During the define phase, the supervisor of my office should have asked where the report originated, who organized the report, and what fields in our system were add to create this report. I am assuming my supervisor was the project manager since she was the one who received the project from upper management, and assigned the roles and the tasks. A PM must be informed about every aspect of the project, especially when they were not involved in the conception phase. “The first task for these project managers is to revisit the thinking that led people to decide that project was possible and desirable during the conceive phase. At the least, the project manager should become familiar with all existing information. If people overlooked important issues, the project managers much raise them now” (Portny, et. al.. 2008, p. 80).

Second Solution: The PM should have announced the project to the organization. By doing so, we would not have experienced so much resistance. Employees would not have been surprised by the emails, and there would not have been any misunderstanding. A detailed project plan could have gained support from others in the organization and could have illicit volunteers (Geer, 2010, p. 7).

Third Solution: During the define phase, the PM should have taken into consideration that my office was short staff and recruited other people in our organization. If the PM was going to recruit from other areas in the organization, then a project plan would have helped in those efforts. If the PM would have received the support from the project plan, a project sponsor could have emerged to help the PM acquire more people.

Fourth Solution: The PM should have announced the project to the organization. By doing so, we would not have experienced so much resistance. Employees would not have been surprised by the emails, and there would not have been any misunderstanding. Also, by announcing the project to the organization, managers would have known to relinquish the transcripts to our office, and employees thinking about taking college classes would now know the procedures.

In 2013, the project was tackled again by three dedicated employee’s (including myself). I managed to get an accurate report, which was 200 pages long rather than 300. The three of us divide the report and was able to get it done within 6 months. We received support from multiple branches who encouraged their employees to cooperate with our request. This project also created a discussion among upper management to re-evaluate the tuition reimbursement contract and how to ensure every employee signs it before we process payment for their college classes.

References

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: just enough pm to rock your projects! Laureate International Universities.

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 thoughts on “Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem”

  1. hancai1997 on said:

    Wow, Traci! What a mess! I’m glad that the second time around the project was successful.

    My husband is a project manager and one of the things that causes him a lot of frustration is when the people who he is supposed to be managing (or the other teams that his team works with) don’t give him the correct information or aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing. He feels like he has to constantly be double-checking everyone’s work to make sure they are doing it correctly. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this type of a situation (in terms of how to prevent being given the incorrect information)?

    In terms of the resistance from the employees and their confusion, I agree with you that it would have been better to have informed them of the project from the beginning. One of the definitions that I read of the word “stakeholder” was that the word refers to anyone who is working on a project, who cares about a project, or who will be affected by a project, and in this case the employees who would be receiving letters would definitely be considered stakeholders.

    I’m glad that it all worked out for you in the end!

    – Michele B.

  2. Any project can go bad but it seems like this was a preventable failure. It may have been more than what the project’s manager could handle. With so much at stake, giving up is not an option so it is admirable to try to recover from the failure rather than abandon the effort. It is even more amazing that you actually turned the project around and made it a success.

    The way you and your colleagues took the time to analyze what went wrong and create steps to remedy the problems was perfect. This is valuable experience when tackling new projects as well. You will catch warning signs early and remember this during the important planning phase of future work. No one wants to see their project flop, but you obviously learned a beneficial lesson.

  3. It is evident that you have done much needed research. I agree with your second solution. It is true that we need to be given due notice on any project regardless of how big or small it is.”Getting the right people on board the project team and aligning the right project stakeholders provide critical resources and support during the course of the project.”(Portny, et. al.. 2008,) Keep up the good work. You are going to be a good project managers.

    Reference : (Portny, et. al.. 2008,

  4. Reference
    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.

  5. Great post. Very thorough and detailed. Very powerful imagine to begin with. As I get me feet wet in PM there are number of tasks that I perform that I now recognize should have been classified as ‘projects’ and should have been handled differently. Is it possible that your supervisor like me in my naive stage might not as seen this as a project and therefore not treated it with the importance it deserved? All the suggestions you made highlights the importance of proper communication in all we do in an organization. Had it been made clear in the beginning, those supervisors who had been receiving the transcripts from their subordinates, should have forwarded them to your office. Secondly, if they received the transcripts and not know what they were for, they should have made it their priority to find out. Either way, great analysis.

    Georgia

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