Thursday, November 7, 2013

Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

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.

The setting…
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.

The Good….
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 Bad…
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.

The Ugly…
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
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). Practitioner voices: Overcoming “scope creep” [Video webcast] [with Dr. Van Rekom, Troy Achong, & Vince Budrovich]  Retrieved from
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.


  1. Oh! I so hope this story has a happy ending.... Your breakdown (the good, bad & ugly) were great motivators to keep the reader engaged. As well, the pictures helped to give us an idea about how extensive the project actually was. It does seem like your post-mortem approach to this analysis has somewhat brought the project back to life. It seems like you all were well informed from the beginning of your plan and with these experiences you can now move forward with more confidence about a successful outcome. You very aptly applied the information we are gaining about project management to this scenario. It went a long way to provide examples of things like tracking in the future to keep the project within scope. Since we also have a basement that floods, I so feel your pain. And, our efforts have gone much slower than yours...I'm still removing items from the disaster area! Thanks so much for your post, Amanda! -Sky

  2. Thanks for checking out my blog posting Sky! Gaining the knowledge and skills necessary for effective project management thus far already has helped tremendously in starting the project over. Additionally, I have been able to make a case for taking a very deliberate, phased approach to things and planning everything out including a more thorough assessment of suitable contractors for aspects of the project that we are unable to complete on our own. I also think clearly identifying the constraints and knowing where there potentially is some level of flexibility will help us make better decisions as we moved forward.

  3. Amber,
    Excellent blog post! While what happened to you is horrible, it seems as though you learned so much from it! Are there certain things that you will require from those assisting you with this project, such as a SOW or a risk assessment matrix? I have found that it is difficult getting a formal statement of any sort from a contractor or a friend. With friends especially, we find ourselves being lenient because they are volunteering their services. Do you think that this component will have an impact on your ideal completion date?

    1. Hi Demetria,

      Yes, it definitely has been a great learning experience for us and I imagine all projects going forward for us will likely be improved upon based on what we have learned. Next week we have a contractor coming out to the house to complete the water proofing of the basement portion of the project which needs to be done before we can move on to restarting any of the components. We definitely took a more thorough approach with the contractor and identified specific concerns and risks in the contract that we signed with the company to protect both us and them as well. It is challenging as you mention to draft a formal statement with family and friends who are volunteering their services rather than paying them for services. So far our family and friends who have volunteered their services in general have been more committed to a timeline than we ourselves have been able to so fortunately this will not have a negative impact on the project.

      It can be awkward issue to address though if a formal agreement is not drafted and the services are being paid for. In general I think for a personal project such as this I would likely not ever hire family or friends to complete work for that reason. This does however bring up a good point in that it can be hard to start that conversation about a project suddenly changing scope or not adhering to the agreed upon terms. Having a trail of documents however that individuals involved in the project had signed off on however I think can be helpful in starting that conversation and presenting a justifiable rationale for not proceeding in a different direction or for pointing out an area that needs to be addressed such as someone not completing a task by a particular date.


  4. Amber,
    If you had the chance to start this project all over again, how would you plan it in order to avoid all of the draw backs?

    1. Hi Angela,

      In our situation we are fortunately forced into starting the project all over again. The aspects that adversely impacted the original project most significantly was our inability to identify concrete tasks for the project plan. Instead of continuing to lay a solid foundation with a fully developed plan we immediately began to start work. This time around we have clearly laid out a timeline and a budget. We have done our homework on contractors that have been and hired to complete certain aspects of the project. We have identified that the budget is the most critical constraint that will not allow for flexibility and that the timeline there is some level of flexibility for final completion if the need arises. We also have addressed specific tasks that need to be completed during the coming months in a particular order. We will have milestones along the way and will be able to see progress which I imagine will help motivate us to the final outcome.


  5. Amber,

    I could see how after all that work you would be feeling a bit depressed (especially when it flooded again) - however your attitude is to be admired...instead of giving up you are ready to start all over again having learnt what not to do and had time to reflect on your management process. Go Girl!
    SMART goals are an excellent idea - especially the "Measurable" one as that is the one that can really make you feel like you are making progress. Once you get through the first step of your new plan successfully you will be even more motivated to get this project finished. I know it's going to be great.

  6. Amber,

    Great Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem” blog post. We had flooding issues way back when due to to same situation as you with the snow, freezing & then melting w/ no where for the water to go except the basement. I know how that is. Sorry to hear. We had all of our stuff stored down in our basement & we lost a lot of personal items. Since that happened, we were forced to seal it, water proof it & put a french drain around the entire basement & a sump pump. After many years, we finished our basement & it did cost more than we planned on. But .... we love it & get many compliments. I hope your new road to your finished basement is successful and with what you have been through & what you now know, all will come together. Looking forward to seeing & hearing more.


  7. Hi Amber,

    What a great definition of post-mortem that you posted above. Man you had me on my toes but I hate you had to go through that but I can say I can't wait until June 2014 to see what happens and I hope it has a good ending. What a learning experience but I wish you the best success with your current project you have cut out for you.