Guest blog by Konrad Baltes, a Project Manager at the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
Are you or your organization in the habit of wearing rose-colored glasses? Does your recollection of a project in hindsight only focus on successes; or ultimately rate projects by only checking a completion box?
I urge you to start recognizing opportunities within the failures.
My name is Konrad, and I am a project manager with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
So what do I mean by the opportunity of failure? Specifically, I suggest project teams spend an adequate amount of time at the end of the project to both acknowledge successes (and completion) but also scrutinize any areas for improvement. This step is formerly known as the postmortem but often is not executed. It can be overlooked by the sheer excitement of being done and the celebration of not having to attend regular project meetings.
Let’s be honest, it is tough enough to get any project done; who would want to commit to meet afterward?
You should, and here is why. Reviewing any aspect of a project the failures offer a glimpse at how to possibly do it better next time. How can this focus on failures be done constructively?
- Schedule the session ahead of time, ideally formalized at the beginning of the project, or sometime before its end.
- Plan out the meeting.
Create an agenda that allows for two parts: a proper debrief as well as a creative brainstorming session.
- Debrief allows a recount of critical issues and populates some topics to brainstorm.
- Brainstorming the different areas uncovers multiple perspectives to better craft opportunities for improvement.
- Be purposeful, include all the active members from the project as well a neutral party to perform the role facilitator
- Consider ranking the issues by size (even if informally) to monitor the amount of time spent with each item.
- Establish house rules some can be provided ahead of time and others can be agreed upon with all participants. Some of our house rules include:
Create a safe environment.
- Make sure discussions stay within the confines of the team.
- Take turns, everyone will have an opportunity to speak, share, and brainstorm.
- Likewise, everyone needs to contribute.
- Make sure blame is not assigned.
- Blame is not part of the solution and will not repair damages, or prepare participants for better future projects.
- Utilize group time to brainstorm ways to avoid future pitfalls, not just uncover problems.
- Commemorate the discussion with documentation.
End with identifying how the lessons learned will translate into future projects.
- This could look like revisiting the brainstormed ideas when appropriate and/or developing a medium for knowledge transfer.
- It also could be more formal like adding tasks to an employee’s performance evaluation, or even checklists for teams to follow on future projects.
Understand that each organization differs so examples and the possible opportunities may vary greatly; but, some failures that I have experienced on previous projects include:
- Key personnel leaving the organization or project team before completion.
- Develop a transition plan in the event of this
- Establish back-ups for key roles when possible
Timelines extending well beyond project estimates.
- Obtain contingencies for catastrophic delays ahead of time.
- Will the organization agree to pause, disband, or forge ahead if large delays occur
- What priority is the time in comparison to cost, and performance?
Not all requirements gathered.
- Establish how you will react as a team when this is uncovered?
- How will you rate project needs vs change orders or possible delays
- Team member(s) not pulling their weight
- Establish how much time is allotted to each project role and task at the beginning
- Again, establish a viable back-up when possible
- Uncover potential motivators for the critical pieces
- Avoid plans that do not include and outside motivators or some recourse
Consider implementing a feedback loop that will help identify this early instead of near-critical deadlines.
By following these steps and possibly learning from some of my mistakes you will be able to tackle some pitfalls encountered during the average project and turn them into future opportunities.
Please share some of your projects and amazing mistakes in the comments below (as well as possible opportunities). Remember, it is what we do after the failures that allow us to excel beyond them!