Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem”

7983785A few years ago, I was hired as Front Office Manager (FOM) in a small hotel in Provence. The hotel had only a small reception team that was very polyvalent. The first project I had to take care of as I arrived was to review the procedures and update them to increase the customer service. The previous was fired just before I arrived (I did not know that until I started my job. They just told me she was leaving with no further details during the interview).

I am using this example, as it was personally a failure, even if the objectives were pretty much reached. We did manage to get new procedures in place, and to overall increase customer satisfaction and follow up. However, the managers were not fully satisfy with the work done, as there had been a lot of issues with one of the employee, who was not willing to follow the project’s instructions, and was fighting against my authority. So her lack of engagement and support led to various issues, and as she had been here for quite a long time, she had the trust of the management, which did not help me to complete my project as expected. They tend to take her side when she was complaining about certain elements, simply because I was not keeping them informed enough about what was happening and they only had her version (felt like I was back in kindergarden though!). Little by little, I lost their support on the project.

Overall, the four first phases of the project management process were followed, but the last closing phase was not done, which is one reason why the results of the project was not as expected.

There was no particular issue in Phase I. The need and feasibility study were easily and effectively done. During phase II, the estimations were done correctly, but there was an issue with the assignment of the roles. The employee I mentioned above has been assigned to review the procedures and its application, to ensure that the other members were following them, and that they were working as expected. However, instead of being reviewer, I should have assigned her SME. She knew her job, and could have been bringing a lot of good ideas. By having her review the procedures, it was a way for me to recognize her knowledge but it obviously did not work, as the result was that she was catching all the mistakes of the others, and felt frustrated by those mistakes that she had to correct. If I were doing all of that again, I would start by a one-on-one meeting with all the employees involved, before assigning them different roles. It will be a way for me to know what they were interested to do, what they knew how to do, and figure out the best role for them to play. “Involving people in the development helps to encourage their belief in and commitment to achieving it” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 79). It would have been a way also to communicate more effectively with them so they understand where we are going and what role they play in all of this.

There was no particular issue in Phase III, and Phase IV. In that one, only the creative input that this employee may have been able to give me was not used due to those issues. Phase V was not done.

A lot of elements were still done well during this project: one-on-one discussion and training with the employees during the various stages of the project, to keep them motivated, team building activities, etc. However, I should have organized more team meetings with all the stakeholders in the starting phases. This would have helped me ensure that the higher management knew exactly what I was doing. As supporters, they should have been moderately involved in the first stage, and heavily in all other stages (Portny, et al., 2008). Doing this will have allowed me to keep their support, and by doing a correct closing phase, I could have showed them how effective the project was. Concerning my employees, they were the driver audience, and I should have included them heavily at the beginning, and them moderately throughout the process (Portny, et al., 2008) in order to include them more in the conception and design of the procedures, and engage /motivate them more.

Communication would have been one of the key solutions. According to Portny et al. (2008), it would have helped me “learn about other team members’ background, experience, and styles; stimulate brainstorming, problem analysis, and decision making; and provide a forum for people to explore the reasons for and interpretations of a message” (p. 360).

References

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 responses to “Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem”

  1. Laury,

    Your post brings back memories of having to work around employees to accomplish the project. I have been involved in this type of project numerous times and I feel I will be witness to this again in the future. Your solution of communication is the right path to follow. However, you as a PM still need to be aware how much you need “to learn about your team members” background. In my experience working on projects, sometimes team members will take your kindness and interest as a weakness and will want to exploit it. It is a very fine line to walk and no matter how hard you try, their will always be hurdles to overcome with employees. The best thing to take away from this experience is you were still able to complete the project overall even with stakeholder issues. Great job and thanks for sharing!

    Keith

  2. Laury,

    It seems as though you began this project in a tough position-you were the new person coming in to take the old managers place, who every one probably liked, and you instantly came in to fix a problem, which some may have seen it as you telling them that they were not doing their jobs incorrectly. True, there were some missteps on your part throughout the project, but in the end you realized what those missteps were and I hope learned from them so you will not make the same mistakes in future projects. However, one thing that I noticed, or at least it was not mentioned, was holding the one employee accountable for not following the instructions. When those types of behaviors go uncheck, they are more apt to resurface in future projects, not only by the same employee, but by others as well.

    • Actually… for the story, all the employees hated the attitude of the previous manager. But this specific employee then reproach me not to act in the same way!!

  3. I agree that communication was the solution, not only with the team members, but with management. The analysis of the team members would have been equally as effective as well. A one on one meeting could have alerted you as to who the “problem” was. Good job still being effective through most of the project and learning what to do better in the future.
    Sonya Baker

  4. I can totally relate to your problem, as I had a similar experience on another project. As a matter of fact, this seems to happen often and it is usually not on the team member level, it is often at the PM level where there may be persons that are distressed because they were passed over for the project. I worked for a bank that had it entire Instructional Design Department contracted resulting in bank employee layoffs. This left a bad taste in the mouths of the ID Project Managers whom were promoted to Program Managers to oversee the progress of the now contracted employees. The contempt for the contracted employees could be clearly observed from that point on. No matter how well meaning the contracted Project Managers were, they could seldom overcome this attitude, which resulted in hours of rework. So, like I said, I can totally relate.

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