This is the question that a client asked recently during a discussion about a project that did not meet its defined objectives. Apparently, they tried to absorb the project with existing staff, none of whom had project management experience or training. Based on our observations in the project management profession, this scenario is becoming more and more common – asking people with “day jobs” to manage projects.
In order to learn from this experience, I suggested that a detailed lessons learned session be scheduled where discussion topics would include what worked well and what did not work well. This session can help the team to understand where the process may be breaking down and where best practices can be introduced. The best practices identified can be used as the core foundation for projects at the company moving forward. More importantly, the best practices will be established based on input from staff and managers which can enhance the overall value of the exercise and increase the level of adoption by staff throughout the company.
To help prepare for the lessons learned session, I met with the Project Lead and some of the team members. These discussions would help me understand what questions would be most meaningful when facilitating the lessons learned with the larger team.
During these discussions, I learned a number of salient points that were critical to the project outcome including the fact that the Project Lead has a day job of Operations Manager. Admittedly, I have never been an Operations Manager, but I am sure that her day would be filled with a myriad of tasks associated with that role as a leader, and manager, for the Operations Team. But asking her to lead a project for an important strategic initiative was tricky. Ironically, the management team asked her to lead this project because she is a “star performer” and “always gets the job done.”
The Project Lead was not familiar with project management best practices and she indicated that she didn’t have the time to get the training she needed. However, she was looking forward to the lessons learned session so that she, and the team, could learn from this experience and adopt best practices for future efforts.
I also learned that a Project Charter was not completed. The Project Charter is a critical document that defines the project while also providing authorization for the project to take place. In my experience, I always include the Project Charter as one of the first topics of discussion in the Project Kick-Off meeting.
During the course of my discussions with the Project Lead and the Project Team members, I was sharing some of the best practices that I have incorporated into my work as a Project Manager. They appeared to be interested in learning more about Initiating projects and the Kick-Off process with the Project Team. I strongly encouraged them to begin thinking about how they might be able to introduce best practices into their processes. Based on the objectives of the lessons learned session, it was my expectation that the Project Team would be identifying best practices that would be valuable for the company moving forward. So, I suggested that they begin to expand upon their discussions to determine how best to solidify these practices and introduce them into the project activities for their team and others in the organization.
The Initiation Phase of a project is critical for laying the foundation for the Project Lead, the Project Team and the organization. It is during this phase of the project lifecycle that expectations are set with the Project Sponsor, objectives are solidified, stakeholders are identified, and potential risks are analyzed. All of these activities contribute to establishing a solid understanding of how the project will unfold, who will be impacted by the project efforts and what risks may need to be addressed along the way.
In my 25 years working in the field of project management, I have been asked questions like “what went wrong?” numerous times and the answer, usually, goes back to the Initiation Phase of the project. The Initiation Phase was never completed, or it was only partially completed. The best practices associated with this phase can determine if your project will succeed.
Don’t be a statistic, kick off your projects with the best practices identified as part of the Initiation Phase. You can do this!