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“It’s important for project managers and team members to take stock at the end of a project and develop a list of lessons learned so that they don’t repeat their mistakes in the next project” (Greer, 2010)

Reflecting back on my past experience, I think of a project where I was asked to develop materials for a training class for a new sales department. Looking back now I see that I was in an Instructional Design role being assigned a Project Manager task with absolutely no skills or education to guide me. My experience was in training and developing but I did not know the ADDIE model or any PM tools that would have made the project so much easier. Instead this is what I learned:

  1. “Every project must balance its functionality, staffing, cost, schedule, and quality objectives” (Wiegers, 1996), and the project manager is primarily responsible for keeping each of these tasks on track. The first step toward completing these tasks begins in the planning stage. However, even the best planning, even the most well thought-out tasks, can be affected by change. I sought the leadership of my management team. They gave me the information I was to include in the training, and I was to develop the materials. Simple? Not so much! Without planning for scheduling, the desired outcomes of the training, the budget, or others I could call on for help, the project was doomed for failure. “Scope creep” was a continuous factor in the project. Because the department was new, everyone who heard of the training had something to add until the project became more than could be achieved by deadline.
  2. It is important for the Project Manager to do a great deal of work to examine stakeholders before the project even begins. Useful tips such as “Talk to senior people whose names appear on your list of stakeholders and begin to figure out the key project roles and responsibilities, reporting relationships, etc., and complete a Responsibility/Accountability Matrix” will prepare for the PM for the kickoff meeting where he will be able to then clarify these roles and gain commitment (Greer, 2010, p. 10). In this project, stakeholders were not identified, tools and reports were not used, and a kickoff meeting never happened (at least not that I attended). If all of the parties involved had met, objectives had been discussed, responsibilities had been committed to, deadlines had been set, and everyone had a clear understanding of the goals of the project, the project might have succeeded. Without this step in the process, the project felt like chaos.
  3.  “Communicating effectively is probably the greatest challenge that people encounter during any project so it is imperative that instructional designers model and establish good communication techniques and patterns at the onset of a project” (Allen & Hardin, 2008, p. 79). Communication is a must when it comes to the success of a project. This is where I admit that I was so excited that I was given the responsibility of this project early in my career, that I did not question many of the steps in the process. I was asked to create training materials so I did so based on what I had created in the past. However, very much like Case Study 23 in our text, my objectives were not the same as those that were anticipated by the management team. The difference, though, is that the anticipated objectives were never clearly outlined verbally or otherwise.
  4.  I was a one (wo)man show—I was the project manager and instructional designer. Therefore, all final results were my responsibility, after all no one actually admits they failed to communicate the plan of action. Results are all that matter. The project did not have the desired outcome, at first. The materials were developed beautifully, however the content was not up to par. I was able to show my work to management early in the project so together we were able to change directions mid-way. In the article “The Human Factor: Making Your Process Transparent to Your Customers”, Arnold suggests, “As you present work products for approval, remind the customer of your current stage in the project, what the current work product is (and isn’t), and ask for a signature or other written approval of the work product. If, for some reason, the work product doesn’t match the customer’s expectations, the frequent checkpoints will help ensure that the project doesn’t get too far off track before the customer has the opportunity to request corrections” (Arnold, 2011).

Planning, communication, identifying stakeholders, scheduling, and accountability all play a great role in the success of a project. The better a project manager outlines each step of the plan, the better the results will be achieved. In the moment, I knew this project was not well organized. I was young in my experience with little formal education, but looking back I realize what a valuable lesson I learned. The greatest perhaps being that I do not ever want to be part of a disorganized project again. I want to know how to be better prepared for success.

“Trying to manage a project without project management is like trying to play a football game without a game plan.” ~K. Tate

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References:

Allen , S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology using effective project management practices. Journal of computing in higher education, 19(2), 72-97.

Arnold, M. (2011, April 19). The human factor: making your process transparent to your customers. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com: http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/665/the-human-factor-making-your-process-transparent-to-your-customers

Greer, M. (2010). The Project Management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! Laureate Education.

Wiegers, K. E. (1996). Creating a software engineering culture. New York: Dorset House Publishing.

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Comments on: "Project “Post Mortem”" (6)

  1. Hello Lori,
    I think that assigning jobs appropriately, based on skills and ability, is very significant. As a project manager nothing should be left to chance and when you assign work to someone who does not currently have the skills to complete the task assigned to them you are taking a major risk. I have also been assigned work that I was not skilled in and had to step up to the plate in order to ensure that the project succeeds.

  2. Tiffany said:

    Hi Lori,
    That seems like a very difficult postion to be in. It is clear that you were not given an opportunity to learn about and prepare for managing a project. Based on what you shared, an additional challenged seemed to be that you were not fully oriented to the goals and objectives of the project. However you were fortunate in that you had an opportunity to speak with your manager and modify your project based on your personal knowledge and experiences of what you felt was needed and necessary.

    Tiffany

  3. Lori,
    Truthfully, it sounds like you were placed in a challenging position and rose to the challenge. I really liked how you went back to get project definition (it shows good instincts) and recognizing that scope creep is just a fact of life in projects may help take some of the angst away. It does kind of sound like your manager off-loaded one of their tasks on you. Without their assistance in setting focus and priorities, it would be tough to succeed here.

    All that said, it sounds like your ability to communicate and openness to re-work made a successful outcome of the project possible. Going forward, I am sure this experience in combination with your coursework will significantly impact how you proceed professionally.

    Rob

  4. Hello Lori,

    You were not kidding that our projects that we implemented were very similar. The inexperience of project management skills and experience in dealing with projects, in general, were very similar to mine. I think that if I simply presented a Statement of Work and Establish Assumptions (Laureate Education, nd), managers would have taken me more seriously and realized the importance of the their employees to attend my training and I would have had better attendance.

    Janice Horoschak

    Reference:

    Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (nd). Project Kickoff. [DVD]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

  5. Chrystal McDonald said:

    Hey Lori,
    Sales management is a difficult job. As the project manager and instructional designer, did you find that any of the components of development overlapped? Moreover, through this process, was ii essential to have the positions conducted by various people? Lastly, you are correct when you stated “no one actually admits they failed to communicate the plan of action”, however, how has this process assisted you in other project developments?

    Chrystal

  6. I can relate to your example, several times I have been afford project management, training and staff development opportunities without the theory knowledge and tools needed to successfully complete the task. It was then that I learn the importance of developing a strong team. In your blog you stated that it is important for the Project Manager to do a great deal of work to examine stakeholders before the project even begins. The examination of the stakeholders will allow for balance within the team that highlight the strength of its members and invoke ongoing communication.

    Krystal

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