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Author: Hans Jonasson

Lessons Learned or Forgotten

Lessons learned must be one of the biggest time wasters in the discipline of project management. Most organizations do them to some extent. Most of the time nobody looks at them after the project is done. But still we keep trying to persuade people to do them. What do we expect? That they will learn from history? A wise man said (Churchill? Not sure), “The only thing we ever learned from history is that we never learn from history”.

So does that mean that we should not do them? Not necessarily. But we should maybe re-think what we use them for. And I know that some companies are doing that already.

My first thought is that we need to change the mindset that lessons learned are done at the end of the project. If we instead do lessons learned at major milestones and at the end of project phases, then we can actually take advantage of those lessons on the very project we are working on. When we find out that our status meetings are too long and boring and irrelevant for some stakeholders we have a chance to improve them. And when we see that our change control process is being ignored we can educate and enforce for the rest of the project.

Secondly, we should use the lessons learned to improve our processes, training programs, checklists and templates. So when we realize that we did not adequately capture the customer’s requirements for performance, security, and ease of use, we can then add questions in those areas to our standard questionnaires. And when we realize that our use cases are too detailed and overlapping and we have too many of them, we can provide training and templates in order to improve future efforts.

Thirdly, we should accept that lessons learned may be primarily for ourselves, not to repeat mistakes in the future and the documentation needs to focus on that.

So skip the excessively large lessons learned documents. Do not create the complicated databases where nobody can find or extract any useful information. Those efforts discourage lessons learned since they take work and it is hard to see the value. Sometimes it is great to remember KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). After all, a lesson learned in the hand (or head) is worth 10 in the archive.

What do you think? If any of you have good working examples, please share them with the rest of us.

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Creative Project Management

This week I was part of a development program for high potential people in a large European company. They had worked together for about a year on a program with a mix of training and actual project work. And now it was time for a review of the result with sponsors and other key stakeholders. A review of both the training aspect and the project results. It was one of those occasions where normally you listen to a nice presentation with a bunch of obvious statements designed to showcase the participants, the trainers and the program design people. Where you listen for a couple of hours, slightly bored at best, and then walk away remembering nothing of the event.

But this event was different. Instead of boring the audience, they kept us involved and anticipating the next portion of the presentation with curiosity and excitement. So what did they do? They ran the presentation like an award show. So they added audience involvement (applause), anticipation (who would win the next category) and humor (it was often quite obvious who would win the next category). It was light hearted and done without taking themselves too seriously.

I often hear that project management is boring and dry. It is the doing part that is fun. Sometimes I think we make it boring because we assume that it should be. This group looked outside of the box for a more interesting approach. They realized that although content is important, the way we deliver it is sometimes even more important. Sales and marketing people know this of course. But we delivery people sometimes overlook it.

I learned a lot from this group. I learned that a team is most productive when they work hard and have fun at the same time. That the best solutions are created when there is an atmosphere of acceptance and every voice is heard. That even ideas that we may reject when we first hear them deserves a second chance, and that our gut feel is not always right. And I was reminded that a brilliant presentation is only valuable if you keep the audience awake and engaged.

So spend some extra time adding in the fun stuff in your next stakeholder event. Keep them interested, awake, and, if possible, laughing.

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New Year’s Resolutions

This year I promise to do what I know should be done. Which is what I tell other people to do when I teach project managements classes.

I will seek to understand the need of the customer before I define the product. Even when it appears that the customer is clueless.

I will identify relevant secondary stakeholders and identify their needs. I will assist in identifying and resolving conflicting requirements.

I will understand the work that needs to be done to meet the customer need before I create the estimate and the project plan. That same project plan will be bought into by all stakeholders before it is baselined.

I will identify, assess, and address risks on the project. I will continuously repeat this process throughout the project life cycle. I will escalate risks to the customer when they need to be involved.

I will measure and evaluate the progress of my project against the approved project plan. That approval will have been received from sponsors, customers, and other stakeholders as defined in the charter. It will be formal, documented and visible.

I will take corrective actions when the actual results of the project deviates from the planned result. I do this to meet the plan that I committed to. However, if there is no way to take sufficient action to get back on track, I will rebaseline the project with the “assistance” of key stakeholders.

I will close down my projects through formal evaluation of processes and results. I will give feedback on all my team members to them and to their functional managers. I will facilitate rewards for strong performance and I will thank the team members.

I will do this during my normal 12 hours per day, six days per week and I will do it with a smile on my face.

Oh well…… There is always 2011.

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What will Santa Bring Your Project Team?

As I start writing this blog I notice that it will be published not long before Christmas. Don’t really want to think about Christmas yet, but Christmas, like a project deadline, is sure to arrive regardless of what I want to think about.

So, has your project team been naughty or nice? And if you are the Santa of the team, how do you decide who to reward and who to give a lump of coal? The black kind; not the diamond version, which would actually be a pretty popular gift. As a project manager, when you are rewarding a team member you are telling the whole team what you value.

When you reward a person who has worked long hard hours to recover your project from a mess that they created to start with, you are saying “I reward firefighting”. Of course that could mean you suddenly find yourself with a team of arsonists.

Or when you reward the whole team equally with a day off, you are saying “I feel you all contribute equally”. With the possible results that your top performers sink to the level of their peers.

Maybe you reward the person blindly following the process you have established. Now you are saying “Process is king”. This may lead to frustrated customers, inability to get things done, and lack of innovation.

Ok, this sounds a bit negative. More like the Grinch than Santa maybe. So is there a point?

Yes, the point is that rewards matter and rewards impact performance. And there are normally both negative and positive consequences of what you do. What gives positive results for some will be demoralizing for others. Before you do reward, know your people. What is the right reward for this individual? How will the reward impact performance and motivation?

But at the same time, if a person does not deserve anything in their stocking than leave it empty. In that case though, as a good manager, you must sit down and talk about your expectations and in what areas you feel that person can make a better impact on the team. This is one of the toughest parts of being a manager. But that is your job. And that is why they are paying you the big bucks…or giving you the nicest office…or providing you with a really impressive title. You don’t have any of those? Maybe it is time to sit down with your Santa (or Grinch) and find out what their expectations are of you.

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Really, Should You Be a Project Manager?

How do you know if you are the type of person who should be a project manager? Are you a reactive, fly-by-night, last minute, kind of disorganized person? Or do you obsess with upcoming deadlines, keep a to-do list, get your stuff done ahead of time kind of person? Do you even know?

I have always considered myself as a somewhat disorganized, last minute approach, somewhat lazy kind of person. But I have been told that I am not, so maybe that just shows how bad we are at judging ourselves. And when I look at the facts, they seem to disprove my own opinion. Here I am, three weeks before this blog is due, sitting at 10 pm in the evening trying to get a head start. Why? Because I am going on a two-week vacation and I don’t want to think about work then.

Does that make me a good project manager? Not sure. There are a lot of other factors involved, but I think it shows that I am a risk averse PM. And while that does not guarantee success, I do think that it helps. I tend to review my main commitments on a regular basis and see if there is something that will cause me to miss them. If I feel I have plenty of time, I will tend to procrastinate and do nothing (other than maybe play guitar and read crime novels). So, with my own schedules I tend to use the Finish-Finish approach. What does that mean? That I start things as late as possible while still being fairly sure I can complete them. And I do think that is a good approach?

If you start things too early you run the risk of things changing on you. Resources, customer, scope, or a number of other things. If you start too late, you tend to end late and miss out on that gigantic bonus (or set of movie tickets depending on who you work for).

So I like to plan for things, but also to keep a reactive mindset and change the plans as the circumstances warrant. A finish-to-finish plan depends on that. If you want to start activities as late as possible you must be quick to react to changes in the environment. And adjust. So… with three weeks to go I would normally watch TV and have a beer now. But with a looming vacation in Sweden and not wanting to spend any time thinking about project management then, I adjust my plan and finish it early.

Of course… I could have just blown off the whole thing. I don’t think there is a large group of readers who would have become despondent. But my ego does not allow that. I want to be in print. And ego is another important trait of a good PM.

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