What is project postmortem?
The mention of “postmortem” may immediately bring one’s mind to postmortem in the context of a death of a human being or perhaps the medical examinations that take place after death (Postmortem, n.d.). The term postmortem however in a broader context is defined as occurring following the completion of an event or an evaluation of that occurs at the end of something (Postmortem, n.d.). When applied to project management, postmortem is important for assessing the final results of a project to determine what went well and what did not go well in working towards the successful completion of project outcomes (Portney, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008). Project postmortem allows the project manager and stakeholders to determine what modifications could be made to the approaches taken during the project in order to improve upon them for future projects (Greer, 2010).
Project Postmortem: Round One of the Krueger’s Basement Remodel
As I reflect upon projects that I have worked on in both my professional and personal life I am able to identify situations in which taking a more systematic approach of applying project management techniques would have resulted in more effectively managing the project and ultimately greater success in achieving the project outcomes. A project that is rather fresh in my mind and would likely most benefit me from an evaluation of the successes and failures would be our household’s first attempt at remodeling our basement.
We purchased our home about four and a half years ago. Unfortunately, despite the previous owner signing a disclosure that there were no issues with water or flooding in the basement we discovered a year and a half after the purchase that indeed the basement does flood. This of course was after an inordinate amount of snow during the winter and quick melt in the spring with heavy rains. We immediately were forced into a remodeling project that we had not hoped to take on for a couple of years.
Allen and Hardin (2008) suggest that project management can be divided into the following phases “project initiation, project definition, project planning, project tracking, and project closeout” (p.77). During the project initiation a project manager can decide whether or not to start a project and how it should be managed (Allen & Hardin, 2008). Unfortunately during this phase we did not have a choice on whether or not to begin as demolition needed to occur immediately in order to avoid any further damage to the basement in the form of mold. We were successful however at determining the feasibility of the project and what we could afford to do based on our estimated cost for completing the different component for the remodel project. During the project definition or create a project plan phase we were successful at breaking down the work structure by assigning roles based on what we could accomplish on our own, what we would need to contract out, and what could be accomplished by family or friend with the low cost of a few free meals and several IOU’s (Greer, 2010). We were successful in determining the needs and defining the project however this is where the project work began and effective project management ended.
The remodeling project began to show signs of failure during phase three of the project in creating specifications for deliverables (Greer, 2010). Unfortunately we did not have detailed specifications for the work to be completed with the family and friends who volunteered their services and with the contractor that we had hired to do framing and electrical work. Furthermore, we did not do our due diligence as much as we should have in hiring the contractor as his team completed the work in a manner that has negatively impacted the final outcomes of the project. As a result, we have been forced to do a project rework on some of these components. Allen and Hardin (2008) suggest that the project tracking phase, when project work is being completed, is where there is potential for the project to fail as a result of not effectively managing the budget, resources, and schedule. Our project began to fail significantly in this phase as we failed to track the budget and in the project planning phase we failed to identify a clearly defined timeline or schedule for completing the project. This of course resulted in going over the estimated budget and a project left without ever moving into a completion phase.
When we first embarked upon this remodeling project we had thought that we were fairly thorough in assessing our needs and the feasibility of the project. We were however not accurate in our initial assessment of the size and of the constraints of the project (Greer, 2010). Our failure to effectively manage this project from its conception has resulted in not correctly addressing the water issue which caused the basement to flood again this past spring. Additionally, we failed to establish clear specifications for deliverables and failed to identify a schedule leaving the project at an impasse on addressing different components. As a result, we have been forced to abandon the original project and essentially start over.
But Wait, There is Still Hope…
Round one of our basement remodel is not a complete failure. We have learned a lot and in the past few months we have taken a new approach with starting round two of remodeling the basement. We have created SMART objectives that are specific, measurable, aggressive, realistic, and time sensitive (Portney, et al, 2008). Perhaps the most important aspects of the SMART objectives for us given the previous failures are being specific and clearly defining the objectives of the project and the time-sensitive aspect to ensure that there actually is a project timelines and deadling (Portney, et al, 2008).
During round one of the remodel project we also encountered some fairly significant issues with scope creep which is when a stakeholder suggests additional things to add to a project (Laureate, 2010). Since we are functioning as both stakeholder and project manager in this instance it would be beneficial for us to use project management techniques to clearly define a plan and prioritize our constraints along with agreeing to a formalized communication plan for changing or adding to the scope of the project (Allen & Hardin, 2010). Additionally, we could benefit from using project management tools to manage the tasks and schedules, and assess risks to ensure we completed the project on time and within budget (Allen & Hardin, 2010).
Stayed tuned for the final conclusion in June 2014…
Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practices. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 19(2), 72–97.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.
Postmortem (n.d.). In Meriam Webster online. Retrieved from http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/postmortem
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.