Thursday, November 11, 2010

Week 2 - Learning from a Project "Post-mortem"

Assignment – recall a project that you worked on in the past, either personal or professional, that was not successful or did not result in the desired outcomes. Then, reflect on the following:

• What processes, project artifacts, or activities did you include in the project that contributed to its success?
• What processes, project artifacts, or activities did you not include in the project that might have made the project more successful?

The project that I have chosen to discuss is one from my personal life. Going into this project, I did not even consider using project management techniques. In fact, much to my dismay, I did not even take on this project the way I would take on any professional project. At best, I would say the way I took on this project was haphazard, and I have the results to show for it.

The Project and the Things that Worked

A couple of years ago I was transferred to Sevierville, TN and I decided to buy a house. I chose the house I did because it was in a perfect location for me, and it has a huge covered front porch with enclosed wooden railing, allowing me and my dog to sit on the porch and enjoy the view. When I bought the house I was aware that it required some cosmetic work to have it look the way I wanted. The work was primarily painting, taking down wall paper, changing the base boards, new interior doors, new blinds, and some electrical rewiring in the living room because I planned to remove to very ugly chandeliers.

In retrospect, I did initially use some project management techniques: wrote a list of tasks, ordered these tasks, met with an SME (an interior designer friend), and enlisted a friend who was a contractor to assist me with instillation of ceiling fans and some electrical work. I also enlisted help from a friend and my housemate to do the painting, and located a contractor who I could hire to install the baseboards.

I decided to take on my front porch and my living room first. With the assistance of the interior designer, I chose the ceiling fans that I wanted for the living room and front porch, I picked out and purchased the paint color, purchased new wooden blinds for the living room, purchased the baseboards and the stain for the baseboards in the living room and found someone who could install the baseboards (a hired contractor). The work commenced, my housemate did the painting, and stained the baseboards. (He got a substantial discount in rent for his work). The hired contractor installed the baseboards and the interior decorator and I installed the new wooden blinds. As it turned out, my housemate also had to install the ceiling fans because my friend (who was a contractor with electrical experience) who promised to install the ceiling fans and do the rewiring, kept promising he would come over to do it, but never did.

The Result and What did not Work

With the exception of my bedroom being painted, completion of the living room is where the project ended. Is this where I wanted the project to end, no way. Much is missing from my original intentions. I have two gaping holes in the ceiling of my living room from where I removed the chandeliers, but never completed the electrical work necessary before covering the holes. I have never replaced the interior doors, wall paper in the two bathrooms was never removed, new baseboards throughout the house were never installed, the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms were never painted and new blinds for the bedrooms were never purchased. Why did the work never get completed? Two big reasons, lack of planning and a budget was never created.

In retrospect, I can see a lot of things that I could have done differently to produce the result I wanted. First, planning – I didn’t spend any time planning and defining the scope of the project. Had I really analyzed the scope of the project, I would have likely created a multi-phased plan and grouped similar tasks together. For example I could have completed all the painting at one time, and then stained all of the baseboards at one time and had them all installed at one time. Instead, I broke it down by doing a room at a time. Had I used perhaps a work breakdown structure I could have charted the work and seen the many overlaps.

Second, creating a budget – Although at the time, I did not have a limitless amount of money, I was making good money, so I operated in such a way that I would just spend the money when an expense came up. However, this was short lived because my job moved into a slow season and the good money, became okay money. In other words, I no longer had the same resources, I had to be more careful. The result being I was not able to invest in the money to hire someone to fix the electrical problems, I could no longer pay my housemate to paint the rest of the house, etc. Had I created a budget from the onset, and set aside money for the project, I would have likely made different choices. For one thing, I would have bought in bulk. An example of this is when I purchased the baseboards. Had I done the measuring for the whole house, I could have purchased all of the baseboards at a reduced rate. Without the planning I only knew how much I needed for the living room, so I paid a higher rate.

Had I taken this project on and used some of the processes and tools we are learning in our project management course, I would likely have a completed house designed exactly how I want it. Today, I have a living room that is 90% how I want it and a bedroom that is about 75% how I want it. The rest of the house is “fine”, just not how I would like it to be.


  1. Marne,
    I love renovations. It's very exciting to see how your personal touch can be added to take things from ordinary to extraordinary. From your background, it seems like you indeed used some project management skills in your planning. Just considering your scenario really shows how budgeting is key in any project. Whether renovating, planning a vacation, or simply going shopping, as human beings, without a budget, we are headed for disaster. You have done a great job of considering what you could have done differently to make this project more successful. Formulating a work breakdown structure, setting a budget, and purchasing in bulk would have definitely saved you some time and money. Even though your project is not complete, I'm sure you and the dog are still enjoying your new home, especially with all of your new touches.

  2. I have had similar problems. The projects are created in the mind or on paper with good intentions, but something has to get in the way. Whether it is money, time, or a combination of the two. You always have the "If only..." when the project has sat. For example, I had the idea of taking a world map and putting pins in it representing all of the places of put in each one of the books I have written. I started the project about 3 years ago trying to find apiece of corkboard 3'x4' and then kept settling when I could not find it. When I would settle, the backing I chose would never last. One day I got so tired of it that I just kept working until I got it. I have the map mounted and most of the pins in. No for the long tedious task of verifying that I have all the pins that I need and in the proper place.

    My suggestion to you is be at that point where you cannot take anymore and then take on one project at a time.

  3. Raheeda and MaryLei,

    Thanks for responding to my blog! Yes Rasheeda, my dog and I LOVE the front porch...and even though the house is not complete, it is far better than it was when I first moved in. MaryLei, ahhh the dreaded "if only", I know it well. Your project sounds inspiring and once completed will be a lot of fun to look at! Good luck.


  4. Marne, Modifying aspects of a home so that it matches your dream can be a lot of work. I think it's somewhat impressive that you actually made lists of things to do at the beginning and also consulted with an expert.

    You mentioned that if you had begun the project armed with what we're learning in this class, your home might have turned out the way you wanted it. Since this *is* your home, I suppose you've considered revisiting the project, given a new set of tools? Even if you don't currently have the resources, it might be worthwhile to set out a realistic plan as though the resources were available, and then make it another project to raise the money needed to proceed. At the very least, a hypothetical Statement of Work would be an exercise in reinforcing something we've recently learned about.

    And it's wonderful to have made enough progress that you can enjoy your home, even as it is.