EDUC-6145 Project Management in Education and Training – Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

“It’s important for project managers and team members to take stock at the end of a project and develop a list of lessons learned so that they don’t repeat their mistakes in the next project. Typically, such reviews are called post-project reviews or post mortems” (Greer, 2010). Having played many roles on many projects, the post-mortem is an activity I’ve participated in on several occasions.

The blog assignment for EDUC-6145 Project Management in Education and Training asks us to recall a project that was not successful or did not result in the desired outcome. A project comes easily to mind. I was working as a software consultant on a very large project to implement Royalties, Product Management (PM) and CRM applications for one of the world’s largest publishers. I was a technical resource, responsible for developing customized interfaces, tailoring the applications to meet client specific business processes, and remediating the core software to resolve defects, of which there were many because the software was sold well before its ready date.

The project will be called a success in the end, simply because of its sheer size, but there were aspects that were not at all successful. In particular, development costs were grossly underestimated and posed a threat to the project for the better part of a year. The root of development costing problem lay in the decision by the project manager to consult with an ‘objective’ technical consultant who was not directly involved in doing the development work. Together they came up with a formula for estimating development hours that they then applied across the whole development effort. The formula was to take every hour estimated by the developer (the technical person responsible for doing the work), half it again for test, QA and integration, and then add 10% for ‘technical overhead’. According to this formula, a small task estimated to take 16 hours of development time would be budgeted at 16h+8h+1.6h=24.6h.

The formula for estimating development effort was applied across the whole of the project’s tens of thousands of development hours and, at the end of just six months of development work (on a 2+ year project), it accounted for a staggering budget overrun of more than $285K. The actual time for test, QA and integration consistently equaled or exceeded the cost to develop, and ‘technical overhead’ was in the neighborhood of 40%.

Our resources this week remind us, as experience has taught me, that every project team member holds some responsibility for the success of the project. Project Management made a mistake when they based their development scheduling estimates on a costing formula created by an outsider. Even so, as the developers on the project, with absolutely no influence over the project budget and full responsibility for meeting it, it was as much up to us to get it corrected as it was for project management.

Greer’s post-mortem questions from Phase II (creating the project plan) are especially relevant, and they were especially difficult for the project team to have to answer a mere 25% into the project.

  • How accurate were our original estimates of the size and effort of our project? What did we over or under estimate?
  • How could we have improved our estimate of size and effort so that it was more accurate?
  •  Were there any early warning signs of problems that occurred later in the project? How should we have reacted to these signs? How can we be sure to notice these early warning signs next time?

References:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved September 15, 2011 from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/courses/72033/CRS-CW-5693700/EDUC_6145_readings/PM-Minimalist-Ver-3-Laureate.pdf

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About Darlene Loebel
Software consultant with 20 years experience in Software Engineering and graduate student in Instructional Design & Technology at Walden University.

2 Responses to EDUC-6145 Project Management in Education and Training – Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

  1. Hi Darlene,
    Thank you for sharing your experience in project management. I understand how underestimating monetary resources can stop a project dead in its tracks. Can you share how your team was able to overcome this obstacle? Thanks!

    Nicole

  2. The fiscal impact to the project that resulted from the underestimates in development work was offset against project scope changes (change control that came with no $ impact). The formula for estimating development effort and the master project plan were adjusted at the 9 month mark and after 18 months, the project was quite profitable. It will likely remain so for its duration. Whether it was successful is TBD.

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