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Monday, March 18, 2013

Project Closure and Analysis

By Marc Lane
Allen and Hardin (2008) note that there is a temptation for a project team to celebrate the conclusion of a project without adequate reflection on its strengths and weaknesses. This was the case with a project my eight-grade team recently completed. Specifically, we failed to record our conclusions in “lessons learned” file as recommended by Allen and Hardin (2008). The idea of conducting a Project “Post Mortem” is a well-known concept throughout project management, and conducting a Project “Post Mortem” can be of great benefit to the project manager and company.
A good “Post Mortem” should evaluate all phases of a project and the aspects that contributed positively as well as those that had a negative impact on the project (Greer, 2010). Those of you who have read my post for a while might be wondering what all this talk about project management is about, since my main role in life is to annoy (teach) children (both my own and others.) It’s a pretty good gig, if you can get it. Actually, teaching has a lot of project management imbedded in its various activities. For the last several years my school system has required 8th Graders to complete a Capstone project. Our district’s Capstone projects are a yearlong undertaking. Students should create a product that reflects this experience. The teachers’ role is to design the learning experience and guide the students through the process. It is this project that I will attempt to dissect here.
Let me give a bit more background information that will help illuminate the process and the problems we encountered. Due to the demands of full-time employment and full-time graduate school, I have made every attempt to reduce my extra responsibilities at work this year. Nonetheless, about a third of the way into the school year I was thrust into the role of team leader for my grade level team and inherited the role of project coordinator for Capstone. By this point, the project’s need and feasibility had been determined, and the project plan had already been created. The plan was created based on previous years information, because our client did not communicate this years project specifications to us in a timely fashion. In this case the client was the school district and its Superintendent. As it happens, our district is merging with another district, and changes are occurring constantly, including the resignation of the Superintendent prior to our completion date. We were left to create specifications for deliverables without guidance from the district. Drawing on previous experience, we proceeded with our work despite some uncertainty about the need for our projects and without clear guidelines.
Allen and Hardin (2008) recommend looking at both successes and challenges for the project. Additionally, they encourage analysis of outcome and strategies (Allen and Hardin, 2008). The final product that we produced was good and met most of the standards the district finally communicated to us. Thanks to good planning we tied the several aspects of the product into existing instruction. We provided students with clear guidelines on how to create a research paper. The team of teachers collaborated successfully in providing students with the resources they needed to be successful. Communication among team members was successful, and each team member was given enough time to work with their students. All team members knew their job responsibilities. Considering the circumstances under which planning was conducted, the team can be proud of their accomplishments.
Unfortunately, not all aspects of the project were successful. The most glaring shortcoming was the inadequacy of the service component of our project. Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, and Karmer (2008) note that the goals and objectives of a project need to be established during the planning phase. This problem occurred due to a failure to clearly communicate with the client. The team did not fully understand the need for a service component during the initial planning phase. Another near disaster occurred when a team member was stifled in her attempts to navigate our district’s bureaucracy. Paperwork was not passed on from one department to another in a timely manner, forcing us to reschedule a field trip for our students. A final obstacle was teachers’ desire to focus on standardized test preparation instead of Capstone. This was understandable, because a large part of each teacher’s annual evaluation is based on students’ standardized test scores. Capstone on the other hand is not reflected in the teacher evaluation process. Once deliverables were tied more closely to the existing curriculum, this hurdle was largely overcome.
While the overall product was met with approval by the district, there are several considerations that the team should review prior to their next project. Communication and work breakdown structure were good. A “Post Mortem” has now been conducted and will be shared with team members for further input. A better risk management plan with contingencies would have helped overcome issues with bureaucracy. Tying projects into existing requirements will help ensure completion. It goes almost without saying that clearer communication with the client is needed for any project. Finally, the team should spend more time planning at the beginning of the project. This will help reduce the need for rework down the road.

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